Before Rashidi Yekini, the most physical and prolific player Nigerian football fans had ever known was the late Teslim ‘the thunder’ Balogun. In so many ways Yekini can be compared to the great ‘thunder’ Balogun, who could take a thunderous shot from long range and scored many wonderful and memorable goals for club and Country.
Most of today’s football fans did not seeTesilimi Olawale Balogun in action and only remember him because the Lagos state government immortalized him by naming the only decent stadium in Lagos after him but Balogun should even be more celebrated because he is the first Nigerian player to ply his trade abroad (he played for TayeTaiwo’s present club QPR in the United Kingdom scoring three goals in thirteen outings during the 1956-57 season) and became Africa’s first qualified football coach.
It is safe to say that Balogun was Nigeria’s first super star footballer but if Balogun was the first, then Yekini was certainly the toast of football fans a couple of decades later. Culminating in 1994 when he won the Nations cup and scored Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal in USA 1994.
It has been alleged that Yekini suffered from severe depression and had some serious mental issues. This scenario has made some stakeholders question if Yekini was not abandoned by the establishment prior to his death. Some have gone as far as questioning the circumstances of his death and wondered if foul play was not involved.
The great ‘mathematical’ Segun Odegbami who partnered Yekini in the Shooting Stars team of 1984, has come out to say that even though he was a loner,Yekini called him three months before he died to say that, “he was not physically or mentally unstable, that he ran into some misfortune and that he needed support and help to get back to his feet.” Odegbami even went as far as stating that he can testify unequivocally that there was nothing wrong with him at the time he was “abducted and later died”.
He insists that Rashidi was hale and hearty, that he was fit and sound. He also says that he can testify that it was the misfortune that befell him a few years ago that caused him great distress to the extent thathe almost lost his life and his mind when his partner was killed and he lost most of his investment in their joint venture. It has even been alleged that most of his family members used his misfortune to justify their actions and forcefully led him to his death.
Odegbami is probably right in his summation that Yekini was very much into himself. He had very few close friends and kept even them in the dark about his plight and pains, preferring to deal with the issues himself.
Odegbami has succeeded in stirring the hornet’s nest because he claims that he will testify to the fact that Yekini was killed either ignorantly, deliberately or inadvertently by those who did not understand what was going on with him. Now the question begs to be answered: was RashidiYekini killed? His life seemed to be on the upward swing.
Three months before he died he had teamed up with Odegbami to kick start his rehabilitation by seeking for sponsorship from companies to nurture kids on how to play the beautiful game. Prior to when he was allegedly abducted, he trained that faithful day and drove himself home in his car.Odegbami wants the police to step in and investigate the case.
Indeed, many questions need to be answered because it appears as though the circumstances leading to his death are mysterious and his death, shoddily handled.
The authorities concerned cannot afford to fold their arms and watch the proceedings unfold passively otherwise they should not complain the next time an athlete decides not to pay allegiance to Nigeria.
A great statesman once said that a country that does not honour her heroes does them a great disservice.And a footballer who scored 37 goals for Nigeria in 58 appearances, scoring a simple tap in goal at the World Cup in 1994 with an unforgettable celebration, to become Nigeria’s first ever scorer at the World Cup, certainly qualifies as a hero.
Yekini achieved a lot of records. He was Nigeria’s first player to become highest goal scorer in a foreign league, the Portuguese league, when he scored 34 goals in 32 games for Vitoria Setubal, earning another first by becoming the first Nigerian player to be named as African Footballer of the year by CAF in 1993.
The Government of Kwara state, National Sports Commission and by extension, the Nigeria Football Federation cannot avoid some culpability. Being a national hero meant that when they heard of his misfortune they should have tried to reach out to him. LEADERSHIP Sunday learnt that they did try.
Maybe they did not try hard enough. It probably did not help that he was practically reclusive. But there are many ex international players who did so much for this country, in need of rehabilitation. Some of them have medical needs and some just need a little shove to get back on their feet.
What has the NFF done about them? Are we to abandon them to their faith and when they die in penury we name a stadium or tournament after them? A member of the NFF’s technical sub-committee’ AustelElumelu told me that the present administration did not cause the rot in our football and the fingers should be pointed at their predecessors who did not do enough to sustain the achievements of the past and build on them.
In some ways the should be sympathize with but they definitely have not set the ball of reform rolling. A lot needs to be done before Nigeria get to the promised land. Apart from the obvious infrastructural reform issues, education is very important.
That is why you find out that the nation’s basketballers fare better than the footballers because most of them attended university and achieved degrees that have seen them negotiate the rigours of life after retiring from professional basketball whereas our little educated footballers are seen begging just to survive or doing menial jobs at home or overseas.