Past Nigerian Football Stars: Celestine Babayaro
Celestine Hycieth Babayaro is a Nigerian former footballer who played as a defender or as a midfielder. He was born on the 29th of August 1978 in Kaduna, Kaduna State and was named after Pope Celestine V.
Babayaro’s Son is said to be playing at Newcastle’s academy which happens to be the same club at which babayaro played in.
Babayaro began his playing career at Nigerian side Plateau United, before moving to Belgian club Anderlecht in 1994, and eventually would make a name for himself, quickly gaining the first-choice status although still a teenager. Babayaro set records as the youngest player to make an appearance and to receive a red card in the UEFA Champions League. Celestine is widely regarded as the best Nigerian fullback ever to have lived alongside Taribo West.
Babayaro was signed by Chelsea after being spotted by scout Lewis Durkin in April 1997. He moved for a transfer fee of £2.25 million, a club record paid for a teenager at the time. He made his debut in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup against Slovan Bratislava, but an injury sustained in the 6–1 win over rivals Tottenham Hotspur in December 1997 ruled him out for the rest of the season.
However, with Chelsea, he went on to win the 1998 UEFA Super Cup, the FA Cup and Charity Shield in 2000 and reached the 2002 FA Cup Final. He was also instrumental in Chelsea’s memorable run in the 1999-2000 UEFA Champions League. His acrobatic celebrations with backflips were noted and loved by the fans of the club.
In January 2005, he left Chelsea to join Newcastle United on an undisclosed fee, where he established himself as the first choice left-back. He scored his first and what turned out to be his only Newcastle goal in a 3–1 win over Coventry City in the FA Cup.
This fine form continued into United’s 3–1 away victory against Zulte Waregem, in the UEFA Cup.
Due to his many injury problems, it was mutually decided, on 10 December 2007, that Babayaro should be released from his contract with immediate effect and a compensation figure was agreed.
In January 2009, former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd described Babayaro as a “disgrace” who “didn’t pull his weight” during a televised BBC interview.
On 21 January 2008, 29-year-old Babayaro came to an agreement with the Los Angeles Galaxy to join them on a three-year contract, effective immediately.
With this move, the Nigerian re-joined Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit who previously brought him to Chelsea in 1997 and spent a season coaching him there. However, it did not take long for the move to turn sour.
On 3 March, Babayaro was waived by the Galaxy after playing only 45 minutes in a pre-season friendly against FC Seoul, receiving a yellow card and conceding a penalty in the process. The reason for this unexpected release was not stated explicitly by Galaxy front office. “After a period of evaluation, it was decided that it would be in the best interest of the club and the player to part ways,” Lalas said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that it did not work out, but Ruud and our technical staff are hard at work putting together this team and difficult decisions have to be made.”
During pre-season for the 2008–09 English league season, Babayaro trained with Premier League club Portsmouth at the invitation of manager Harry Redknapp with a view to signing for the FA Cup holders. On 14 August 2008 Redknapp revealed that he would not offer Babayaro a contract at Fratton Park.
On 8 July 2010, Babayaro officially announced his retirement from football.
After being part of the victorious Nigerian team at the Under-17 World Championships in Japan (1993), Babayaro made his international senior debut in the Afro-Asian Championship in 1995, against Uzbekistan. The following year he was part of the Nigeria Olympic gold medal winning team at the Atlanta 96 football event, making the tournament’s all-star team. He scored in the Gold Medal game itself against Argentina. After getting a knee injury in December 1997 in the Premier League, Babayaro recovered just in time to make the France 98 squad. He was also Nigeria’s captain at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and took part in the Korea/Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Babayaro was part of Nigeria’s squad for the 2004 African Nations Cup in Tunisia but was controversially sent home, alongside Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Victor Agali for indiscipline. Although never officially announcing his retirement from international football, he has not played for the national team ever since.
His Honours Include
Belgian First Division: Winner 1994–95
Belgian Supercup: Winner 1995
Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year: 1994–95
Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year: 1995–96
UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup: Winner 1997–98
UEFA Super Cup: Winner 1998
FA Cup: Winner 1999–2000
FIFA U-17 World Cup: 1993
Olympic Gold Medal: 1996