With an international career spanning over 15 years, with 101 caps for the national team and three World Cup and six Africa Cup of Nations appearances behind him, Joseph Yobo remains one of the most accomplished Nigerian footballers, not only in terms of appearances, but laurels. As the former Super Eagles captain officially quits with a testimonial match, Kunle Adewale looks at his eventful career
For those who think lifting the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa should undoubtedly be Joseph Yobo’s best moment as a footballer, no little about him. His greatest joy would remain the support and calibre of players and personalities that showed up at his testimonial game yesterday.
“It is not easy for a person to bring down these great personalities under one umbrella. It goes to show the respect and love they have for me while I was playing; this, I was not even aware of. This is one occasion I will live with and I’m grateful to all those that made it a success,” Yobo said.
Yobo insisted that he cannot single out any of his games in the national colour as better than the others.
“I feel fulfilled playing for Nigeria. In fact, all the matches were special. I cannot tell you I treasure this one more than the other. Whether it was a friendly game or a World Cup, there was this special feeling I had anytime I put on the national colours,” stressed the former Everton and Fenerbahce defender while ruminating on his time at the senior national team.
He continued; “Whether it was my debut against Zambia or my 87th against Rwanda when I became the most capped Nigerian at the time or the game against Argentina where I became the first Nigerian to reach 100 or even the last one against France, every moment was special”.
“I am privileged to be the first Nigerian player to make FIFA’s exclusive Century Club. I feel so glad to have reached that milestone for my country. The younger ones should give the national team all their best. It is a privilege to be deemed worthy to wear the national colours in a country of over 170 million people”, he noted.
He challenged the current crop of Eagles to arrest the national team’s decline.
“Things are not going so well at the moment but it is also time for the players to take it upon themselves and rise to the occasion. I have a strong belief that this generation will even be greater given the abundance of young talented players coming through the ranks and the youth teams. I am happy the NFF has paid enough attention to the age-group teams. That is the way to go. There will never be shortage of talents. Watch out for the Super Eagles in future. A solid foundation is being laid,” he concluded.
The day was not all about his testimonial, but also to celebrate the former Everton of England defender’s centenary for the Super Eagles.
Speaking with THISDAY, former Nigerian international and organiser of the testimonial match, Waidi Akani said the event was special in a lot of ways.
“The event was two in one. First we celebrated the centenary of the player in the Eagles and secondly we staged a testimonial to mark his retirement from active football. Two other players had staged testimonial games before but this time, we also celebrated the 101 caps of Yobo in the Eagles. He was a diligent player and he deserves what was done for him,”Akani said.
Four days before the match at Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, sent in a congratulatory message to the Ogoni-born ex international.
In a letter personally signed by Infantino and addressed to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick, the FIFA chief wrote: “Many thanks for your letter dated 17 May 2016 and informing us of the testimonial match in honour of former international player and Nigeria Captain, Joseph Yobo.
On this occasion, allow me to congratulate and send my best wishes to Joseph Yobo for his future activities.”
But for Akani, he was not surprised that a large number of top players associated with Yobo’s testimonial.
“That simply means that while he was playing, either in the English Premiership, Belgium or in Turkey he must have developed a good relationship with a lot of players across the globe and that was why many of them craved to be part of the event. Little wonder the FIFA boss himself associated with him,” the former Nigerian international said.
On what the testimonial meant to Yobo, Akani said: “It’s about him leaving a good legacy to the young ones coming after him that they should be dedicated. For him to be the first person to play over 100 matches for Nigeria as a full player, it also demands that upcoming players should look at him as a role model and follow his footpath.
“Though, he may not have won the World Cup, but the fact that he appeared in six Africa Cup of Nations and three Mundials is quite a great achievement and he can stand tall among the world great footballers anywhere.”
Yobo remarked: “It was an absolute honour for me to have represented my country, and played at the highest level for over 13 years, and I was humbled to see so many great people turn out here today. I was David Moyes’ first signing at Everton, and that was one of the reasons he came for my testimonial game. I did not even make many calls before many of my former teammates in all the clubs I played in started calling that they wanted to be part of this game”
Speaking on the turnout, Kanu said: “It is not an easy thing to bring these many football legends together in a stadium. The fact that Yobo has done it shows the respect that he has in football circle.”
Former PSG and Bolton Wanderers midfielder, Okocha was equally also noted, “It is not easy to play 100 games for your country and the fact that Yobo was the first to reach that mark says a lot about him as a player.”
Meanwhile, the eggheads of the NFF have been condemned for fixing a friendly match for the national team on a day one of its most celebrated players was being “pulled out.” The federation however responded by releasing Super Eagles skipper John Mikel Obi and his assistant, Ahmed Musa, to honour Yobo in the testimonial game, leaving them out of the international friendly with Mali in France on the same day.
The Joseph Yobo’s testimonial featured a Team Joseph Yobo (comprising Super Eagles’ players of Yobo’s generation) and a Rest of The World team.
Yobo began his career at non-league Michelin FC in Port Harcourt, before leaving for Standard Liege in Belgium. He went on to play for Marseille, Everton, Fenerbahce and Norwich.
Internationally, Yobo first appeared for Nigeria at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship before the team was ousted in the quarter finals.
He made his senior international debut against Zambia in a 2002 World Cup qualifier and went on to play in all six of the team’s matches in the 2002 AFCON and was included in the squad for the 2002 World Cup, where he was again ever-present, assisting Julius Aghahowa’s goal in a 2–1 loss to Sweden.
Yobo made his second World Cup appearance at the 2010 tournament in South Africa, after which he assumed the captaincy of the Eagles following the international retirement of Kanu. But the veteran defender was no longer a first choice player at the 2013 AFCON, but lifted the trophy after appearing as an 89th-minute substitute in Nigeria’s 1–0 final defeat of Burkina Faso.
He was included in the squad for the 2014 Mundial and was named in the starting line-up for both the second and third group matches, helping the Super Eagles to clean sheet in a 1–0 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In Nigeria’s round 16 game against France, the 35 year old defender made his 100th international appearance, and after scoring an own goal in the 2–0 defeat, Yobo announced his international retirement, saying: “This is it. I can look back on my career with great pride. I wanted to leave on a high for my country. Defeat by France was not the right way to go but I’m happy with all I’ve done for the national team. It’s time to give a chance to other people to come through.”
In 2010, following a brief courtship, Yobo married former Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, Adaeze Igwe, in a ceremony held in Jos, Plateau State.