Legendary Nigerian striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni has shared the pitch with some of the greatest players to grace the Super Eagles but who are the 10 other stars he rates as the best he’s played with?
Appearing on Lagos Talks’ Sports Zone via telephone from his England base on Wednesday, the former Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Everton striker named his all-time eleven from his time with the Super Eagles and it is indeed a team to behold.
Known as “The Yak” in his playing days, the 37-year-old burly one-man wrecking ball retired as Nigeria’s third-highest scorer with 21 goals in 57 caps and scored a mindboggling 202 goals in 516 career appearances so, it is only fitting that he put himself to lead the line.
What a team this is! Starting with between the posts…
GOALKEEPER: VINCENT ENYEAMA
Nigeria has been blessed with fantastic goalies down the years but very few can boast of the consistency of the former Enyimba and Lille shot-stopper.
One of only two players to hit a century of caps for the Super Eagles, Enyeama who also won the 2013 AFCON edges Ike Shorunmu in Yakubu’s book
“I played a little bit with Ike Shorunmu but I played more with Vincent Enyeama,” Yakubu said.
RIGHT-BACK: CHIDI ODIAH
“This is tough, I played with so many right-backs in the Super Eagles,” Yakubu exclaimed before settling for the former CSKA Moscow player who earned 30 international caps.
CENTRE-BACK: TARIBO WEST & JOSEPH YOBO
The Yak settled for a complementary defensive partnership featuring the rugged snarling menace of the 42-cap West and the silky panache of Nigeria’s first 100-cap player and his Everton teammate Yobo.
Recounting one of his earliest memories of West in the national team, Yabuku said: “I was very young when Taribo was there but we started many games together. Taribo West was unbelievable. I remember when we trained in Kano for a match away at Niger, the way Taribo smashed me in training I was like ‘bros, wetin be all this one now, we have a game in three, four days time’ and he didn’t even say sorry!”
LEFT-BACK: CELESTINE BABAYARO
“Babayaro was good, he was unbelievable,” Yakubu said of his choice for the left-back slot who alongside the striker, was sent packing from the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia for breaking camp rules.
WINGERS: TIJANI BABANGIDA (RIGHTWINGER) & FINIDI GEORGE (LEFT WINGER)
The Yak’s selection of Finidi on the left wing was a truly left-wing selection given that the 1994 AFCON winner made his name on the right flank and in his prime, was one of the greatest right-wingers on the global scene.
But the Yak opted to move him to the left in order to accommodate the fleet-heeled Babangida.
CENTRE MIDFIELDERS: SUNDAY OLISEH & AUSTIN “JAY JAY” OKOCHA
Has there been a greater midfield pairing in Nigeria’s history? Oliseh’s hot-headed steel was the perfect foil for the silky skills of the mercurial Okocha and of the latter, Yakubu said: “Jay Jay always said to me ‘Yak, forget say I just de turn ball, turn ball, turn ball just run I will pass it to you’.”
“When you play with good players they know their quality.”
Yakubu also weighed in on the recent debate regarding John Obi Mikel as Nigeria’s greatest player saying Oliseh was even a better player than the former Chelsea star. “There’s nowhere in the world you can compare Mikel to Oliseh. Oliseh is a better player than Mikel.”
SUPPORTING STRIKER: NWANKWO KANU
A magician with the ball at his feet, the two-time African Player of the Year was Yakubu’s choice to play just behind the striker. “I can’t forget King Kanu,” Yakubu said, “he will play as a second striker behind me”
CENTRE FORWARD: YAKUBU AIYEGBENI
“I will put myself upfront,” Yakubu said. “I know people often said I was arrogant when I was in the Super Eagles, but that isn’t true. I just knew that I was better than the other strikers. One hundred per cent.”
Atlanta 96 winning coach Bonfrere Jo was Yakubu’s pick to manage the team with the late Shuaibu Amodu as his assistant.