Tony Yeboah’s time in English football may have only been a brief affair, but there is no doubting the indelible mark the forward left on the Premier League.
Our latest piece in a series of the Premier League’s greatest Golazo merchants takes us to the tale of Yeboah, an African powerhouse of a player who formed part of the league’s mid-nineties foreign invasion and established himself as a firm fans’ favourite in a one-club city.
Rarely has a player flickered so briefly and so brightly than the finger-wagging former Leeds star.
There are perhaps few players in Premier League history whose name simply evokes such vivid memories, the powerfully-built Ghanaian who will forever be known as the king of the thunderbastard.
Yeboah’s origins began in Kumasi, Ghana, where his talents as a youngster were soon spotted by Saarbrücken, the German outfit gambling on the potential of the forward in the late eighties.
Becoming one of the first black players to play in the Bundesliga, Yeboah was a pioneer and his performances soon began to grab attention, a prolific return for Saarbrücken leading to a move to Eintracht Frankfurt.
The first black player in the club’s history, a young Yeboah was victim of sickening racial abuse from his own support upon arriving in Frankfurt, though his undeniable talents soon saw him become a star and alter perceptions of how black players were viewed.
“Yeboah was one of the greatest strikers who played in Germany apart from Gerd Müller. He had a big impact on society.”
– Jurgen Klopp
Yeboah formed part of the exciting Frankfurt side who were narrowly pipped to the Bundesliga title, finishing as the leading scorer in the division in consecutive campaigns in 1992/92 and 1993/94.
That period coincided with the birth of the rebranded Premier League, a revolution of English football that Yeboah – alongside several other exciting foreign additions – would soon become a part of.
A falling out at Frankfurt, now under the management of Jupp Heynckes, saw Yeboah head to Yorkshire, his £3.4m signing greeted with a mix of optimism and hope from the Leeds support who had seen their side struggle to score goals with any form of regularity.
The Whites had stagnated somewhat since being crowned champions in the final pre-Premier League campaign, a dismal defence of their crown followed by a fifth-placed finish that saw the club miss out on a return to European football.
Leeds had targeted a host of stellar names in a bid to add potency to their attack, but after missing out on the likes of Faustino Asprilla and Rubén Sosa settled on the services of Yeboah – it would not prove to be a mistake.
The Ghanaian admits he had reservations following his mid-season arrival in English football and felt he did not ‘belong’ amid the intensity of the Premier League, but after firing his first league goal in a victory over Everton at Elland Road, soon began to trouble the score-sheet with increasing regularity.
Back-to-back braces in away wins at Chelsea and Leicester endeared him to his new supporters, before a brilliant hat-trick against Ipswich truly announced his arrival in stunning style.
Yeboah finished his first half-season as Leeds’ leading league goalscorer with 12 goals, his contribution helping Howard Wilkinson’s side to a fifth-placed finish and qualification for the following season’s UEFA Cup.
It was that following season, that Yeboah became one of English football’s greatest cult heroes.
Yeboah began the season by scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory over West Ham at the Boleyn Ground, his second a fine example of the devastating power within just a swing of either boot.
Having opened the scoring with a fine header, Yeboah raced onto a lofted pass in behind the West Ham defence. The angle seemingly looked against the forward, but what occurred was a finish of such velocity, it’s a wonder the thumped mitre ball didn’t burst at its seams.
A whole generation of footballs still wince when they hear the name Yeboah. ? pic.twitter.com/96OZfY8sWk
— Football Faithful (@FootyFaithful_) May 18, 2020
Yeboah’s match-winning intervention in the East End was the beginning of a sh*t-hot run of form over the opening weeks of the campaign, with his latest jaw-dropping moment coming in the very next game.
Liverpool were the visitors to a packed Elland Road for the first home game of the new season, a Monday night fixture broadcast to the masses by Sky Sports – the company behind the exciting new dawn of England’s top flight.
Even the most optimistic of Sky chiefs couldn’t have expected what would occur, a moment of genius which acted as a brilliant advertisement of the Premier League package and has remained so more than two decades later.
A closely fought contest had remained goalless until the early stages of the second period, where those inside Elland Road – and watching at home on television – were treated to two moments that defied belief.
Firstly, the 5ft-nothing Rod Wallace won an aerial battle with the Liverpool defence, before the ball dropped out of the sky in the direction of the lurking Yeboah. Failing to take his eye off the ball’s flight, the forward – as if fuelled by a hatred of all things Mitre – unleashed a volley of sheer violence, instinct and audacity that flew past the bewildered David James and in off the underside of the crossbar.
Our Nineties or Noughties goal of the day?
— Football Faithful (@FootyFaithful_) March 27, 2019
It’s a moment that any montage of Premier League highlights must include, a goal which will remain forever part of footballing folklore on these shores and a truly unforgettable strike.
Those who witnessed it must surely have thought they had been present for a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but how they were wrong.
Just a week later The Whites on-fire forward continued his personal Goal of the Season competition, though this time under the bright lights of a UEFA Cup clash with Monaco.
Leeds were making their first return to the European stage in three seasons and Yeboah was keen to celebrate, rifling home a hat-trick to down the principality side – containing the likes of Lillian Thuram and Thierry Henry – at the Stade Louis-II.
The second of Yeboah’s treble included another stunning effort from distance, a curling postage-stamp effort on his left side that nestled into the far top corner. Match-ball safely tucked under the arm of their goal-getter from Ghana, Leeds headed home with a resounding 3-0 victory.
FORGOTTEN GOAL: 24 years ago today Tony Yeboah continued his personal crusade against tap-ins by scoring this pinger (for his hat-trick) vs Monaco.
He was fucking unreal, wasn’t he?pic.twitter.com/8kHIxupsNg
— Proper Football (@sid_lambert) September 12, 2019
It’s difficult to quite comprehend that the goals included here came in a timeframe of a little longer than a month, but having only just unpacked his Monaco travel-bag, Yeboah was up to his old antics a mere 11 days later with arguably the crowning moment of his Premier League career.
Even the last remnants of Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ must have felt some trepidation at facing the formidable Yeboah, and any fears were soon realised in stunning style on a sun-soaked afternoon at Selhurst Park.
The Ghanaian had already opened his account and Leeds were on their way to a 2-1 victory, when Tony Yeboah decided to do what Tony Yeboah did, smack the leather off any football which got in his way.
There were six Dons’ defenders in the striker’s way when another loose ball dropped into his path, the burly forward controlling it on his chest and thigh before embarking on an unstoppable surge forward.
After feigning past a feeble challenge, Yeboah unleashed the thunderbastard to end all thunderbastards, a strike of Herculean power which ricocheted off the crossbar twice before finding the net.
There seemed nothing the forward was not capable of at this point, and he finished the afternoon with yet another match-ball to add to his growing collection.
Another spectacular strike against Sheffield Wednesday followed and Yeboah finished the season with 19 goals in all competitions, though a dismal second half to the campaign saw the Yorkshire side slump to a mid-table finish.
The season would largely be confined to the history books as amongst the more forgettable in the club’s history, were it not for the impact of one man. Sadly, less than a year after his breathtaking start to the 1995/96 season he was gone, a combination of injuries and a falling out with new manager George Graham seeing him return to Germany with Hamburg in 1997.
He finished his Leeds career with an impressive 32 goals in 66 appearances in all competitions, though with a legacy that can not be measured in an often stat-obsessed footballing world. Football fans of a certain vintage and even beyond, will still regularly scream ‘Yeboah!’ ahead of an anticipated thunderous effort.
Steven Gerrard, Thomas Hitzlsperger, John Arne Riise and Paul Scholes are amongst the Premier League names regularly associated with thunderbastards, but no one ever did it quite like Yeboah.
We’re not sure if anyone ever will.