Such is the myth surrounding Nigeria’s all-time goal scorer Rashidi Yekini that the secrecy that accentuated his personae could at best be unravelled by those that had a close affinity with him during his lifetime. So what are the flipsides of the 1993 African Footballer of the Year who was fondly nicknamed The Goalsfather for his striking prowess ? Notable few that knew much about the late Nigerian soccer hero here give some refreshing insight in this report by MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN and OLALEKAN OKUSAN
He was an enigma during his life time but what kind of person was the legendary Rashidi Yekini, the Super Eagles striker that died at his Ibadan home on May 4th 2012.
Even almost a decade after his demise, the secrecy that accentuated his personae could at best be unraveled by those that had a close affinity with him during his lifetime.
“I first came in contact with Rashidi Yekini in December 1983 when we were in Kaduna with the national team and someone brought his attention to me; I promptly called him up to the national camp during this training tour to Kaduna,” erstwhile national team handler, Octogenarian Adegboye Onigbinde told NationSport. “Right from the outset, I had to use my teacher training experience to bring out of the best in Yekini because he just wanted to be left on his own.
“I was a well-trained teacher since I went through three teachers’ training colleges and one of the compulsory subjects then was child study which was purely psychology; and this helps in understanding each player with their specific their problems.
“Right away, I was able to identify Yekini’s problems because he was a stark illiterate because he didn’t have formal education so to speak.
“He will keep quiet when his teammates were blowing grammar and that I think this accounted for his inability to socialise much throughout his life.
“In coaching we have both the group and individual methods; you put players together with their levels of understanding while you’ll have to deal with individual characteristics; but I was happy I was able to change few things about him because he improved overtime,” Onigbinde affirmed.
Indeed like a raw gold that became shinning substance after passing through the crucible of fire, the hitherto diffident Yekini turned to a shining start and striking terror feared all over the continent and beyond.
He had 60 international caps playing for the Super Eagles and remains the country’s top scorer with 37 goals. The bulky was the Super Eagles’ top scorer with five goals at the 1994 that helped in Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) victory since 1980. He was Nigeria’s first recipient of the prestigious Africa Football of the Year in 1993 and was also the scorer of Nigeria’s first ever goal at the FIFA World Cup against Bulgaria at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, USA.
Described ‘as everyone idea of a striker’ by respect American football analyst Paul Gardner, Yekini featured in five AFCON (1984, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994) where he played a cumulative 24 matches and credited with 13 goals.
But Ye-King as equally referred to by admirers, was not an overnight sensation according to his former national teammate Fatai Amoo who later trained him at the twilight of his career.
After his professional career abroad, one of the local clubs that the Yekini played for was Julius Berger of Lagos and Amao was in charge of the team during his one season stint with the team at their Abeokuta base in Ogun State.
Amao, a former assistant coach of the Super Eagles, described the late Yekini as an epitome of humility and professionalism right from their early days in the national team in the 1980s.
“My first meeting with Yekini was in the national team and that would be around 1984 but I couldn’t remember the exact year, “Amao, the former inspirational captain of defunct First Bank Football Club of Lagos,” told NationSport. “He was dedicated and disciplined; he was very quiet and jovial, when he talked, everybody around always loved to hear him.
“Yekini was a loveable and likeable person; he was as dedicated as a player and was a major motivator to the younger players during his days with us at Julius Berger
“He was also like a coach to the upcoming players; he really helped those young players to develop and tried to encourage them. His presence in the team really brought confidence, courage and determination into the young players.”
Yekini has puritanical devotion for his job which was the hallmark of his professional football career right from his days at the Shooting Stars of Ibadan to far flung places including stints at Africa Sports of Abidjan where he was a scoring idol en route to Vitoria Setubal in Portugal where he became a household name in Europe and the world at large.
At Setubal, Yekini scored a remarkable 13 goals in 24 matches on his debut 1990/1991 season and followed up with 22 goals in 30 matches and 26 matches in the 1992/1993 season.
It was after the USA’94 World Cup that he moved to Greek side Olympiakos where he featured in just four matches and two goals in what was described as one of the worst career moves by an African top player in Europe.
He later played with a clutches of other clubs in Switzerland, Tunisia, Qatar on his onward journey back to playing on the continent with a second spell at Africa Sports before coming home to roost with Julius Berger in the 2003 season.
“Yekini brought professionalism into Julius Berger and this impacted on his teammates, especially the younger players in the team,” Amao further revealed. “His attitude was exemplary; he didn’t have any issue with anyone and was punctual to training.
“He contributed immensely to the team as Julius Berger gained more followership and fans trooped out to watch Yekini.
“He was a wonderful and exceptional striker, complete professional who was always hungry to score goals,” Amao recalled. “In fact, his presence really helped us in the African Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final clash against APR FC of Rwanda ; though he did not score a goal, his contribution was so immense and we qualified for the final match against Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia.”
Yet for all his reported recluse lifestyle, Yekini impacted on many youngsters he came in direct contact with not least his erstwhile roommate at Julius Berger.
“My first encounter with Yekini was when he was introduced to us as part of the team at Julius Berger and we were all excited to have him around us; I’m lucky to have play with such a great name,” recalled Babatunde Yusuf who played in midfield for the Bridge Boys.
“He was a very cool and calm person as well as very jovial. But if you tried to know him more, he would try to keep to himself because he did not like to mingle with people.
“But if you are lucky to be so close to him, he will crack lots of jokes that would make you laugh.”
Yekini, according to Yusuf who later became one his close confidants, would be the last to joke with his football career, describing him as a true professional.
“I learnt being professionalism from him because he was such a professional to the core,” Yusuf further said. “He never arrived late to training and hardly missed training.
“He trained as if we were playing a match and on my own, I tried to emulate him because he maintained his professionalism while playing with us at Julius Berger.
“The name Julius Berger is a big name but Yekini brought huge crowd anytime or anywhere we played and I remember two of our league matches played in Jos and Minna.
“In Jos, the crowd was uncontrollable and the fans tried to gain entrance to the stadium through our own bus. In Minna, two sides of the fence guiding the supporters collapsed just because they wanted to watch Yekini.”
Still speaking on Yekini’s abiding love for football, Yusuf said: “He loved football not because of the money but because of the passion he had for the game; even when he was not paid you will know that he naturally loved football and he gave everything on the field.
“Initially at Julius Berger, he had excellent relationship with everybody but he changed along the line because he was not playing in the first team and he did not like sitting on the bench.
“Being his roommate I knew he was not happy with the team because some were no longer ready to give him the ball because they felt he was old and rusty.”
At the religion frontier, Yusuf described Yekini as a saint because he was so pious: “I will not also forget two things about him as a player and a brother.
“One was his faith and he did not joke with prayers. As a Muslim he prayed all the time when he was meant to pray and we tried to encourage ourselves with words of God.
“Then about his policy, he was frugal as he only gave on his own will. You can’t force him to give. Even when he was giving, he tried to hide it from people and those are the things that truly made Yekini an enigma,” noted Yusuf.
YE-KING IN NUMBERS
- His record of 37 goals in 60 international caps with the Super Eagles is yet to be broken and he remains highest goal scorer ever for Nigeria’s men’s senior national team
- He was the highest goal score in the Portuguese Primiera Liga in the 1993/1994 season where he scored a remarkable 26 goals in 30 matches
- The former UNTL and Shooting Stars’ striker actually featured for seven clubs in his sojourn outside Nigeria as he featured for Africa Sports of Cote d’Ivoire, Vitoria Setubal in Portugal ,Olympiakos in Greece, Sporting Gijon in Spain, F.C. Zurich in Switzerland, Club Athlétique Bizertin in Tunisia and Al-Shabab Riyadh in Saudi Arabia before returning to Nigeria to play Julius Berger and Gateway FC
- He represented Nigeria at five African Nations Cup competitions including the 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994 edition where he was top scorer with five goals. Altogether, he won one bronze medal(1992); three silver (1984,1988 and 1990) and one gold medal (1994)
- Yekini’s highest haul in a single game for the Super Eagles was four in the 7-1 defeat of Burkina Faso in the Senegal’92 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier played at the National Stadium in Surulere on 27 July 1991
- He represented Nigeria at two FIFA World Cups at the USA ’94 and France ’98 finals. Though he scored Nigeria’s first eve World Cup at USA’94 in the 3-0 defeat of Bulgaria, he did not score any four years later in France