23 September ~ For the third time in a row, Yakubu marked his arrival at a new club with a goal on his debut as he contributed to Arsenal's latest implosion away at Blackburn Rovers. Joining a seventh professional club well before your 30th birthday might look like the act of a typical journeyman but this is a player just one short of his 125th goal in English football.
The brace against an admittedly shoddy Arsenal side was classic Yakubu, displaying good movement and the sort of composure in front of goal that managers everywhere crave. His first strike showcased his natural finishing ability, while his second displayed an equally valuable facet of his game. Whether it's through smart spatial awareness, poacher's instinct or mere laziness the Yak has made a habit of being in the six-yard box at the right time throughout his career.
Considering the fact that Blackburn stayed up by the skin of their teeth last year with goalscoring a major problem (only four teams got less) and are operating on an extremely limited budget, the Yakubu signing could be one the shrewdest moves of the transfer window. However, there will be two major challenges to Steve Kean's quite possibly ropey man-management skills if the move is set to work out.
The first relates to fitness. Throughout his career when fit and motivated, the Yak has often been described by commentators as "strong" and "a handful". When he's not fit and motivated, however, those descriptions tend to have a much less positive spin on them. A nasty achilles injury hugely affected his spell at Everton, following an excellent opening season when he hit 21 in all competitions. Following a prolific spell at Leicester he seems to have found some fitness. Maintaining this is a must for Steve Kean if he plans to keep his job beyond October.
The second issue to be addressed is motivation. During both his full seasons at Middlesbrough Yakubu scored well enough, but he trailed off when within sight of the 20-goal marker. Having formed an occasionally lethal, and often lardy, pairing with Mark Viduka, a seemingly disinterested Yakubu failed to score in his last 13 and 12 appearances of 2005-06 and 2006-07 respectively.
Whether he's bothered or not at times is hard to ascertain, but Yakubu suffers from the same problem as Dimitar Berbatov in that a cool, languid style in front of goal is fine when you're scoring, but can leave a player's attitude open to question as soon as the goals dry up. It will be interesting to see how Kean attempts to handle Yakubu as both the famously nice Gareth Southgate and the more steely David Moyes have both failed to keep him fit and happy. If, however, Kean does manage just that, Blackburn will have taken a major step towards avoiding the relegation battle that enveloped them last spring. Peter Starr