Yakubu's row with Nigeria a bonus for Boro

Fortunately for Boro supporters, the forward is not referring to Steve McClaren, but to Christian Chukwu, the coach of Nigeria.

Middlesbrough could be shorn of their top scorer for up to six games during the African Nations' Cup, which is being staged in Egypt at the start of next year. However, unless there is a severe thawing in relations, or a new man at the helm before January, Nigeria's loss will be the Riverside's gain.

Yakubu has put the ball firmly in Chukwu's court. And considering that the coach's last utterance on the 22-year-old was to instruct him to "go to hell" after he had failed to show up for a World Cup qualifier earlier this year, the chances of a reconciliation appear slim.

Yakubu said: "If he calls me I would love to go, but I don't know if he's going to call. I have nothing against the coach." But he added, clearly with some wishful thinking involved: "Anyway, they [Nigeria managers] come and go, and he could be gone tomorrow. Nobody likes to be on the bench, especially when you know you should be playing."

McClaren's channels of communication appear a little more fluid than his Nigerian counterpart's, which has helped when resting his £7m summer signing in the Uefa Cup this season. Yakubu said: "It's different when the manager leaves you on the bench but explains why or tells you he might need you for 30 minutes; you don't feel so bad about that. But when you should be starting in the national team and you never play, then you have the right to ask why."

It being a Sunday, there must be a Middlesbrough game. They certainly do not seem to bother with playing many on Saturday afternoons these days. The first time they kick off at home at the traditional time this season will be New Year's Eve. A Fulham side yet to win at the Riverside are the visitors today, a team against whom Yakubu netted a hat-trick last season.

Only Thierry Henry has plundered more Premiership goals since Yakubu's arrival in the top flight almost three years ago when joining Portsmouth from Maccabi Haifa. A goal almost every other game while at Fratton Park has been matched since his move to Teesside, with seven in 12 starts.

The presence of Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka - although the latter is unlikely to figure following his World Cup involvement with Australia - guards against any laurels being rested upon.

Yakubu said: "You have to set a target if you want to be one of the top strikers, and I want to get 20 goals in the League this season. But I don't feel the number one striker here. Jimmy and Mark and the others are all good players. The manager decides who plays, but when he calls me I am ready. There's a lot of competition, but we are friends in training.

"It doesn't matter who I play up front with. We understand one another and we know what we can do. I like the 3-5-2 system we've used recently, it's working because we're getting results, and maybe we can stick with it."

International problems aside, the move has proved a fruitful one for Yakubu five months into his life in the North-east.

He added: "I am happy here, and I am not thinking about being anywhere else. I hope I stay for a long time. I have settled quickly. There are new friends and a new environment and the players have helped me settle in well."

A single telephone call from Africa could make an ideal world near-perfect. Not that Middlesbrough would concur.

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