Leeds United's 100 Greatest Players #11 :Tony 'The Ghanian Cantona' Yeboah
Quite simply a ‘whirlwind’: Yes, in a fleeting Leeds career spanning only two years and just 61 appearances, it is fair to summarise Yeboah’s impact as seismic and utterly unprecedented. He came, he plundered an astonishing array of spectacular goals, he left.
Typical of Leeds that the affair was so brief: Exactly. Like Cantona before him, the reverberations from Yeboah’s arrival were so immediate, so openly emotional and so telling, yet, before we had chance to grow into our ‘Yeboah: Pure Genius’ t-shirts he was gone. Amid injuries, an absence via the African Cup of Nations and finally, a fall-out with then boss George Graham, the second and final 12 months of Yeboah’s Leeds career were a sobering anti-climax compared to the gushing majesty of the first. But for a brief period, whilst never blessed with searing pace, Yeboah demonstrated power, technique and clinical finishing of explosive proportions.
David James to the media on the Liverpool goal “I should have saved it.”
Tony Yeboah to the media in response “So why didn’t you then?”
So where did it all start then? Howard Wilkinson had been looking for a big name, headline signing for many months. Having seen his title-winning side spectacularly hit the buffers, and having been publicly rebuffed in his pursuits of Tomas Skuhrahvy and Ruben Sosa, Wilkinson and Bill Fotherby were anxious to compete with the influx of big, foreign names at other Premier League clubs. However, despite a return of 68 goals in 123 games for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt, Yeboah was unknown outside of Germany and his native Ghana. Still, Leeds finally landed their target at a club record cost of £3.4 Million in January 1995.
It took a while for Tony to get going though didn’t it? He made only brief substitute appearances to little effect in the first few weeks, but then came on as sub in an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford and scored with virtually his first touch, albeit in a 3-1 defeat. Three days later he made his first start and scored the only goal in a home win against Everton.
He fired us into Europe didn’t he? Effectively yes. After an inconsistent first half to the campaign Yeboah’s ruthless finishing saw us sneak up on the blind side and secure a UEFA Cup place. Yeboah struck 13 goals in 16 starts, but they were all regulation finishes; routine goals that showed he was a strong runner and had good, predatory instincts.
Nothing that prepared us for the start of the 1995/96 campaign then? Absolutely not. It was almost like the cold, dark months of winter had just served to help Tony get his feet under the table. Come the autumnal sunshine it was as if Yeboah had flicked on a switch to demonstrate what he was really all about. He famously attributed it to a growing penchant for Yorkshire Puddings, but a double salvo on the opening day of the season at West Ham; a bullet, diving header and a rasping half volley, was an hors d’oeuvres to wet the appetite for what was to come. Two days later in front of the Monday night Sky cameras a tight game with Liverpool stood at 0-0 in the second half, and a Rod Wallace flick on hung in the air with seemingly little imminent danger. A full forty yards from goal Yeboah struck the ball with a delicious volley that met the sweet spot with that ‘one-in-a-million’ caress. The ball arrowed towards goal and at the last second dipped beyond the flailing David James and crashed in off the underside of the bar. The ground exploded at the split second of Herculean theatre it had just witnessed. The power that Yeboah had produced, seemingly from the instep of his right foot (he was left footed) rather than the conventionally more powerful forefoot, was a devastating weapon we had hitherto been unaware of, but it did for Liverpool with an instant and disbelieving finality.
Did he top it with the goal against Wimbledon a month later? He certainly matched it, and while many prefer the Liverpool goal for its spectacular nature, the Wimbledon goal, for me, showed a wider range of skills, all of them executed with brutal simplicity. Leeds lead 2-1 approaching half time as a long ball fell to Yeboah from Brian Deane’s knock-down. Today, whilst again finding himself forty yards out, Yeboah decided on a different, but equally rewarding path to goal. He took the ball on his chest, cushioned it on his knee, then in a flash of unstoppable momentum, in one movement he shimmed past a defender, switched the ball to his right foot (he was left footed) and struck a sweet-as-you-like half volley into the net, once again crashing in off the underside of the bar. This time the keeper was rooted to his spot and the fans behind cowered out of the way, praying the netting would save them from certain blackout. Astonishing.
And it continued? Yeboah ended up with a hat-trick in that game and became the only player to win Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month in consecutive months. He also produced on the European stage with three goals of bewitching variety away in Monaco. In all, he notched 19 goals in 39 appearances but injury in March brought an abrupt end to his season. A series of bust-up’s with new manager George Graham in the following campaign lead to only six starts, one sub appearance and no goals in the desperately barren 1996/97 season that cried out for his combustible artistry. Upon being substituted at Tottenham in March, Yeboah launched his shirt at Graham as he headed down the tunnel, and in an instant lost the Leeds fans’ respect, and kissed goodbye to his Leeds career. Within a few weeks he was back in the Bundesliga with Hamburg.
What if he had never signed for Leeds? We would have been denied two of the most spectacular goals in the clubs history, and also the ruddy glow from the mesmerising romance that surrounded his electrifying dalliance.
In a nutshell: The very definition of shoot on sight.
Date of birth: 06/06/66
Signed from: Eintracht Frankfurt
Leeds United Debut: Queens Park Rangers (H) 24/01/95
Left Leeds for: Hamburg
Leeds United appearances and goals
Season Apps Goals
1994-95 16 (4) 13
1995-96 39 19
1996-97 6 (1) 0
TOTAL 61 (5) 32
*Substitute appearances in brackets
Leeds United Honours
1995-96 Named Leeds United Player of the Year
Ghana Caps 59
Ghana Goals 26
Strange but true
Tony Yeboah's debut was pencilled in for January 21 1995 but it was put back three days after the Leicester away game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.