Growing up in the late eighties and early 1990s was particularly interesting, we had wrestling (with the likes of hulk Hogan, Randy Savage (RIP), Ultimate Warrior etc), we had unplanned holidays (sit at homes) due to the June 12, 1993 Election annulment brouhaha and the subsequent “stepping aside”, we had the botched Gideon Okar coup and then we had FOOTBALL!!! I remember with nostalgia the Miracle of Daman in 1989, I remember the 11 round penalty shoot out between Ivory Coast and Ghana at Senegal 92 and I remember with clarity TUNISIA ’94 and the Super Eagles team at that tourney, in particular the gangling (a word always used to describe him) Rashidi Yekini.
Rashidi Yekini was a striker, simple and short. No particular fancy dribbling skills, he had only one direction on the field and that was towards the opponent’s goal and his mission, to score. I remember his two goals against Gabon. One was a classic counter attack, he was released with a ball from midfield, he controlled the ball superbly and lobbed the onrushing Gabonese goalkeeper, before heading the ball into the back of the net. The other was a free kick, the ball slammed into the underside of the crossbar before resting in the back of the net. These goals typified Yekini, he was a brute force player who controlled splendidly and scored goals with aplomb.
My best Yekini goal ever, this was a hard one, was his first goal Zaire at Tunsia ‘94. He was set up with a pass from Sunday Oliseh, he took the ball in his stride with his right foot and with the second touch, on the same right foot, pumped the ball into the top right corner of the net. That goal will stay with me for all times. In fact I still compared Cisse’s 1st goal against Chelsea on Wednesday with this goal and concluded that Ye-King’s was better (see screen shot). Such is my admiration for the goal!
Fittingly, Yekini was named the best player of the tournament after scoring 5 goals and was at the time one goal short of the all time leading scorer. He would never beat that mark as the head of the Military Junta, Sani Abacha barred the Super Eagles from contesting at the 1996 Cup of Nations hosted by South Africa which lead to Nigeria been banned for the 1998 edition.
Who else would have scored Nigeria’s 1st ever goal at a FIFA World Cup at USA 94 apart from Yekini??? And we all can remember the iconic celebration after Yekini tapped the ball into the net. He grabbed the inside of the net and screamed words which we’ll probably never know but have been guessed to be “RASHIDI YEKINI, NIGERIA!!!” Unfortunately, cracks began to appear in the Super Eagles and the service to Yekini dropped dramatically during the tournament, thereby depriving Yekini more goals.
How many of Yekini’s, sometimes outrageous, exploits do I want to describe? Is it the goal against Algeria during the World Cup Qualifier in 1993 at the National Stadium, Surulere? Or is it the bullet penalty against Ivory Coast in the Semi-Finals of Tunisia ’94? Or is it the free kick against Conga from almost the half way line? Or is it the acrobatic volley that he almost scored against Spain at France ’98? Even when he came back to Nigeria, to play for Julius Berger and Gateway FC, I still saw flashes of the ’94 Yekini. He even scored a hat trick for Julius Berge at some point.
Yekini was goals personified and I loved and respected his abilities, work rate, determination, dedication to his trade and his personality even though I didn’t hear him speak much.
When I heard of his predicaments as concerning his mental state, I didn’t want to believe the stories. I always wanted to believe the best but alas, I cannot delude myself any more, Yekini is no longer with us. My heart is heavy as I pen this tribute because I never thought I’d be writing this tribute to such a great striker this early but I pray for his family for strength in these trying times and hope that the clueless, talentless, inept bunch at the glass house honour him properly and do not let him go the way of the Sunday Badas of this nation.
Sun re o GoalsFather, Ye-King, Yekini the King.
#RashidiYekini, the greatest African Striker to have set foot on this continent. #RIPYekini, wish you had stayed round a little longer but I guess Heaven needed a striker. I won’t forget you, not in a million years.
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