Whatever happened to Leeds United’s Tony Yeboah?

Tony Yeboah , Ghana strikerAsk any Leeds United fan who their favourite player of the Premier League era was and you’ll get similar responses. Gary Kelly, Lucas Radebe or Nigel Martyn are typical answers, but ask them to think back just a couple of years earlier and they might remember a different legend. Ah yes, Tony Yeboah. The Ghanaian became something of a cult hero at Elland Road, despite spending a limited amount of time at the club, but what he did produce on the pitch, no one could ever forget.

The Whites signed Yeboah from the Bundesliga where he’d been prolific for Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring 68 goals in 123 league games. He’d suffered a torrid time initially at the club though, having to overcome the racist taunts of his own fans as the first black player to turn out for Frankfurt, but his ability on the pitch won them over in the end. After he initially scored 12 goals in 18 games on loan for Leeds at the back end of the 1994/5 season, they forked out £3.4 million to sign him permanently that summer.

He proved to be a highly successful signing, scoring 19 goals in 39 games the following season, including a hat trick against Monaco in the UEFA Cup and Wimbledon in the Premier League. He also became the first non-English player to win the club’s Player of the Year award, however Yeboah is fondly remembered by the Leeds faithful for his spectacular goals, the man simply didn’t do tap-ins. His shot on goal was unofficially registered as faster than Peter Lorimer’s, the man whose right boot is the stuff of legends round Elland Road. He won consecutive Goal of the Month awards on Match of the Day, the first player to do so, but nobody can quite decide whether his strike against Livepool or Wimbledon was better, so along with another couple of selections, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

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Unfortunately for Yeboah and the Leeds fans, his career stalled somewhat in Yorkshire after he suffered a series of injuries in the 1996/7 season. The arrival of George Graham as manager proved to be the end of his time at Elland Road as the pair clashed and much to the chagrin of the supporters, the striker moved back to Germany, signing for Hamburg for a fee of £1 million. He spent four years at the club, but his goalscoring record was poor compared to his efforts elsewhere as he managed just 28 in 100 league appearances for the club. Seeking one final payday, he made the move out to Qatar, joining Al-Ittihad Doha.

Yeboah’s impact on European football cannot be underestimated; he paved the way for African footballers in Germany having dealt with so much abuse along the way, thereby proving a fine ambassador for the continent with his fine displays in England and Germany. He still found the time to represent his country, scoring 29 goals in 59 games for Ghana while his work for African charities is also highly commendable. Much to the delight of Yeboah fans, he appeared in a number of friendly matches to try and raise money for orphans in Ghana, while he also gave the Leeds fans one final show at the Lucas Radebe testimonial in 2005.

His ventures outside football have been numerous, but he had a go at becoming the Chairman for Ghanaian side Berekum Chelsea and all reports suggest he made a better fist of it than Ken Bates at his former club. He runs a sports agency, helping African players make the breakthrough into Europe and also owns a series of hotels, making him a successful man outside the game as well. Recent public appearances suggest he might be enjoying those Yorkshire Puddings a little too much again though.

You can’t help but get a strong feeling of nostalgia when you look back at Yeboah’s career. He wasn’t the greatest goalscorer out there, or the hardest worker, but boy did he entertain. As Leeds go into the new season with just Luciano Becchio leading the line, you wonder what those sitting in the Kop would give for their former Ghanaian favourite to be there unleashing his thunderbolts towards opposition goalkeepers once more.