When Ghanaian striker Anthony Yeboah signed for Leeds United on January 5, 1995, not many were excited about it. He was little-known.
But the $4m signing from Eintrancht Frankfurt brought hope in West Yorkshire, vindicating managing director Bill Fotherby and manager Howard Wilkinson who had missed out on big names like Faustin Asprilla, Ruben Sosa and Ruel Fox to sign him.
Yeboah came off the bench to score on his Leeds bow, albeit a 3-1 loss, in the FA Cup in February, and again scored on his league debut in a 1-0 win over Everton. He was awarded Premier League Player of the Month for March, an honour he would pick again in September 1995.
After winning three Ghanaian topflight titles with Asante Kotoko, Yeboah played for Cornerstones Kumasi, Okwawu United before joining Saarbrücken in 1988. He scored 26 goals in 65 appearances for the Bundesliga 2 outfit before signing for Frankfurt in the Bundesliga in 1990.
It is here where he registered his name among the history makers in German football. Alongside fellow West African Jay-Jay Okocha, Yeboah was a mainstay in Coach Klaus Toppmoller’s side. In his mid-20s, the Ghanaian had established himself as lethal striker, full of energy, speed, skill and accuracy. He was dependable to teammates, feared by opponents.
In the 1992-93 season, Yeboah became the first African to win the Bundelsiga top scorer award, when he scored 20 goals in 27 appearances. He shared the gong with Bayer Leverkusen’s Ulf Kirsten, but Yeboah’s goal-game ratio was better because the German’s 20 goals came in 33 appearances.
Yeboah’s goals helped Frankfurt to a third-place finish with 42 points, behind champions Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich.
The following season, he played fewer games but he improved his conversion rate to prove the first heroics were no fluke. Again, he topped the charts with 18 goals in 22 games. Again, he tied with 1985-86 top scorer Stefan Kuntz of Kaiserslautern. And again, Yeboah’s was superior because the German played 26 games, four more than the Ghanaian.
Yeboah had joined and is at the table of Bundesliga greats like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Robert Lewandowski, Miroslav Klose, and record winner Gerd Muller.
In perspective, when Yeboah picked his second Kicker Top Scorer Cannon (the Golden Boot equivalent) in 1994, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was only a little boy, about five years old in Laval, France. It took the Gabonese 23 more years to become the second African player to top Bundelsiga scorers chart, with 31 goals for Borussia Dortmund in 2016-17.
Yeboah was also the first Frankfurt player to top the Bundesliga scoring charts. It took another 21 years for Alexander Meier to do the same with 19 goals in the 2014-15 season.
Frankfurt’s performance in 1993-94 dipped but Yeboah’s goals helped the club finish fifth and qualify for the Uefa Cup the following season alongside Kaiserslautern, Leverkusen and Dortmund.
But Yeboah left midway into the 1994-95 season. He had scored seven goals in 14 league games, but after new coach Jupp Heynckes suspended him, Okocha, and German Maurizio Gaudino for lack of effort in training, he left.
The Leeds legacy
Yeboah’s 12 Premier League goals in 18 games, in just the second stanza of the 1994-95 season, woke Leeds up from a mid-season slumber into fifth place and back into the Uefa Cup. Yet more was loading; in quantity and quality.
Yeboah was the perfect complement to the terrific attacking trio of Gary Speed, Gary McAllister and Rodney Wallace, whose efforts had been undermined by the lack of a prolific scorer.
No wonder he needed just one full season to become a legend, not only at Elland Road but also in the Premiership. His 24 league goals in 47 matches ranged from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
But two goals stood out. The first, his third in two games of the new season, a sublime volley in the 1-0 defeat of Liverpool on August 21, 1995.
In the 51st minute, the diminutive Wallace won a header against a shaky Liverpool defense, sending the ball from the 18-yard box backward into Yeboah’s path. In typical predator style, Yeboah volleyed it into the goal, a scorcher that shook the crossbar before the ball nestled at the back of the net.
David James, the Liverpool goalkeeper, still wet behind the ears, had never seen such a thing.
“That’s the goal of the season,” the commentator said.
He was right, maybe.
It was chosen Goal of the Month. Why? Weeks later, the rampant striker would replace it with an even more magical strike in a 4-2 win over Wimbledon on September 23.
If Wimbledon keeper Paul Heald had made contact with the rocket, it would probably have fractured his fingers.
A Wimbledon player headed the ball away defensively, but Yeboah used four deft touches to disarm the six opposition players around. He rested the ball on his chest, juggled it on his left thigh, then two more touches, including a dummy, and at bullet speed, cleared the way for him to launch a right-footed missile that rattled the crossbar, hit the turf, before the ball found the back of the net.
Heald was on his knees, throwing the ball back onto the pitch, utterly dejected.
Now this won another goal of the month award in two months. No player won such consecutive honours until Tottenham’s Gareth Bale in 2013. Yeboah’s goal won the BBC Goal of the Year.
In this very match Yeboah also finished his third hat-trick for Leeds, the first one having come in April, the second 11 days before, against Monaco in the Uefa Cup.
Yeboah scored 12 league goals in 22 games, but Leeds’ overall finish to the season was disappointing. Eliminated in the second round of Uefa Cup; defeated 3-0 by Aston Villa in the League Cup final; defeated by Liverpool 3-0 in the FA Cup quarterfinal, they finished 13th in the league.
But Yeboah had played his part and was named the club’s Player of the Year; the first-ever non-British player to win the award.
The following season, injuries restricted Yeboah to just seven appearances. A bad relationship with new manager George Graham did not help matters. In his last appearance, the frustrated striker threw his jersey at the feet of the coach. And just like he had left Frankfurt, he left Leeds, back to the Bundesliga, where he played for Hamburg until 2002.
Leeds faithful missed him but wished him the best. Twenty-three years later, the feeling is still mutual.
“I have to tell the Leeds fans they are fantastic, they are super fans,” Yeboah, a hotel chain owner, told the media in March. “Maybe without them I would not be where I am today… they deserve to be back in the Premier League.”
Yeboah scored 15 goals in 56 games for Ghana. Sadly, he makes the long list of talented Black Stars who never won the African Nations Cup.
It took 23 years for another African player to win the Bundesliga golden boot. Gabonese Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was only five when Yeboah achieved the feat, scored 31 goals for Borussia Dortmund in the 2016-17 season.
Born. June 6, 1966 (age 54)
Place of birth. Kumasi, Ghana
Height. 1.80m (5 ft 11 in)
Ghana Premier League top scorer: 1986, 1987
Bundesliga top scorer: 1992–93, 1993–94
Kicker Bundesliga Team of the Season: 1992–93, 1993–94
Leeds United Player of the Year: 1996
Premier League Player of the Month: March 1995, September 1995
BBC Goal of the Year: 1995
First African to win the Bundelsiga top scorer award.
First Frankurt player to top the Bundesliga scorers chart.
First player to win consecutive Premier League goal of the month award (Aug-Sept 1995).