The former Blackburn Rovers forward remains the highest scoring Nigerian to ever play in the English top-flight, and he is eternally grateful to the man who made it all possible
Former Super Eagles striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni is convinced that he would not have turned out to be a success story in English football if not for the belief and encouragement of manager Harry Redknapp.
Aiyegbeni was a little-known striker when he left Julius Berger FC in 1998 to sign for Israeli club Maccabi Haifa.
But he soon announced his talent and skill to the world when he smashed seven goals in nine Champions League games for lowly Haifa, including a goal and an assist in the 3-0 humbling of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
Still, no top European club was willing to shed the millions needed to snap up the Nigerian star despite his heroics.
But Redknapp, then managing Championship side Portsmouth, decided to give Aiyegbeni a chance in January 2003.
The former Super Eagles man seized the opportunity, firing the goals that secured the title and promotion to the Premier League.
Aiyegbeni went on to become a prolific EPL striker, netting 95 top-flight goals while starring for the likes of Everton, Middlesbrough, and Blackburn Rovers under different tacticians.
Still, it is to Redknapp above others that he owes a debt of gratitude for believing in and encouraging him when no one else did.
“I’ll always be grateful to Harry Redknapp for giving me the opportunity to play,” the former Leicester City star told Planet Football.
“He always believed in me. He always motivated me, and his man-management was unbelievable. He’d say, ‘Just go and destroy those guys. They’re not good enough. Your quality is much better than theirs.’ And I did it.
“When I crossed the white line, I wanted to give my best. I didn’t want to let myself or my family down. Harry was the one who gave me the opportunity to show myself, and I did it, thanks to him.”
The Yak also spent time playing football in Turkey, Qatar, and China before announcing his retirement from the game on 22 November 2017.