Comic books portray footballers as heroes, and kids look up to them like they are the reason why football was invented. And then there is Tony Yeboah; a player without rival or comparison, an explosion, and a supreme specimen who almost defies description.
Yeboah had a physique of cartoon proportions; the formidable frame and the chiselled features of a Greek statue and a player who established a legacy that means he belongs on a marble plinth, surveying those mortals below him who have marvelled at his feats.
Did Yeboah do enough to earn ‘legend’ status at Leeds United? It is a compelling argument that balances 32 goals in 61 appearances and just two years - almost half of which he spent either injured or in the doghouse - with a dazzling showreel of spectacular goals that mixed the inventive and theatrical with the audacious and unfathomable.
It was the most dizzying and raucous of affairs, and while, as ever, it left gluttonous Leeds fans wanting more, they couldn’t say they hadn’t been satisfied in the meantime.
Such was the whirlwind surrounding Yeboah’s seismic impact at Elland Road, the ink was only just dry on a thousand ill-considered tattoos when a fallout with George Graham called time early on a Leeds United career that today feels like the most delicious cameo ever performed on a football stage.
And in cold, tangible terms, a cameo is all it was. As the dust settled on a joyride of wonderful goals and a brief flirtation with European football, we were left with a club still in transition and a 3-0 defeat at Wembley, but a barrel load of memories to bore the grandkids with for a generation. He was gone as quickly as he came, and Leeds fans were entitled to ask “what the hell was all that about?” Yeboah rode off in the sunset to Hamburg before anyone had even worked out exactly how old he was, and yet, could life ever be the same again?
Yeboah wrote the definition of how one player could galvanise a football club, he singlehandedly wrestled Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds team from a mid-season slumber in 1994/95 and scored 13 goals in 16 games to shoot them into Europe. Most of those goals were routine, and showed Yeboah as a strong-running, sharp striker with a clinical finish.
It was not until the Autumn of 1995 that we discovered Yeboah’s capacity to stop time and demand that the world watched him. At that moment it felt like an unstoppable force had joined up with an unbreakable object, and there was nothing that could stand in the way of Leeds United and global domination.
Such moments come along very rarely, but this was such an electrifying romance that there were no limits to where it could take us. In reality, it took us as far as Eindhoven, but anyone who witnessed Yeboah in his brutal yet graceful pomp, could be forgiven for still dreaming today.
Anthony Yeboah arrived as a complete unknown in January 1995, signed from Eintracht Frankfurt for £3.4million. Leeds had been stung by the failure to capture big name targets Tomas Skuhravy and Ruben Sosa, and a palpable anxiety at being left behind by the influx of foreign imports at other Premier League clubs, meant Messrs Fotherby and Wilkinson had to act.
Yeboah’s arrival was muted, with few fans hanging much hope on the Ghanaian settling quickly in the frozen wilds of West Yorkshire. But February was a big month for Yeboah. 24 years ago this month, Yeboah scored his first goal for Leeds, as a substitute in a 3-1 FA Cup defeat at Manchester United. A week later he would make his first start versus Everton, and promptly notched his first league goal, the only goal in a 1-0 win. He also scored in the League Cup Semi-Final first leg at Birmingham City also in February, albeit a year later.
The pace picked up and Yeboah had soon acclimatised, and so had his teammates, to the arrival of a direct and uncompromising forward who had quickly become a sure thing in front of goal. And early the following season, pundits all over the country were asking “who is this guy?”
Mixed in with monstrous strikes against Liverpool and Wimbledon, which established him as the first player to win ‘Match Of The Day’s ‘Goal of the Month’ competition two months’ running, Yeboah plundered a succession of goals that showcased his technique, balance, poise and pace and most supremely, his savage and untamed power.
In short, Yeboah had everything. He could glide undetected, like the whispering death, but with thighs like a Rugby League prop forward he was a magnificent example of how the human body can be honed and adapted as the ultimate shoot-on-sight machine.
While the Liverpool and Wimbledon goals, each scored with the instep of his ‘wrong’ foot, took the headlines, it was perhaps Yeboah’s hat-trick in the UEFA Cup in Monaco that cemented him as one of the world’s top strikers of the time. In the comprehensive destruction of a star-studded Monaco team, Yeboah took the plaudits for three goals that succinctly demonstrated his array of skills. Predatory, skilful and clinical, he was indisputably on centre stage now.
Alas, Wilkinson’s Leeds hit a rut of form in the second half of 1995/96. Yeboah defied injury to play as a lone front man in the disastrous League Cup Final defeat to Aston Villa, but little did we know, he had already scored his last goals for Leeds United.
Incoming manager George Graham never saw eye-to-eye with Yeboah, and the Ghanaian’s fitness never truly recovered. The sporadic and lifeless performances he made during the prolonged misery that was the 1996/97 season were a pale imitation of his former majesty. Graham’s Leeds were mechanical and one-dimensional, and while they were crying out for Yeboah’s artistry, it was like Samson had been shorn of his locks. And when Yeboah threw his shirt at Graham when subbed at Tottenham Hotspur, it was only going to end one way.
He came, he plundered, he left. Yeboah’s gifts were his alone, nobody helped him, except to allow him the stage that he owned. In an unprecedented Leeds United career, there was no time for pleasantries, just something dramatic, direct and animalistic. This was exhilarating, exhausting and left us spent. It was a relationship that will always keep a fire burning at Elland Road, and a bewitching kind of love that we have never quite recovered from.
By: Jon Howe | Leeds-live.co.uk