Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria’s Legendary Unmatched Striker
Rashidi Yekini (23 October 1963 – 4 May 2012) was a striker for the National team, whose capacity to score, intimidate defenders and make goal keepers weep is still an unsurpassed legend.
His professional career, which spanned more than two decades, was mainly associated with Vitória de Setúbal in Portugal, but he also played in six other countries his own notwithstanding.
Yekini scored 37 goals as a Nigerian international, and represented the nation in five major tournaments, including two World Cups where he scored the country’s first-ever goal in the competition. He was also named the African Footballer of the Year in 1993.
Yekini was born in Kaduna, of Yoruba origin. After starting his professional career in the Nigerian league, he moved to Côte d’Ivoire to play for Africa Sports National, and from there he went to Portugal and Vitória de Setúbal where he experienced his most memorable years, eventually becoming the Primeira Liga’s top scorer in the 1993–94 season after scoring 21 goals; the previous campaign he had netted a career-best 34 in 32 games to help the Sadinos promote from the second division, and those performances earned him the title of African Footballer of the Year once, the first ever for Nigeria.
In the 1994 summer Yekini was bought by Olympiacos FC, but did not get along with teammates and left. His career never really got back on track, not even upon a return to Setúbal, which happened after another unassuming spell, in La Liga with Sporting de Gijón; he successively played with FC Zürich, Club Athlétique Bizertin and Al-Shabab Riyadh, before rejoining Africa Sports. In 2003, at 39, he returned to the Nigerian championship with Julius Berger FC.
In 2005, 41-year-old Yekini made a short comeback, moving alongside former national teammate Mobi Oparaku to Gateway United FC.
Scoring 37 goals for Nigeria in 58 appearances, Yekini was Nigeria’s highest goalscorer; a record which still stands. He was part of the team that participated in the 1994 (where he netted Nigeria’s first-ever goal in a World Cup, in a 3–0 win against Bulgaria, his celebration after scoring, crying while holding the goal’s net, became one of the iconic images of the tournament)and the 1998 FIFA World Cups. The Bulgarians later got as far as the World Cup Semi-final
Additionally, Yekini helped the Super Eagles win the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations where he also topped the goal charts and was named best player of the competition. He also participated at Olympic level in Seoul 1988.
Yekini was reported to be ill for an extended period of time. In 2011, news media in Nigeria begun issuing reports of his failing health, and he was said to suffer from bipolar disorder, depression and some other undisclosed psychiatric condition. He died in Ibadan on 4 May 2012 at the age of only 48, the news being confirmed by former national teammates Mutiu Adepoju and Ike Shorunmu; he was buried at his residence in Ira, Kwara State.
Many believe that Nigeria has not had a better team after the Football team of 94, and offshoot that went to win the 98 Atlanta Olympics led by Coach Clemens Westerhof – a Dutch football manager; because at that time the Italians led by Roberto Baggio and Argentinians led by Maradona feared us, in fact the whole world feared our National team.
Nigerian Football Federation(NFF), had a memorial for Rashidi Yekini on May 4th 2016.