May 10, 2012

Rashidi Yekini: A Nigerian Superstar of Many Sides

The evening of Saturday 5th was one of mixed feelings for me. I came home at about 7 PM local time and immediately tuned to BBC World Sports, knowing that my favorite football club Chelsea will be playing in the English FA Club finals. I received one bad news and one pleasant one that evening. The first was the news from the sports show that Chelsea had won the English FA Cup finals. Later in the same programme, the BBC journalist who anchored the show Russell Fuller broke the news of the death of Nigeria’s most accomplished scorer, Rashidi Yakini, who died the previous day.

Yakini was a Nigeria footballer who rose to the summit in the local league in Nigeria and abroad but also in the National Football team, the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Football is referred to as a beautiful game. The Nigerian style of football plays this beauty up more evidently and explains why Nigeria football, like the sun, has universal visibility. At the international level, Nigerian football especially the senior male team, the Super Eagles may have been recording reverse fortunes in the last decade and half with a drought of trophies; it has nonetheless remained classical in terms of its ability to sustain its attractive playing pattern. Rashidi Yakini was one man who played up this attractive football quality remarkably. The effervescence in a football stadium comes when there is a goal. Yakini was the most consistent goal scorer in the history of Nigerian football. He was so skilful that he jogged with the ball while on the run with the world’s best defenders pursuing him. My most memorable moment of Yakini in the field of play was strangely in a match that ended in a scoreless draw. It was a match against the Pharaohs of Egypt in Tunisia 94. At that unforgettable moment, he received the ball with his head in mid-air, controlling it to his chest, lap and taking the shot that sent the ball flying like a rocket and colliding with the post. This caused panic among the opponents in the field, the stands and at home. It takes skill, courage and experience to do this knowing that defenders are pursuing you.

The other memorable moment of Rashidi Yakini in the field of play was undoubtedly when Nigeria scored its first goal at the World Cup in USA 94. The spectacle of Rashidi Yakini clutching and shaking the net was one that became popular around the world, demonstrating that it was not only memorable to Nigerians but all football fans as well. Before USA 94, Nigeria had tried over the decades to play at the World Cup to no avail. The feeling that got into the minds of Nigerians after this long period of frustration was that perhaps nations that went to the World Cup and even scored goals had something Nigeria and its footballers did not have. That first goal changed that feeling in the minds of Nigerians. That goal made Yakini to realize that there is nothing previous World Cup scorers had that he didn’t have. He was world class after all. That was the motivating factor behind that kind of goal celebration at the Bulgarian goal post.

Besides remembering Yakini for his role in the development of Nigerian football and the entertainment and pride he brought to Nigerians, the star will also be remembered for his outstanding humility. He was a Muslim and lived up to its teaching that adherents should live modest lives. It is also a big lesson for many Nigerians to learn from. He chose to drive a modest 505 Peugeot car in contrast to the ostentatious cars his contemporaries preferred. Daniel Amokachi was, for instance, said to own a private jet with which he flew around the world. On completion of his career abroad, he came back to Nigeria and played with local clubs that included Julius Berger and Gateway football clubs, something that is rare among Nigerians footballers. I remembered how the stadium was field to the brim when Julius Berger, featuring Yakini, honored an away fixture at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium in Jos, demonstrating that the turnout at the numerous stadia across the country could be improved upon if Europe-based footballers choose to exhaust their last trace of gas at the domestic league.

It is a general belief that without football, Nigeria would have disintegrated into shreds. Yakini played a mountainous role in Nigerian football and is the reason why there should be a huge statue of him standing somewhere in Abuja.

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