By Kayode Ketefe
Today, May 4, 2015, marks exactly three years that one of the famous African soccer legends, Rashidi Yekini, died. Rashidi “Ye-King” as he was affectionately nicknamed by the media was born on 23 October 1963, and bidded this world bye on May 4, 2012, in a circumstance that procured more questions than answers.
Yekini scored a total of 37 goals for Nigeria representing the country in 58 appearances in five major tournaments, which included two World Cups and multiple African Nations Cup championships.
Apart from playing for the Nigerian National team, the Super Eagles, Yekini had played for seven other countries which included Cote Divoire, Tunisia, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
His playing career included playing home and abroad for different clubs like UNTL Kaduna, Nigeria (1982–1984) Shooting Stars, Ibadan Nigeria (1984–1987) Abiola Babes, Abeokuta Nigeria (1987–1990) Africa Sports, Cote Divoire (1990–1994) Vitória Setúbal, Portugal (1994–1995) Olympiacos Greece, (1995–1996), Sporting Gijón Spain (1997) Vitória Setúbal (1997–1998); Fussballclub Zürich, Switzerland, (1998–1999) Bizerte, Tunisia (1999) Al-Shabab, Saudi Arabia (1999–2002) and then back to Africa Sports, Cote Divoire, (2002–2003) and finally back to Nigeria with stints at local clubs Julius Berger Lagos (2005) and Gateway, Abeokuta (2005).
Surely few professional players could have experience as diverse and successful as Yekini in the course of their careers. Yekini had a number of firsts. These included being the first Nigerian to score a goal for the country at the World, a feat he accomplished in USA ’94 playing against Bulgaria; the first Nigerian to score the highest number of goals for the country – a whopping 37 goals which is still the record – he was thus the Nigerian all-time highest goal scorer. Yekini was also the first Nigeria to be named Confederation of African Football (CAF) African Footballer of the Year in 1993.
At his prime, Yekini had become too big, he was literally a living legend, he liked to mesmerise us with his goal-scoring prowess, the people idolised him, the NFF (forget the latter day abandonment) treasured him; the press adored him, splashing lavishly on him superlative adjectives and fantastic appellations like “King of goals” “the killer”, “the legend” and that sobriquet spawned from a clever pun of compounding his name deservingly with the word” king” to make “Yeking!”
Yekini’s era was a time you would open a newspaper and saw a banner headline “Massacre!” describing the Super Eagles’ exploits of ruthless whitewashing of opponents with Yekini being the chief architect of our adversaries’ doom. In spite of his giant stature, (both metaphorically and literally in terms of his accomplishments and physical height!) Yekini was as gentle as a dove and as meek as a sheep; he was humble to a fault.
To illustrate his humility, let us recall what the present Coach of the Super Eagles, Stephen Keshi, said in an interview hosted by the DSTV Supersport in 2011. Keshi had said that during the USA 94 World Cup, a group of players in the then star-studded Eagles decided to frustrate Rashidi Yekini, by not passing the ball to him.
Yekini’s reaction to this conspiracy illustrated his uncanny humility. I will take this from the revelation by another member of that team, Tijani Babangida, who disclosed in an interview with the National Mirror, after Yekini’s death, that the dead gangling striker was so distraught by the petty and unpatriotic gang-up against him that he went on his kneels to beg his teammates for a change of heart! That was Yekini!
Yekini was highly patriotic. He would never put money before his country. Yekini himself had once declared, “Nothing gives me more pleasure than scoring for my country. I have had disagreements with my European Club (Vitoria Setubal) because of my desire to play for Nigeria. Money is never my first Consideration. It is a great joy being back home so thinking about money is nothing. I value happiness more than money.”
Certainly, Yekini was never a man to hold the whole nation to ransom by refusing to play until his allowances were settled as members of the Super Eagles did just before the Confederation Cup in 2013. They simply refused to lace their boots for their fatherland until all their allowances were settled!
Before he finally gave up the ghost, Yekini had taken ill for a long time and he was reportedly only catered for by his family. That being the reason why we don’t have official medical disclosure of the cause of his death, rather we have different unofficial reports pointing to a range of ailments like bipolar disorder, acute depression and even psychiatric affliction!
This development is a shame that underlined the culture of our sport administrators. One would have expected the Nigerian and Football Federation and National Sports Commission to have collaborated to snatch him away from the jaw of untimely death by providing adequate medical support, but no, the health of this national hero was left for him and his family to manage or mismanage. Finally the man died at an unripe age of 49 years.
Ketefe may be followed on twitter @Ketesco
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.