Usually, the arrival of one of the top scorers in the English Premier League to an Asian league would be big news, but Yakubu Ayegbeni’s move to Guangzhou Fuli has been overshadowed by Didier Drogba. Neither will care as both strikers have adapted to life in China with no problem at all. It is the defenders who are struggling.
They left the Premier League in the summer after hard and very different seasons in Europe. Drogba’s last act as a Chelsea player was to score the penalty that gave the team a first European title to break London’s duck in the continental competition. He also headed the team back into contention to take the game against Bayern Munich into extra time and penalties.
Yakubu ended his English time in less glorious fashion, chasing a chicken around Ewood Park as Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the Premier League. It was a roller-coaster season for the Nigerian. Few fans were excited about the injury-prone striker arriving from Everton in August, but two goals on his debut against Arsenal changed all that.
He soon became a hero and scored an impressive 18 league goals for a team that got relegated. It was a tempestuous season with fans angry at the club’s Indian chicken-farming owners, Venky’s — hence the fowl protest on the final day of the season.
Drogba’s signing has been one of the stories of the summer in football. Shanghai Shenhua’s purchase of Nicolas Anelka in December put the team in a global spotlight. But even when the Frenchman arrived, the whole city was asking the question, ‘Will Drogba come?’
It is no surprise that since Drogba arrived in July, Shenhua suddenly looks like a team. In previous months, it had been a disaster. Coach Jean Tigana was fired after a few weeks, there were wild rumors of Anelka taking his place — thankfully this turned out not to be true — then bad results, relegation troubles and problems came between Tigana and the club.
Drogba arrived in the nick of time. He has energized the entire club. With minutes of his debut, he almost scored with an outrageous 40-meter free kick and then set up his team’s winner with a perfect through ball. But there was more. He was everywhere and, unlike the more reserved Anelka, was encouraging his teammates, patting them on the back after a misplaced pass and pumping his fists at every opportunity. This was a new feeling at the club.
Then it all came together on July 4. Against local rival Hangzhou, Drogba inspired the team to heights it hadn’t reached all season. He scored twice as the Blues won 5-1 in front of an ecstatic home crowd. After the game, Drogba was interviewed by Chinese television and instead of taking the plaudits, paid tribute to his teammate. “I scored two goals, but the best player on the pitch was Anelka,” he said. “He was fantastic, he was everywhere in attack and in defense. He showed why he is the captain.”
That is not the case for Yakubu. Drogba hogs the headlines, but the Nigerian has been prolific. English fans chanted “feed the Yak and he will score,” and in the region of China that takes food the most seriously, the striker has been scoring. Five goals in seven games has the team back challenging for a place in the top three.
“It has been a good start,” Yakubu said this week. “It was great to score in my debut against a team like Evergrande. I always believe if you train hard and play well, the goals will come naturally. The playing style in C-League is different from the Premiership, but the atmosphere is just as great, with cheering fans, magnificent stadiums and first-class facilities. So it is no big difference for me.”
His goal-scoring remains just as impressive. Drogba and Yakubu are two African strikers who have arrived in China via England and have already made quite an impact.
Didier Drogba and fellow African striker Yakubu Ayegbeni have made a splash since arriving in China. AFP Photo/Peter Parks