Rashidi Yekini: ‘One of the best African players ever to walk this earth
Rashidi Yekini was well into his 31st year when Nigeria arrived at the 1994 World Cup, but his career was at its zenith. He was the reigning African Footballer of the Year, had been top scorer and player of the tournament when Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations just two months earlier, and with eight in seven games had scored nearly half his nation’s total tally of goals in qualifying for their first ever World Cup. He had also been the top goalscorer in Portugal that season, the first Vitória Setubal player to win the Bola de Prata for half a century, and his personal life was just as successful, with his marriage set for later that summer.
In their first match, against Bulgaria on 21 June, Yekini shone, scoring once and creating another in a 3-0 win. After sweeping in a low cross from the future Ipswich Town winger Finidi George his momentum carried him into the goal, where he stayed to celebrate, his arms pushed through the net, lost in the moment. It became one of the most memorable images of the tournament.
“Yekini was a man of himself. A man who knew what he wanted and what he wanted to do for his country. He was always ready to risk everything for the team and country. As a footballer we at times get carried away by our emotion or passion and that was what happened when he scored that goal,” Thompson Oliha, who roomed with Yekini in America, told supersport.com. “I think he was saying something like ‘It is me! It is me!’ Yes it was a goal with a touch of a team work but the man just celebrated the best way he thought.”
Yekini had forced his way from an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Kaduna to the pinnacle of the professional game, a tall, broad force of nature and spirit. “He was a legend,” says Abiola Kazeem, a Nigerian football journalist. “We totally relied on him to get goals. We called him The Goalfather, because we knew he would always get goals. He didn’t hog the limelight off the pitch, but on the pitch he was an absolutely reliable player for Nigeria.