Everton face Blackburn Rovers at Goodison Park on Saturday in a game that will do much to determine whether the Toffees are on the fringes of a relegation battle or in with a late shout of joining the Europa League qualification race. If David Moyes’ side can overcome the relegation battlers they could, depending on other results, move into ninth position, two points behind Stoke City. If the visitors take the win, they will be just five points behind Everton. The absence of suspended former Blue Yakubu will therefore be a boost to his ex-employers and a hammer blow to his current side.
The Nigerian arrived at Everton in 2007 for a then-record £11.25m, departing in summer 2011 for a fraction of the price. In the four intervening years Yakubu netted 33 goals in 107 appearances, figures distorted by a serious knee injury suffered in November 2008 and the resultant struggle to recover fully. The post-injury Yakubu was a shadow of his former goal-laden self, frustratingly lethargic and clearly uninterested.
It was little surprise when Yakubu was allowed to leave Everton on loan for the second half of last season after scoring just once in 15 games. He joined Leicester City in January and flourished, scoring 11 times in 20 games. Paradoxically, as Everton toiled in front of goal during this time, in the minds of some supporters Yakubu became Everton’s most potent striker, a true case of absence making the heart grow fonder.
To some extent, this pattern has been repeated in the current season. Soon after Yakubu left Moyes’ tutelage for good, he re-discovered his scoring touch. He has been on target 13 times for Rovers this season, while Everton players have scored only 21 league goals between them. This time the supporters’ focus seems to have been on Yakubu’s long-term contribution to Everton rather than his last few appearances for the club. Each goal scored by the 29-year-old is now met more often with a rolling of the eyes and a wry smile than a spray of invective directed at the manager for allowing the striker to leave.
Even as he scored 21 goals in his first Everton season, Yakubu was a contradictory player – always looking overweight but rarely looking unfit, capable of pulverising strength but equally capable of tumbling under the merest challenge and forlornly appealing for a free-kick. When the goals were flowing these inconsistencies were overlooked. When they stopped, all that was left was an isolated figure contributing little while withdrawing a hefty pay packet. The money Blackburn offered was welcomed for a player Moyes had lost faith in.
Whether Moyes will be able to sign a player to follow in Yakubu’s footsteps this month is still unclear. Multitudinous names have been linked but little concrete news has followed, and every day throws up a new rumoured target. Edson Buddle completes his trial this week, and a new contract is incoming for Apostolos Vellios, but Everton will struggle to find a striker the calibre of Yakubu in 2007-08, his and Everton’s crowning season.
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