As India stepped into the new millennium, the National Football League in the nation was still budding and finding its feet. Unlike today, the foreign players then in the league were not sure what to expect and its administration (including the club officials). Although players like Chima Okorie had established themselves in the league, it was still risky to come to a nation which was hovering over dismal ranked teams in the FIFA rankings, and garner an earning out of it. With the weather, an alien club, the fellow players, the glaring gaps in language, culture etc- it was never easy to adjust in such adversities and still come on top. We have seen a lot of foreign players come to India and ply their trade- but one name stands out, that of Yusif Yakubu. Let us look at the Ghanaian’s staggering career spanning over 15 years in the nation where playing football at the highest level is nothing less than a struggle.
Yakubu, hailing from a family of football lovers, joined The Red Machines following the footprints of his compatriot Osumanu Husseni. It was the year 2001-02, when a young tall slightly built forward took the league by storm by hitting the back of the net eighteen times, a record then. In his debut season for Churchill Brothers, the club could not only finish second to the champions Mohun Bagan AC. The last match of the league saw the raw Yakubu character ooze out for the fans to observe, he looked disheartened after missing sitters which could have clinched the title for his club.
Albeit, Yakubu had plans to move to Europe after he got relieved of his duties from the Goan club, the Ghanaian stayed at the club and produced a yet another season of scoring the maximum goals in the league, this time bettering his own record.(21 goals).
After two terrific goal scoring seasons, Yakubu sadly could not win the ultimate prize with Churchill Brothers. It was time to move on. Yakubu was soon roped in by Mahindra United, and he deserved what he got at the club- winning the Fed Cup-NFL double in 2005/06 season. The following year, Yakubu was shrewdly signed by the Kolkata giants East Bengal where the star dazzled once more. Yakubu scored 20 goals during his two year reign with the Red-&-Golds, pairing up with Baichung Bhutia upfront.
Owing to rift with the management, topped up with dismal hopes of landing the title at the Kolkata club, The Ghanaian once again packed his bags and ventured back to the place, from where he had originally started his mammoth journey in India. Yakubu joined the Green revolution of Salgaocar SC. The Goan club after avoiding the drop in the previous season, took the maximum advantage of disbandment of Mahindra United and hoarded quality players, including Yakubu from East Bengal. The forward won the league with Salgaocar in the 2010/11 season- scoring fifteen goals on their way to triumph.
But to the surprise of everyone, Salgaocar released the dynamic striker after the title winning season, and instead roped in Chidi Edeh from Mohun Bagan. The reasons given by the club were not satisfactory as it was reported that Yakubu himself wanted to opt out of the deal as he cited better opportunities elsewhere ( outside India ). Soon Yakubu landed a new, a more improved contract with the cash splurging United SC. ( Former Prayag United )
The striker plyed his trade for the Kolkata side for a season, again being the top scorer for the side. Yakubu hit the back of the net twelve times, and helped his side to a second place finish at the 2012 edition of the coveted IFA shield. The striker had some trouble regarding the financial transactions at the club, due to which he once again left Kolkata and signed for Mumbai FC.
Yakubu has been with the Mumbai club for almost two seasons now and has managed to wind up eighteen goals so far. The club has never been relegated since their promotion to the top tier of Indian football, and Yakubu has certainly bought the sense of calm and security, when required. In a recent must win match against the relegation threatened Churchill brothers, Yakubu came up with a splendid hattrick to safeguard the club’s I-League status again.
The Ghanaian lad started his wonderful journey in 2000, and is still growing strong as ever. Despite being the the oldest player on the pitch, one can never summon him for laziness or non-professionalism on the pitch. He possesses a robust shoot from both the feet and at six foot tall- a very dangerous customer in the air. He embodies dedication, which was attested by the fact that during his time in East Bengal, he learnt about the passing away of his mother, in the eve of a derby match. Yakubu did not fly to Accra, but instead stayed back to play the match. He not only played but scored 2 crucial goals as East Bengal triumphed 3-2. Yakubu dedicated each of the goals to his mother. He is the first player to achieve the feat of scoring 100 goals in Indian top tier football competition. [100 goals in 155 games | 0.64 goals per game ]
The National football league was replaced by the I-League. A lot of new teams have now replaced a legacy names in Indian football. Each club witnesses the arrival and departure of so many foreign players, especially after the rules were tweaked this season. But there are very few foreign players who have managed to etch their name in the hearts of all the Indian football fans. With over 160 goals against his name in the combined history of National League and I-League, Yusif Yakubu is definitely one of them. Here is a glimpse of Yakabu’ s recent goal for Mumbai FC in their 4-2 win over Churchill Brothers which helped them save relegation.