The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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The Tuesday Portrait: Yakubu

I have splendid truths to tell about Yakubu Aiyegbeni, the thundering Toffee, who crushes parked cars with his fists, eats junkyards, and cracks bank vaults with his skull—not because he hits them so hard, but because he knows the combination. Maybe you’ve seen him on a fine afternoon, just walking down the street with his entourage, Earthquake and Blunt Force Trauma. If it was Tuesday, Blunt Force Trauma was probably cleaning his kitchen, so he might have been with his other friends, Fiery Uproar and the guy who writes the meanest crossword puzzles in the world.

Actually, I don’t think he knows how to walk. He travels from point to point by rampaging. Give him a football and he’ll rampage toward the goal. Give him a shopping list and he’ll rampage toward the produce aisle. Wake him up in the middle of the night, and he’ll rampage toward the bathroom, then rampage his way into the kitchen for a glass of warm milk. He was dreaming about rocks, because he always dreams about rocks. The middle of the night is 3 p.m. at for him. The 24-hour clock isn’t man enough to hold him.


On the pitch, he plays like the bull and the matador at the same time, as if they’d formed a super-secret alliance for some black-SUV-based government agency and united to take down the mob. He will run you down like a freight train with an offended sister, and then when you duck out of the way, well, that’s where he was keeping his sword. There is a merciless glee in the grin that comes over his face when he scores that suggests a man who has been proved right in not thinking you had a very hard ribcage.

You are making a mistake when you think about him. You are thinking that something made out of a leftover battleship anchor would be too heavy to move at a speed that would sear grass. But see, that’s where you’re wrong. To watch him barrel through a crowd of defenders, then burst free just in time to receive the ball in the open and terrorize the quivering goalkeeper in the moment before he scores, is a distinct and category-expanding experience. It’s like the moment in the movie where the endless ranks of spear-rattling monsters and burning catapults slowly appear on the horizon, then come charging in wave after wave toward the drastically outnumbered, tragically silken army of bleached elves. You know it’s CGI, but it’s impressive just the same.

He’s almost certainly underrated. He’s scored more goals in England in the last few years than anyone not currently playing in Spain. He’s carried some mediocre teams more or less on his back, and when he finally went to a decent team, he more or less started carrying them too. He has a tiny fraction of the highlight clips of Carlos Tevez, but are we actually sure that he’s only produced a fraction of the highlights? Or is he overlooked because of the teams he’s played for, even though everywhere he goes he leaves behind uprooted trees, uneasy horses, and parks full of terrified deer?

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The Tuesday Portrait: Yakubu

by Brian Phillips · March 18, 2008

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