Could the ex-Nigeria international have played for one of the Premier League’s leading sides?
Joseph Yobo’s time at Everton under David Moyes will fondly be remembered, yet there’s a feeling the player could’ve aimed higher during his peak.
The centre-back was part of the side that threatened to break the top four hegemony of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal from the mid-2000s to the late 2000s, but ultimately fell short.
Still, Nigeria most capped player did feature considerably often in the 2004/05 Premier League campaign where the Toffees ended fourth, and above city rivals Liverpool for the first time since 86/87. The feat wasn’t to be repeated until 11/12 where the Reds finished in eighth spot, a place below their Merseyside rivals.
Even though Yobo and co. never pipped their adversaries for a while after 2005, their final position that year, as well as subsequent finishes in following seasons, was an important step in giving other sides belief as regards challenging the division’s stronger sides.
An 11th-place finish in 05/06 was disappointing, especially after the promise of the previous season, but what followed was truly impressive: Until Moyes left for Manchester United at the end of 12/13, Everton finished outside the top seven once (eighth in 09/10) and ended either fifth or sixth in four of those campaigns.
For a side that had consistently battled relegation or accepted lower-half positions for majority of the 1990s, the turnaround in the 2000s was remarkable.
The Scottish manager got majority of the praise, and rightly so, but star performers like Yobo played a part in the Merseyside club’s ascent from strugglers to strong competitors. The Toffees’ dogged nature made them hard to play against, and the traditional big boys seldom had it easy their encounters, especially at Goodison Park.
For Yobo’s part, he rose from understudy to vice-captain of the side, and even captained the team for the first time in a Uefa Cup match with Larissa in October 2007, thus becoming the first African to lead the historic club.
This underlined the centre-half’s importance and his formidable partnership with Englishman Joleon Lescott at the heart of the defence between 2006 and 2009 was one of the key components of this excellent cycle.
They were ever-presents in their first campaign together in which the Blue half of Merseyside conceded just 36 goals, which was outright the best outside the top four and 18 fewer than fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur who allowed 54. Over the next two years, they let in 33 and 37 goals respectively with the Blues finishing fifth on both occasions.
Only Phil Jagielka’s rise saw the Yobo and Lescott pairing broken up, with the latter having to fill in at left-back intermittently.
However, the pair’s symbiotic partnership was broken when Manchester City signed Lescott in August 2009, ending three productive years for the duo in Everton’s backline.
Unfortunately for Yobo, his form dipped in the following year and appearances reduced as a consequence. The 29-year-old was loaned to Fenerbahce in 2010 and then sold to the Turkish club a year later, taking him out of the limelight somewhat in the latter years of his career.
In hindsight, the centre-back will look to 2006 as the turning point in his time as a professional. Unlike Lescott, who signed for ambitious nouveau riche Manchester City at 26, the Nigerian missed his own opportunity for a top move when Arsenal showed an interest in 2006.
Yobo, then in his mid-20s, signed a long-term extension at Goodison Park denying him the opportunity to have the pick of employers a year later when he could have left Merseyside as a free agent.
Still, questions remain as to why Nigeria’s joint most-capped international wasn’t looked at by other top sides in England or maybe Europe.
Perhaps, at the time, some of England’s giants simply had no place for him: Manchester United had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic as primary centre-backs while Chelsea had John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho at the heart of the defence.
With a move to Liverpool all but unlikely, that left the Super Eagle with a possible transfer to the Gunners who needed a consistent head beside Kolo Toure, with Arsene Wenger often rotating among William Gallas, Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos.
A move never materialised and the West African missed out on his opportunity to play for one of the leading teams in the land at the peak of his game.
After struggling in the 90s, Yobo’s significant role in making Everton a competitive side since the turn of the century can’t be understated. In a sense, it’s a real shame we never saw the centre-back at one of the top sides in England to judge just how good he was, although he certainly can look back proudly on his contribution to the Toffees’ return to prominence.