Home from a loan: Yakubu (Everton and Leicester City)
When Middlesbrough signed Kris Boyd for £4million last summer, they probably would have been keen on the prospect of the Scot pulling on a red shirt for the play-offs at the end of the season. Likewise, Everton fans would have snapped your hand off if offered 10 goals in 19 games from Yakubu in a blue shirt this season.
As it turns out, Boro will end the season in mid-table, no Everton player has managed more than 10 goals this season and both Boyd and Yakubu are a long way from the Riverside Stadium and Goodison Park respectively.
And as it turns out, Boyd is on the verge of pulling on the red shirt of Nottingham Forest as the end-of-season showpiece kicks off next weekend – QPR situation permitting – while Yakubu has indeed netted double figures in half a season wearing the blue shirt of Leicester City.
Both men have faced charges of disinterested tubbiness during their careers, particularly at their parent clubs, but their goalscoring prowess at this level has been confirmed in recent weeks. Boyd, of course, still has a chance to write himself into Forest folklore following the Reds’ late-season dash into the last remaining play-off place, but time ran out for Yakubu. Now, the Nigerian says he wants to stay at the Walkers Stadium on a permanent basis. 10 goals in 19 games? When you can sign, Mr Aiyegbeni? Surely?
In fact, it is not quite that simple. In Yakubu’s first month at the club, Leicester’s form looked set to result in a play-off berth at the very least. In his debut at Deepdale, he opened the scoring with what would become his stock-in-trade for the remainder of the season. Some slightly awkward-looking close control, a bustling run at the heart of the opposition defence and a nonchalant finish into the bottom corner of the net. He repeated the trick the following weekend against Millwall.
Two in two. This was all going to plan for Sven-Goran Eriksson and the club’s Thai owners. Yakubu wasn’t just scoring goals either – he was contributing to the team’s brilliant football by dropping deep and linking play with all the confidence of a Premier League striker. Full-backs bombed forward knowing that Yakubu’s clever through balls would find their runs rather than the space they had just vacated. It was a novelty of sorts.
Unfortunately for Leicester City fans, this was too good to be true and everything began to unravel slightly when Eriksson’s men started facing other teams with promotion aspirations. Leicester hit the road to face Cardiff City, Queen’s Park Rangers, Reading and Nottingham Forest amongst others in a run of games that would define their destiny. They lost all four games, with Yakubu conspicuous in his absence from the scoresheet.
Anonymous at the Cardiff City Stadium as the hosts won 2-0, sporadically lively at Loftus Road as the hosts won 1-0, wasteful with the few opportunities that fell his way at the Madejski Stadium as the hosts won 3-1 and a picture of listlessness at the City Ground as the hosts won 3-2, Yakubu contributed almost nothing to the biggest games of the season.
The problem is that very few of Leicester’s players contributed much in any of those games either, meaning that Yakubu was never going to prosper. The Championship rarely contains players of his quality, but players of his type are also infrequently sighted at this level. Strikers are meant to run around a lot, put in the hard yards and generally work tirelessly for the team. Yakubu does precious little of any of this, while his economy of movement is second to none.
All of which is fine if you score goals at a ratio of 10 every 19 games. Over a full league season, that would mean around 23 strikes. But anyone looking only at the statistics and disregarding the bigger picture is missing out on the full story. The competitive nature of the Championship; the number of clubs competing at a similar standard; the dire consequences of spending money outside the top flight without success: Leicester cannot afford to finish mid-table again next season.
Yakubu this week claimed that he would relish a return to the East Midlands next season, seemingly having decided that his future lies away from Merseyside. This presents Eriksson and his money men with a dilemma of sorts – the prospect of those 23 goals over a full campaign is surely too enticing to turn down, but at what price? The Everton man is rumoured to be on the market for £2million, but his wages are the real sticking point.
There is a nagging feeling among some Leicester fans that Eriksson’s favoured system this season did not suit Yakubu. He has played as the lone striker for the vast majority of his time with the club, but his most recent goal – the equaliser in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Doncaster – provided a glimpse of the perfect future, thanks to a face from the past.
Steve Howard laid on Yakubu’s goal at the Keepmoat Stadium and perhaps that is what Leicester need to get the very best out of their big-name striker – not necessarily Howard or even a player like him, but someone to supply at least some of the qualities that Yakubu does not possess. Unceasing effort, breakneck pace, aerial dominance – pair up any of that with a top-class finisher and Championship defences would wilt.
Yakubu ends his temporary stint away from Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime with a home game against Ipswich Town. Whether it will be farewell forever remains to be seen.
To buy or not to buy: that, for Leicester City, is the question.
“Home from a Loan” is intended to be a series of posts from supporters of Football League clubs on the subject of the numerous returning loanees this summer. How did the loan go? Will the player sign on a permanent basis? Will they be fondly remembered?
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