The calm in which he settled in the Capital FM studios in Nairobi on Wednesday morning as eager staffers queued up in uninhibited excitement to take pictures and engage with him belied his status as one of the lynchpins of the most successful strike force in Manchester United’s history.
At 41, he still looks like someone who could step on a pitch and terrorise defences anywhere in the world although he brought an end to his glittering career in 2010 having played for seven clubs, five of them in England.
Yes, Dwight Yorke, the Trinidad and Tobago national who was part of arguably retired legend Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest United, side that reached its apex with a treble win in the 1999 season is in town to prove to local lads that they too can rise from the humble beginnings to play for the biggest teams in the world.
“I’ve been to Africa over the years but I’ve not had the opportunity to travel to Kenya. So far, it’s been great, the people and the food I ate last night are great. The people seem very warm and welcoming, genuine and hardworking. I just felt the warmth of the country is exceptional,” was his first impression of the country coded 254.
Yorke is on a three-day tour of Kenya under the auspices of the Airtel Rising Stars initiative, now in its third year, that partners with United to give youngsters a chance to pursue their dream of playing professional football at the top level.
“I’m delighted to be an ambassador of the football club. United do not put a name for something they can’t fulfil and three years into the partnership, people like Andy Cole, Quinton Fortune and I visiting because of the commitment United show in the past.
“We are here to send that message to everyone that we are a partnership with Airtel of trying to give kids an opportunity to fulfil their dreams. We are delighted to be ambassadors of the club and I’m delighted to be here in Kenya to encourage people to pursue their dreams.”
Yorke who came from a similar background to Kenya notes he is ‘living proof’ that opportunity is always around the corner.
“I can relate to the people of Kenya. I came from a similar background and I have had to go through and endure the same hardship of wanting to make it with very little facilities and little money.
“I came from a family of nine and living in a two-bedroom house but that never deterred me for one moment. It never made me stop thinking that if I wanted to be a professional footballer, I just needed an opportunity.”
He added: “That was then, football has become a global sport and here we are in Kenya with the help of Airtel and United laying a foundation for kids and that was not there five years ago.
“We want the kids to embrace it and make them realise this is a possibility provided they want to work for it because it is not going to be handed to you on a plate, you have to go out there and earn it and work extremely hard to do so. You need to commit, make sacrifices, work hard and practise hard is the only way.”
Yorke was scheduled to speak to Upper Hill, Olympic and Mukuru Primary schools in his tour as he seeks to follow his former team mates, Andy Cole and Quinton Fortune who came here last year for the same purpose.
The Caribbean football star who netted 64 goals for Manchester United in 188 appearances called on local football authorities to embrace youth development systems to improve the fortunes of Kenyan football.
“In the 90s, United produced eight world class players from their system. I came through a system of under 10s, 14s, 18s, 21s, to the senior team and with such development, the likes of Messi (Lionel) and Ronaldo (Cristiano) came through such.
“If you don’t have continuity, then the country cannot produce enough players. It’s a topic everyone is debating, in England, they are talking about the influx of foreign players and in Kenya and you need coaching clinics, corporate and other investors of youth development.”
In his heyday, Yorke was also famed for a colourful lifestyle off the pitch, dating a number of top models including Katie Price also known as Jordan that made him constant tabloid fodder at United.
Having lived through the lavish glamorous life of money, fast cars and women, Yorke called upon upcoming players to temper the fan and focus on their football.
“I never drank until I was 21 years. There were only three foreigners allowed during my time at any team. Football has become such a global sport, the money, the finances are rewarding and it’s very difficult for a young player to have all this money and live a normal life.
“Going out, spending on fast cars and beautiful women are part of the concept and if I was to do it all over again, I would do the same but try to stay as focused because those are the moments you need to work harder because people are waiting for you to be a failure. Keep reminding yourself what got you here in the first place and that is hard work, getting to that level is the easy bit, maintaining it is the hardest part.”
During the visit to Capital FM, the only thing that betrayed his fast paced life as a United star was his appreciation of the music being churned out by the resident mix-master, DJ Joe who was spinning reggae tracks he was very familiar with owing to his Caribbean roots.
“Hey Joe, show me what you got,” he told the turn-table ace who obliged by keeping his head nodding in his next set.