FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiThursday, May 14, 2015
cyril.nwokeji@wol.be
Belgium

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REMEMBERING RASHIDI YEKINI: THE GANGLING, DANGLING STRIKER!

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his period in time - the 4th of May to be precise - marks exactly the third anniversary of the passing of the legendary striker: Rashidi Yekini. A striker who has come to be known as one of the best, if not the best striker ever for the Super Eagles of Nigeria!

Rashidi Yekini, shot into limelight, in the early eighties, in 1983, to be precise, while he plied his trade, though as an amateur soccer player, for UNTL football club of Kaduna. He did so well that he was spotted by the then Nigerian top club: the IICC Shooting Stars football club of Ibadan. Under impulse of their late mentor: Chief Lekan Salami, the young, gangling, dangling, raw talent of a striker, Rashidi Yekini, was recruited by IICC Shooting Stars football club. In his club the IICC, Rashidi Yekini, continued exhibiting his goal scoring prowess; which caught the attention of Super Eagles' selectors. At a time the Super Eagles, under the coaching guidance of: Chief Festus Adegboye Onigbinde, could make do with more fire power upfront, considering the spate of scoreless draws that characterised most of their matches, the young and impressionable Yekini, was certainly attractive to the Coach Onigbinde -led technical crew.

Rashidi Yekini, was subsequently invited to the Super Eagles, and immediately made his mark, even as a raw talent. In a friendly match against the IICC shooting Stars football club, the young Rashidi Yekini, scored two of the three Super Eagles' goals. At the end of proceedings, Chief Lekan Salami gave his impressions of the friendly thus: " Today, IICC killed IICC."

Rashidi Yekini, was not kept on the Super Eagles' bench for long even for very competitive matches. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games qualifier, he was billed to be used in the first leg encounter against Morocco, in Lagos, together with another rookie striker: the left winger, James Etokebe. But due to some administrative mix up, the Nigerian passports of both young players, wasn't ready before the first leg encounter. As a consequence, both strikers missed the first leg encounter. Needless describing the brouhaha that erupted among Nigerians as a consequence of this administrative lapse; and more especially considering the fact the Super Eagles played an uninspiring scoreless draw in the encounter against Morocco; in a match the Super Eagles could have utilised the fire power of these bourgeoning strikers to good effect! Details of this incident and indeed other beautiful Super Eagles stories over the years would be made available, in the forthcoming book of yours sincerely, billed for release some time in 2015 .

At the 1984 Nations' cup tournament, in Ivory Coast, the young, raw talent of a striker: Rashidi Yekini, made his debut for the Super Eagles, in a big tournament. Though he didn't make much of an impact, as he still lacked some basics of the game like: adequate ball control; positioning ability; running into space when needed; overall mobility; good ball vision and ability to play as a team player; he nevertheless did enough to convince the coaching staff and indeed all Nigerians, he was a striker with a bright future, mits polishing of his potentials and of course like in all human endeavours, a decent measure of good luck .

Rashidi Yekini, from then onwards, became a constant feature in the Super Eagles' regular offensive line up, under subsequent Super Eagles coaches, except under Coach Paul Hamilton, who prefered his Flying Eagles 'pupil,': Samson Sia Sia, as centre- forward.

Rashidi Yekini, profiled himself creditably, at the 1988 Nations' cup tournament, in Morocco; helping Nigeria win a silver medal. The author remembers the unfortunate 'mix-up' in which he was involved, in the finals against Cameroun, which resulted in the beautiful goal scored by Henry Nwosu, to be incorrectly ruled off by the Refree. Details of which would be made known in the book to be released later in the year .

At the 1990 Nations' cup competition, in Algeria, the now technically and tactically fairly well polished striker, Rashidi Yekini, was very much inspirational, in the silver-winning effort of Nigeria. The writer remembers how, he virtually and single handedly, 'destroyed' the Elephants of Ivory Coast, in the Super Eagles' last group's encounter. He no doubt took a big advantage of his knowledge of the Ivorians, since he plied his trade then, in the Ivory Coast, for Asec Mimosas football club.

At the 1994, World cup qualifiers, African zone, Rashidi Yekini, helped Nigeria, qualify for her first ever World cup tournament, in the United States of America! He was the highest goal scorer in the African zone qualifying series and was subsequently rewarded with the honour of: " African footballer of the year, 1993 ." He became the second Nigerian ever, to win this award; the first being, the legendary goalkeeper: Emmanuel Okala .

Before the 1994 World cup tournament, the now highly tactically and technically polished Rashidi Yekini, who plied his trade with "Setubal Football club," of Portugal, was rated as one of the twelve best players on earth; at a time the Super Eagles were rated the fifth best team in the World! The Super Eagles' best ever rating! Rashidi Yekini, was a very prominent member of this glorious team of Super Eagles, that represented Nigeria, at the World cup tournament, in 1994, in the United States of America. A team considerd till date, as the best ever assembled Nigerian soccer team to a global tournament !

At the 1994 World cup tournament, Rashidi Yekini, couldn't confirm his top rating, but did enough to score Nigeria's first ever goal at a senior World cup tournament; the memories of his legendary celebrations of that goal - holding and biting the net - are still fresh in the minds of his numerous admirers !

Rashidi Yekini, represented Nigeria, at the 1998 World cup tournament, in France; before calling it quits with international football, after a fifteen year stint with the Super Eagles. He played professional football with: Asec Mimosas of Ivory Coast; Setubal of Portugal ; AEK Athens of Greece and a Grasshoppers Football club of Zwitserland; before returning back to Nigeria, where he formally retired, after a brief stint with a local club side.

Rashidi Yekini, was a striker that had his peculiar characteristics. He didn't have the sublime, exquisite dribbling skills of a Nwankwo Kanu or a Samson Sia Sia; or the sheer physical power of a Daniel Amokachi, or a Samson Ozogula; but he was nonetheless, a striker that had his peculiarities. He had an imposing physical presence, which he utilised maximally to his advantage - what with the numerous goals he scored from corner kicks; he had an amazing pace and explosivity, for a player with his kind of stature; and he also had bullet -packed shots, in his feet! Rashidi Yekini, could score from virtually any position on the field of play, by letting go of his canon shots from either the left or right foot. He was very good with spot kicks: free kicks and penalty kicks .

Coach Clemens Westerhoff - a tactically sound coach - took advantage of his qualities as a player, and re-adapted the attacking style of the Super Eagles, with Rashidi Yekini, as the deepest striker. He organised the attacking formation of the Super Eagles, in such a way that Yekini, was mostly let loose with a superb through pass by the Super Eagles players, in a counter attacking situation, when the legendary striker would have enough room and space to operate. He made use of this opportunity, by exploiting his enormous pace and sheer physical presence, to out run his markers and to rattle the opposing goalkeepers with his canon shots from either the left or right foot, from virtually any position on the field of play! Some soccer commentators, described him as a " moment player ;" a player who did well periodically during the course of a game. But in those moments, he did so well that the relative periods of 'inactivity,' were not noticed.

The cold hands of death snatched this irrepressible striker three years ago, in rather strange circumstances. But he shall forever live in our hearts and minds ! Adieu, Rashidi Yekini and continue resting in God's bossom , Amen !

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