The next player to teach you a Premier League Lesson was arguably better known off the pitch, but it is what Dwight Yorke on it, for both Aston Villa and Manchester United, that made him a firm fans’ favourite.
Perhaps the oddest signing in Premier League history, Dwight Yorke went on to become one of the league’s most lethal goal-scorers, impressing and delighting Aston Villa fans before forming a ruthless partnership with Andy Cole whilst at Manchester United.
Yorke’s career is the stuff of legend – spotted by then Villa boss Graham Taylor, Yorke was playing small-time football for a country that had never experienced any footballing success, Trinidad and Tobago. His career is made even more astounding given the fact that, prior to signing for Aston Villa, his only previous club was a school football team, Signal Hill Comprehensive.
Taylor threw Yorke straight in to the spotlight, initially as a winger. Similarly to Thierry Henry at Arsenal, Yorke quickly switched to the position of centre-forward and produced some sublime performances. Wearing a permanent smile, he wowed Villa crowds with his strong movement and endless commitment to the cause. A cult hero at Aston Villa, Yorke is still remembered fondly by the Villans. In his nine years at the Midlands club, Yorke scored 97 goals in 232 games, an impressive strike rate. It was not just his goal-scoring exploits that happened during his time at Villa, he was also the main instigator for Villa’s most recent cup success.
In 1996, Aston Villa won the League Cup thanks to goals from Mark Draper, the enigma that was Savo Miloševic, and finally Yorke. Since then, Villa have been without a trophy, and many fans point to the lack of a player like Yorke as a reason for their barren spell. Ever since Dwight’s departure to the Red Devils in 1998, Villa have struggled to find a prolific goal-scorer. He also goes down in the history books at Aston Villa – in 1994, Yorke scored the last ever goal facing the old Holte End stand at Villa Park.
Yorke’s status as one of the league’s greatest strikers was cemented at English giants Manchester United. His move was tarnished, however, by an apparent lack of effort in a league game against Everton at the end of the 1994 season. The acrimonious departure was furthered by Villa manager John Gregory stating that, on Yorke’s revelation that he wanted to move to Manchester: “If I’d have had a gun I’d have shot him”. Extreme of course, but it is symbolic for how highly regarded Yorke was by Aston Villa. Eventually the self-proclaimed ‘Smiling Assassin’ got his move to United, and from then on, scored for fun.
In 95 League appearances, Yorke scored a superb 47 goals, helped United to three successive league titles and managed to fall out with United’s boss, Sir Alex Ferguson due to his highly publicised relationship with model, Jordan. Nonetheless, in his career at United, Yorke carried on the tradition of scoring a lot of goals, and smiling even more. When looking back on Yorke’s footballing career, it becomes more apparent that he scored most of his goals with his head, particularly at United – a consequence of being on the end of David Beckham’s pin point deliveries.
That is not to say that he was a one trick pony; he played football with a certain swagger, something that endeared him to fans. It always seemed that Yorke, more than most other players, was just appreciative to be doing the thing he loved. Barring his relationship with Jordan, he was a player of the people. Easily accessible with his notoriously cheerful smile, Yorke is remembered by all fans extremely fondly.
After leaving United in 2002 due to the arrival of Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Yorke spent the remaining seven years of his career flitting between clubs such as Blackburn Rovers, Birmingham City, Sydney FC and Sunderland. In his first foray away from the Premier League, Yorke became a marquee signing at Sydney FC, helping them to the A-League Grand Final. He was awarded the Joe Marston Medal for the best player in the final after setting up the winning goal for Sydney. Enticed back to England by former team-mate Roy Keane, Yorke joined Sunderland for £200,000 in 2006 and became temporary assistant manager in 2008 after Keane’s departure. Altogether, Yorke scored 147 league goals in his domestic career. But, he brought much more than goals to the English game.
Since retiring earlier this year, Yorke has gone on to become assistant manager for Trinidad and Tobago, an ambassador for sport in Trinidad and has written a book called ‘Born to score’. For the football purists, however, none of these things are significant. Dwight will always be remembered for his goals and his smile, not for off the field scandals.
Name – Dwight Yorke
Age – 38 (3rd November 1971)
Position – Forward
Club level honours – Football League Cup (1994, 1996) – Premier League (1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01) – FA Cup (1998/99) – UEFA Champions League (1998-99) – Intercontinental Cup (1999) – A-League (2005-06) – Football League Championship (2006-07)
Nationality – Trinidad and Tobago
Caps/goals – 72 caps / 29 goals
National Honours – none