Leeds United: Soap-style exit remains a source of regret for star striker Yeboah

Former Leeds manager George Graham and star striker Tony Yeboah didn't see eye to eye.
Former Leeds manager George Graham and star striker Tony Yeboah didn't see eye to eye.
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“It’s tempting to wonder what the catch is – whether this fine romance will end in tears.”

So wrote the Independent’s Phil Shaw while Tony Yeboah was at the height of his form in 1995.

The striker hoped there would be no catch; that in his late 20s a transfer to Leeds United would be the last significant move of his playing career.

The PR disaster surrounding his departure was one of Yeboah’s lasting regrets.

“I could have stayed at Leeds all my life,” he says. “I thought about that a lot.

“But the way I left, it should never have happened. I shouldn’t have done what I did. I was sorry about that and I’m sorry still.”

Howard Wilkinson, the manager who brought Yeboah to Leeds, was sacked in the autumn 1996 and replaced by George Graham, a manager famed for his lack of adventure.

Graham did not warm to the striker and Yeboah believes Graham marked him down as a “bad boy”.

Yeboah had come to England with that reputation after a fractious end to his spell at Eintracht Frankfurt.

“People said that about me and it upset me,” he says.

“At Leeds, after my performances and my dedication, it was hard to be made to look like a bad boy. That wasn’t me.

“When I went to Hamburg after Leeds, the coach there said to me one day ‘I expected you to be trouble. After all I’ve heard about you, I thought you’d cause problems’ but we were fine.

“George Graham, I don’t think he liked me. When it came for me to leave I didn’t want to go. But leaving was a good decision. It was the right decision.”

Yeboah was injured for periods, a substitute in others and sometimes asked to toil alone up front. His uncomfortable relationship with Graham came to a head on March 15, 1997, the day of Yeboah’s last appearance for Leeds.

Trailing 1-0 at Tottenham with 17 minutes to play, Graham’s withdrew Yeboah and replaced him with Ian Harte.

The forward’s body language gave away his annoyance and he threw his shirt in Graham’s direction before walking down the tunnel.

“That was not the way to say goodbye,” he says.

“I would apologise for that. It wasn’t disrespect for the fans or the shirt, it was only frustration, but a player should never do that with the shirt.

“We were losing at Tottenham and we needed a goal. Then the manager replaced me with a defender. I said to myself ‘ what is this? Do we not want to lose?’ I couldn’t believe it. It was anger inside me because something was very wrong.

“I knew what I’d done and I regretted it – not because of the manager but because of the fans.

“Some of them spoke to me at my house in Leeds afterwards and said ‘we understand, we know why you’re angry’. They understood my situation very well. But what I did was wrong.

“I had to leave after that. It was the right thing to do. It was sad but things happen in life. You have to accept them, not look for revenge.”

Yeboah was ostracised by Graham immediately and reduced to the ignomy of reserve games.

On one occasion, at a second-string match against Birmingham City in Hednesford, 500 supporters turned up and Yeboah hardly made the effort to run.

He was sold to Hamburg later that year.

Around £1m came in and close to £2m went out as Leeds invested money in a replacement, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Yeboah, now 49, retired in 2002.

“Managers want to buy their own players,” Yeboah says. “Football is always like that.

“Leeds got Hasselbaink and he was perfect for them.

“It was sad for me but life doesn’t stop.”

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