Rashidi Yekini: Remembering A Nigerian Football Icon 5 Years On _ Remigius Akinbinu

…Friday the May 5 ,2017 marks the fifth anniversary of his death…

The first time I heard of this rhythmic combination of names was in 1983. Then he was playing for a little known Kaduna based club known as UNTL.

He was so outstanding in an FA Cup match for this club that bigger and well known clubs in the Nigerian elite division all wanted him by all means but for reasons best known to him, the Legendary Rashidi Yekini preferred The IICC Shooting Stars (now 3sc). He joined the top Ibadan based club on time to play alongside the great Segun Odegbami (who by then has retired from the Nigerian National team) and alongside whom he formed a formidable attacking quartet with Ademola Adesina and Wakilu Oyenuga that led the IICC to a memorable 1984 football season.

Rashidi was first invited into the Nigerian National team, the Super Eagles in late 1983 and had his baptism of fire at the 14th African Cup of Nations, Cote d’ivore ’84, where he played second fiddle to the likes of Henry Nwozu and Chibuzor Ehilegbu in the attack of the Stephen Keshi-captained- Super Eagles side that lost 3-1 to the Roger Milla inspired Cameroonian National side in that year’s final.

Late Rashidi Yekini

In 1986,Rashidi who passed on last Saturday due to mental stress, started his first playing experience outside Nigeria when he was grabbed by top Ivorien side Africa Sports in 1985. Then it was very uncommon to hear of Nigerians playing in the European League. Yekini was an instant hit in Abidjan such that by the time he left for Europe four years later, he was already a cult hero in the French Speaking West Africa Country.

Gangling Rashidi Yekini as he was fondly called by Nigerian Commentators actually began his remarkable African Nations Cup goal scoring spree in Maroc ’88 scoring three goals in that competition as Nigeria again emerged runners-up to Cameroon.
In 1990, he led a historic Nigerian come-back from a 5-1 drubbing by Algeria in the opening match, to reach the final scoring five goals on the way. We were however to lose the final match to the same Algerians, this time with a marginal 1-0 scoreline.

He continued his Nations Cup scoring exploits in Senegal ’92 scoring 4 goals including the unbelievable impossible-angle-goal against Cameron in the third place match which won Nigeria the bronze medal behind Ghana and first time winners Cote D’ivoire. In those days, Rashidi Yekini was a household name on the African continent as he was always a terror to opposing teams who usually ensured that he was always man-marked,albeit,oftentimes to no avail! In Tunisia ’94,legendary Egyptian keeper,Ekramy Ahmed Subair had boasted before the Nigeria/Egypt goaless match that The terrific Rashidi will not score against him.Truly Rashidi did not score but in about the 70th minute of the encounter,’Gangling’ received a great pass from the mercurial Jay Jay Okocha,chested it down on either knees and let off what Earnest Okonkwo (the late legendary Nigerian football commentator) would have described as ‘intercontinental ballistic missile’ that rocked the Egyptian crossbar beyond the terrified Egyptian keeper before coming back safely into the field of play. After the match,Keeper Subair was said to have gone to meet Yekini and said “You didn’t score but you scared me”!

Perharps the year 1993 was his year of greatest individual achievement. That year he emerged the highest goal scorer in the Portuguese second division playing for Vitoria Setubal FC leading them to the elite division.
It was the same year that his goals in the African World Cup qualifiers qualified Nigeria to her first ever FIFA world cup appearance. He scored 9 goals in the qualifiers including the memorable-thunderbolt-freekick-goal on the sandy pitch of Congo Brazaville, to emerge the highest goal scorer in the African qualifiers. At the end of that year, he was deservedly named the African Footballer, the first ever Nigerian to be so named as the best we ever had then was Mathematical Segun Odegbami’s third and second best in 1977 and 1981 respectively.

If 1993 could be said to be his year of greatest individual achievement, then 1994 will be his biggest year for corporate national achievement. It was the year that Yekini and his team mates led by Coach Clemence Westerhof who is arguably Nigeria’s most successful coach till date won for Nigeria its 2nd African Nation’s Cup beating Zambia 2-1 in the final. It was also the same year that Nigeria not only participated in the world cup for the first time but also put up one of Africa’s best ever performances at the tournament. Also before the competition kicked of in the USA, Nigeria was ranked No.5 in the world by FIFA which ranking is up till today,the highest point ever achieved by any African Country in the world soccer governing body rankings.

That Rashidi scored Nigeria’s first ever world cup against Bulgaria that fateful afternoon in Boston, USA is common knowledge as his boisterous celebration of the historic goal as captured by the TV camera which formed part of FIFA iconic images will forever remain indelible in the minds of not a few football fans.

The Western European country of Portugal was however to become the place Rashidi Yekini became really famous playing club Football. In the 1992/93 football season, playing for the first time in Europe,Rashidi emerged the highest goal scorer in the Portuguese 2nd division for little known Victoria Setubal FC which team got promoted to the elite division courtesy Yekini’s 27 goals. Then, after his unbelievable exploits in the 2nd division, the Portuguese press was awash with predictions to the effect that Rashidi, cannot repeat the feat in the first division which was not only a tougher league but one of the most highly rated in Europe by virtue of the great European exploits of teams like FC Porto, Benfica,Braga and Sporting Lisbon. They were however to receive the shock of their lives as Rashidi the Gangling one, against all odds emerged yet again the highest goal scorer in the first division with 21 goals alongside a certain Bulgarian named Kostadinov in the 1993/94 season.

Till date, no other Nigerian has achieved that feat of topping the scorers’ chart in any of the Big leagues in Europe. Yekini moved on to the Spanish Primera division in 1995/96 season where he played few league matches for Sporting Gijon.He also had a brief stint with Olympiacos FC in Greece before moved to Swizz Club, FC Zurich in 1997/98 season from where he was recalled to play for the Country at the 1998 World Cup in France. The great Rashidi Yekini drew the curtains on his chequered Career in 2002 after returning home to play for Julius Berger FC of Lagos in the Nigerian league and still summed up energy to score a hat-trick in a league match.

Rashidi Yekini, African footballer of the year 1993 and Nigerian National team’s all time leading scorer,like many Soccer-loving Nigerians might never have forgiven the Late General Sanni Abacha, Nigeria’s despotic Military ruler who without any justifiable reason precluded the Super Eagles from featuring in the 1996 African Cup of Nations in South Africa. This was because, Yekini with 13 goals was then the all time leading scorer in the bi-ennial tournament and should have consolidated if he had played in South Africa as he was at the best of forms then. Football historians and fans of the legend will easily attest to the fact that while the Nations Cup was going on in South Africa, Yekini returned to his base in Spain and scored two memorable goals against the Almighty Real Madrid in Sporting Gijon’s 3-1 league win.

It is sad to note,also,that since Yekini left the scene,Nigeria has never been able to produce another prolific scorer with unquenchable thirst for goals like him. In fact,the question on the lips of most Nigerian football buffs and analyst each time The Super Eagles find scoring a difficult task is “when are we going to discover another Rashidi Yekini?”

Indeed, Rashidi Yekini,variously referred to as Ye-King,The Gangling Rashidi,The Black wonder,The phenomenon and so on,in the various countries where he played,did not only made name for himself and his country,he also succeeded in leaving his massive footprints on the sands of time.Adieu! King Yekini,the Great!!!

Written by Remigius Akinbinu

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