Dwight Yorke: The Smiling Assassin

Dwight Yorke: The Smiling Assassin

Player Profile: Dwight Yorke

Date of Birth: November 3, 1971

Height: 1.75m

Position: Striker

National Team: Trinidad & Tobago

International Caps: 74

International Goals: 19

Club Career

The Caribbean Islands are more famous for producing cricketers than footballers, but Dwight Yorke is a notable exception. The Trinidad & Tobago striker spent eighteen long years plying his trade in England and returned home with a clutch of medals.

Yorke had a most unusual start to life in professional football. Aston Villa were on tour to West Indies in 1989, and an 18-year-old Yorke performed well against them in a friendly. His performance in that match was so good that the Villa manager Graham Taylor felt compelled to offer him a trial in England which led to a full-time contract.

The striker made his first-team debut in 1990, but it was not until the 1991-92 season that he really cemented his place in the Villa first team. After a disappointing season where they narrowly avoided relegation, Ron Atkinson had taken charge and instantly recognised Yorke’s talent. He took a gamble on him, and it paid off — Yorke ended the season as Villa’s top-scorer with sixteen goals. Villa ended the season in seventh.

He spent most of the next few seasons playing on the wing and his goalscoring form wasn’t as prolific. But all that changed in 1995-96 when Brian Little installed him as the club’s main striker. Yorke had his best season yet, in terms of goals, scoring 25 goals.

The most memorable moment of the season though came in the League Cup final against Leeds United when Yorke got on the scoresheet in a 3-0 victory for his club.

His fine form continued in the next season as his 20 goals propelled Villa to fifth in the league. For the second straight season, he was their top-scorer in the Premier League, netting 17 times. By now his performances were starting to attract the attention of the big guns, Manchester United in particular. 

Villa started the next season poorly, and Little made way for John Gregory. The club mounted a recovery, partly fuelled by Yorke’s goals and Villa recovered to secure seventh place in the table. However, it was clear that the Trinidadian’s time at the club was over. Manchester United’s interest was now concrete.

Yorke left Villa in acrimonious circumstances though with the club initially refusing to sell their star striker. Gregory went as far as saying that if he had a gun, he would have shot Yorke for wanting to move away. Despite playing in Villa’s first game of the season against Everton, United swooped in with £12.6 million before the transfer window shut. Yorke was now wearing red instead of claret and blue.

He had arrived at United just in time — the year was 1998 and United were about to embark on a magical season winning every single tournament on offer. Competition for places at Old Trafford was fierce with Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham all vying for the striker’s spot. But Yorke took to United like a duck to water.

The striker wasted no time in forming a lethal partnership with Andy Cole, with the two combining like they’d been playing together for years. His debut Manchester United season saw him score 29 goals, top-scoring in the Premier League with 18. In the Champions League, he scored against Bayern, Barcelona, Inter and Juventus, playing a major role in their historic victory in the tournament. Yorke was even elected Premier League Player of the Year.

He had another prolific season in 1999-2000 as United won the Premier League once again, scoring 24 goals. However, his off-field antics were beginning to affect his on-field performances. Ferguson, who was famously intolerant of such distractions, was starting to take notice.

Yorke’s form dipped the following season, scoring just 12 goals. He did net another Premier League winner’s medal though and his highlight of the season was a hat-trick against title rivals Arsenal. After he was left out of the team multiple times in the 2001-02 season, it was clear that all wasn’t well between him and Ferguson. 

As the season drew to a close, Yorke moved on to Blackburn Rovers for a fee of £2 million. But his career was never quite the same again. He scored just 19 goals for Blackburn over two seasons, famously falling out with manager Graeme Souness. After a stint with Birmingham City, he left English football for the Australian A-League.

Dwight Yorke was supposed to provide a significant boost for the new A-League competition, much like his one-time teammate David Beckham had done for Major League Soccer. At Sydney FC he scored 7 goals in 21 appearances. The Sky Blues were crowned league champions, but his presence only provided a momentary boost for the league, and he left Australian football one game into his second season. A return to English football was on the cards.

Sunderland, in the second tier, was his next destination and Yorke joined former Manchester United teammate Roy Keane who was now manager of the club. Keane re-moulded Yorke as a defensive midfielder and the strategy appeared to have worked after Sunderland cruised through the Championship and secured promotion to the Premier League.

However, things soon came crashing down as Keane’s reign at the club unravelled. After Keane left, Yorke temporarily took on the coaching duties at the club but was let go at the end of the 2008-09 season. He announced his retirement from football shortly afterwards.

International Career

Dwight Yorke had a long international career with Trinidad and Tobago, making his debut for them when he was just a teenager. While his official tally of matches for the national team stands at 72, the number of unofficial friendlies he played for the team would take this tally well over one hundred.

His greatest achievement on the international stage was when he captained his country in the 2006 World Cup. He was voted Man of the Match in the Soca Warrior’s opener in that tournament — a 0-0 draw against Sweden.

Perhaps his most important goal for his country came in 2008 when he scored in a historic victory over the United States.

Where is Dwight Yorke now?

Post playing career, Yorke took his coaching badges and had a brief stint as an assistant manager with his national team. While he has, on multiple occasions, spoken of his ambitions to become a manager, nothing has materialised so far. That led him to speak out on how difficult it was for black coaches to even get an interview. These days, he is a media expert and an ambassador for Manchester United.

Did you know? Interesting facts about Dwight Yorke

– Yorke is a close friend of legendary cricketer Brian Lara and even carried drinks for the West Indies cricket team during the 1999 Cricket World Cup in England.

– He is also friends with Mark Bosnich, who he played with at both Aston Villa and Manchester United.

– The striker has a 7,500 seater capacity stadium named after him in Bacolet, Scarborough on the island of Tobago. The Dwight Yorke Stadium hosted matches at the U-17 World Cup in 2001 and the U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2010.

– He retired three times from national team duties but was persuaded to return on two occasions.