Celestine Babayaro: Crowd-pleaser

Celestine Babayaro: Crowd-pleaser

Player Profile: Celestine Babayaro

Date of Birth: 29/08/1978

Height: 1.76 m

Position(s): Left-back, left midfielder

National Team: Nigeria

International Caps: 27

International Goals: 0

Club Career

There are some players who, despite having issues with their temperament and attitude, remain crowd favourites throughout their careers. Celestine Babayaro is one such player. The Nigerian faced multiple questions regarding his attitude throughout his career, but that did not stop fans from loving him and his unique celebrations.

Babayaro started his career by being one of the numerous African teenagers that leave behind home and family, for a shot at glory in Europe. Born in Kaduna, Babayaro was spotted by scouts of Belgian side Anderlecht when he was playing for Plateau United. 

He relocated to Belgium when he was just sixteen and despite his tender age, quickly began to grab attention. Babayaro created a record for being the youngest player to play in the Champions League when he came on for Anderlecht against Steaua Bucuresti, aged just 16. In the same match, he created an unwanted-record as the youngest player to get sent off in a Champions League game.

Babayaro established himself in the Anderlecht first-team the following season, playing 28 league games and scoring five goals. By now, he had begun to attract interest from scouts of some of the major European clubs. Chelsea officials were alerted to his talent by their scout Lewis Durkin in 1997 and quickly moved to secure his signature. Babayaro had not yet turned 19 when he made the move, but Chelsea were impressed enough to shell out £2.25 million – a then club-record fee for a teenager – for the left-back.

Babayaro’s first season in London did not go according to plan. By December, a serious injury had ruled him out of the rest of the season. He had only managed to make appearances in eight league games before that. The following season though saw him cement a place as a first-teamer. The entire season saw him turn out 44 times for The Blues, 28 of those appearances coming in the league. He also chipped in with four goals and even managed to get his hands on the UEFA Super Cup trophy.

The 1999-2000 season was even more memorable as Babayaro won the FA Cup with Chelsea. Again, he was a prominent member of the first team, making 41 appearances in all competitions. At 21, the future appeared bright for him.

However, this was where his career started going downhill. With competition, first from Graeme Le Saux and then from a young Wayne Bridge, the number of games that Babayaro got to play started decreasing with each season. In the 2002-03 season, he made just 24 appearances for the Blues, and in the following season, this came down to 14. When Jose Mourinho arrived at Stamford Bridge for the 2004-05 season, this came down to just four appearances. The Nigerian knew his time at Chelsea was up and left for Newcastle United. 

Babayaro was able to become Newcastle’s first-choice left-back in no time, but this was where his attitude problems started to surface. In 2006, he was banned for slapping Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt. His commitment to the club also came under question with Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd later labelling his behaviour as disgraceful. Constant injuries too did not make his time at the club any easier.

After leaving Newcastle in 2008, Babayaro, still only 29, made the switch to the USA to play for Los Angeles Galaxy. His stint there lasted only three months with Galaxy releasing him, reportedly due to disciplinary issues. It was widely reported that he was not happy with the facilities at the club and that his unhappiness had manifested as a lack of commitment in training sessions. He ended up playing only 45 minutes for the club, that too in a pre-season friendly.

After leaving Galaxy, Babayaro attempted to resurrect his career, training with then Premier League side Portsmouth. However, he failed to impress Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp and was not offered a contract. A couple of seasons later, Babayaro, still unable to attract interest from top clubs, announced his retirement from football. He was only 31 when he hung up his boots.

International Career

Celestine Babayaro had some early success on the international scene, winning the U17 World Championships with Nigeria in 1993. Two years later, he made his full debut for Nigeria in Afro-Asian Cup of Nations. 

In 1996, Babayaro had the crowning achievement of his Nigeria career, winning the Olympic Gold at the Atlanta Games. Babayaro managed to score in the final against Argentina. His performances in the tournament earned him a spot in the tournament’s all-star team and his brother Emmanuel was also part of the team.

He was injured before the 1998 World Cup but recovered just in time to make the final squad for the tournament. Nigeria made a terrific start to the tournament, topping their group. But they crashed out in the Round of 16 with a loss to Denmark.

Babayaro captained the Nigeria team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in Sydney and was also part of the squad for the 2002 World Cup. His international career though ended on a sour note. Babayaro was part of the Nigeria squad for the 2004 African Cup of Nations tournament but was sent home midway through the event alongside fellow players Victor Agali and Yakubu Ayegbeni, after being charged with indiscipline.

Where is Celestine Babayaro now?

After retiring relatively early at the age of 32, Babayaro became a football agent. He also appears in the media every now and then to talk about issues, mainly concerning Nigerian football. 

He has a number of business interests in his home country and is also a brand ambassador for Nigerian club Kaduna United.

Did you know?

– During his time with Newcastle United, just before a match against Liverpool, Babayaro was told that his younger brother had died of tuberculosis. Despite the news, he insisted that he was ready to play and put in a solid performance as Newcastle beat Liverpool 2-1.

– Babayaro’s son Ryan is currently training with Newcastle United.