Remembering Nigeria’s Goalsfather Rashidi Yekini, Eleven Years After…

Eleven years ago today, Nigeria was plunged into mourning. The sense of grief was matched only by shock as news emerged that Rashidi Yekini, at just 48, was dead. Sunday Oliseh led the tributes, eulogizing his former Super Eagles team-mate as “one of the best African players and legends to ever walk this earth.” And while the praise was lavish, it was justified by Yekini’s achievements.

On this solemn day, we pay tribute to the iconic striker whose name is etched in the annals of Nigerian football history – Rashidi Yekini. A decade may have passed since his untimely departure from this world, but his legend endures, and his indomitable spirit remains an enduring source of inspiration for aspiring athletes and football enthusiasts worldwide.

Rashidi Yekini, affectionately known as Nigeria’s ‘Goalsfather,’ remains, by a significant margin, the most prolific goal scorer in his country’s football history. His unparalleled achievement of 37 goals in just 58 appearances for the national team stands as a testament to his goal-scoring prowess and unwavering dedication to his craft.

However, Yekini was not just a prolific scorer; he was a harbinger of historic moments. His goals propelled Nigeria to new heights on the international stage, from securing their first FIFA World Cup appearance to clinching their second African Cup of Nations title. But perhaps the most iconic of all was the goal that marked Nigeria’s debut in the World Cup.

It was a poacher’s finish in Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, an instinctive strike that reverberated with the emotions of an entire nation. The raw, unadulterated celebration that followed, with Yekini clutching at the net and exclaiming, “It’s me! it’s me!” remains a vivid and poignant memory in the hearts of football fans.

The goal in Dallas provided Nigeria with a platform to overcome Hristo Stoichkov’s Bulgaria in their World Cup debut and advance from a challenging group. Expectations soared, with many believing that Yekini was destined for even greater heights, not only during the 1994 World Cup but in the years that would follow. “We have not yet seen the real Rashidi Yekini,” his coach, Clemens Westerhof, optimistically declared after the win against Bulgaria. “It’s coming.”

Westerhof’s conviction was widely shared. Yekini, who had been named African Footballer of the Year, had netted an astounding eight goals in just seven World Cup qualifying appearances. His exceptional performance during the AFCON, where he was crowned Player of the Tournament and the top scorer, was nothing short of mesmerizing.

At the club level, Yekini was equally prolific. With 21 goals for Vitoria Setubal, he became the first player in fifty years to win Portugal’s prestigious Bola de Prata, solidifying his status as a true football superstar. As his teammate, Sunday Oliseh, aptly put it, Yekini was the “real and only superstar” of Nigeria’s class of ’94.

Yekini’s revered place in Nigerian football folklore had been secured long before. Eleven years after his passing, the Goalsfather remains a cherished figure throughout Nigeria, Africa, and beyond.

In his own words, Rashidi Yekini once declared, “Nobody, repeat nobody, can stop me from playing for my fatherland.” Rashidi Yekini’s legacy lives on, an enduring symbol of passion and talent.