Interview by Mumini Alao (December 1993)
This is the first story where Rashidi Yekini was called GOALSFATHER. The nickname was coined by the reporter, MUMINI ALAO, as headline of an interview published in the December 1993 edition of COMPLETE FOOTBALL magazine. BBC Africa Radio programme Fast Track promoted the iconic nickname and it became accepted all over the continent and beyond.…
DATELINE: Friday, October 8, 1993. Hotel: El-Aurassi, Algiers. Time: 2.20pm.
THE Super Eagles had just finished taking their lunch of rice and rich white sauce, some with beef, others with chicken.
Precisely five hours or so from then, they were due to kick off a crucial World Cup qualifier against the home team, the “Greens” of Algeria. This game would determine whether the Eagles would go to the World Cup finals. All they needed was a draw and they would be through!
It came to pass that the Eagles got their desired draw (1-1) and became the first generation of players to win Nigeria a World Cup berth. They would fly the country’s green-white-green flag at the prestigious Mundial for the first time in America the next summer.
Back to this moment, it is five hours before the historic qualifier. All the players retire to their rooms after lunch to catch some good rest ahead of match-time. All of them except one.
The “one” sits in a world of his own at a quiet corner in the hotel restaurant’s immaculate lobby, completely relaxed, apparently not disturbed by the enormous task ahead. Dark, rugged and looking tall even while in his sitting position, this writer recognizes him instantly: RASHIDI YEKINI!
Rashidi Yekini is one of the most popular names in the whole of Africa. Yes, this name rings more bells on the continent than the names of a number of African Heads of State put together. No flatter.
Rashidi Yekini happens to be the most lethal forward in African football. When his name is mentioned, the next thing that comes to the mind of the average African football follower is “GOALS”. Whether his first name is written as Rashidi, Rachid or Rasheed, Yekini is recognised as the continent’s equivalent of the Dutch international hit-man Marco Van Basten.
With eight goals to his credit in seven World Cup games for Nigeria en route to USA ’94 (the highest on the continent), Rashidi Van Yekini is the undoubted GOALSFATHER of the Super Eagles. This writer decided there and then to headline this interview as “Rashidi Yekini The Goalsfather!”
“Hey, Rashidi,” this writer approaches the player. “What are you doing here? Your colleagues have all gone to rest for tonight’s game.”
“I want to take some rest here to allow my lunch to digest properly,” Yekini explains. “Then, I’ll also go to bed to relax in readiness for the game.”
“Can I join you then?” I ask
“Oh sure, why not. Who am I to say ‘no’ to COMPLETE FOOTBALL!”
And so Yekini goes on to field questions from CF. For the next hour, the Vitoria Setubal of Portugal player hits the nail squarely on the head on several issues just like the accurate hit-man that he is on the field of play. He talks about his club, his national team, the World Cup, his philosophy of life and, of course, his goals.
What COMPLETE FOOTBALL found most striking about Rashidi Van Yekini, apart from his goals, was his philosophy. Yekini, despite his fame, is probably the simplest personality in the Super Eagles. Not overly ambitious, moderate, open-minded and full of humour. Yekini is a study in How To Manage Fame.
While this interview was on, Eagles technical adviser Clemens Westerhof passed by and greeted star striker.
“Hey Yekini, how are you doing?”
“I dey,” Yekini replies in Pidgin English. “How about you, coach?”
“Am okay.” And the coach goes on his way
Yekini and Westerhof would meet again in a celebration mood after the Eagles had completed their World Cup qualifying race that night. That time, Yekini, gave Westerhof a king’s treatment, carrying the Dutchman on his shoulders and singing his praises: “Up coach, up coach, up cooooach!”
And the coach responded: “USA! USA!! we go to U-S-A!!!”
At the World Cup proper, Nigerians would be relying as usual on Rashidi Yekini’s goal-scoring proficiency to make a remarkable impact, but the player says he’s making no guarantees. “I’m not the one in control of my own destiny,” Rashidi begins philosophically.
“My goals come directly from God,” Yekini says. “I know people always wonder about the secret behind my goals, but the matter is simple. God is the top secret behind my goals.
“That is why many times I go into a game and some opponents boast that they would prevent me from scoring, I simply laugh at them. No man can stop what God had decreed. If God says I will score, then I must score, no matter what anybody does or says.
“Conversely, I’m also never under any pressure to score when I go into a match, because I know that God determines what will happen.
“Take this evening’s game (against Algeria) for instance. I know some people would be worrying their heads over whether Yekini will score or not, but here I am enjoying myself. Which one concerns me. ‘
“For me, it makes no difference. If I score, it’s fine; if I don’t score, it’s O.K. It’s no problem for me as long as we qualify for USA. (Yekini did not score, but Nigeria qualified eventually).
“I remember our games against Cote d’Ivoire. They boasted I wouldn’t score in Abidjan, but my goal came down from the heavens after only five minutes. Again, they came to Lagos determined to stop me, but I scored twice again with the power of God.”
Yekini apparently believes convincingly in predestination, but that is not to say he sits back waiting for things to happen. “The heavens help those who help themselves,” the philosopher continues.
“Again, people wonder how I manage to stay injury-free and match-fit most of the time. Well, that is because I know that I’m a professional player and I don’t go beyond my bounds. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I pay attention to my training. Of course, I have to be fit.
“When you’re fit, your chances of getting injured are reduced because most times, you will be stronger and faster than your marker. Then you also need to have some good luck, and this is where the heavens might help you. But first, you must have helped yourself by staying within reasonable limits.”
It is Yekini’s total belief in destiny that has kept him going at his present club, Vitoria Setubal of Portugal. Despite being the club’s top scorer for the past three seasons including last season when his 32 goals helped return them to the Portuguese first division, Yekini gets a really raw deal from the club but he says he’s determined to see through his contract.
“I don’t get what I’m worth at Setubal,” Yekini laments. “I do all the work, get them all the goals, but even some ordinary reserve players get paid as much as I am paid just for sitting on the bench. If I were to be playing at a bigger club, I know what I should be earning now but it doesn’t matter. Money is not everything.
“Unfortunately the Setubal people don’t seem to realize that I’ve only decided to tolerate them for the rest of my contract. There was a time I reported for a national assignment and before I got back, I learnt that my coach was complaining in the press that I went too often to play for Nigeria and this affects his plans.
“Do you know what I told him? I told him nobody, repeat nobody, can stop me from playing for my fatherland. I told him that Nigeria is my birthplace to which I will return after my career in Europe. This is where my people love me not only because I score goals, but because I am their son. I told him never to complain about my reporting for Nigeria again. The worst he could do is to stop my allowance, but who told him I care about money?
“The problem with Setubal is the club’s management,” Yekini continues. “We’re at the bottom of the first division this season, but that is because the management is insensitive to the welfare of the players. They want good results, but they don’t want to pay the corresponding price. That is there problem.
“Personally, I’ve told them I would continue to do my best and score the goals I could score. But let them not try to stop me from playing for Nigeria because they won’t succeed. Even if Nigeria has a fixture against ants and cockroaches and I am invited, I will go and play. Now the Setubal people understand what I’m saying.”
This reporter couldn’t control his next reaction: rib-cracking laughter.
“I’m telling you the truth,” Yekini continues. “No club can deceive me with any tale that I’m indispensable. They will say that only because I’m scoring for them now. But who knows what will happen tomorrow? If I break my leg now (God forbid) they will simply cast me aside. But if I do it for Nigeria, at least, I can always return to Ibadan to sit down with my people. There’s no place like home.”
Incidentally, Yekini has been away from “home” for roughly six years now. After playing for UNTL of Kaduna, Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Abiola Babes of Abeokuta in the local scene, Yekini moved to West African neighbours Cote d’Ivoire to join Africa Sport National in 1988. Three seasons later, he was on his way to Europe where he says he was hood-winked into a rough deal with Setubal.
In protest, Yekini refused to play for several months at the beginning of the 1990/91 season. Later, he accepted his fate and went to play and now he’s looking forward to packing his bags when his contract finally expires next May.
“I decided to ride the storm at Setubal because of my belief in fate,” Yekini lectures again. “I told myself that perhaps God wanted me to make some sacrifice at the club before proceeding to greater things. At the beginning, the road looked very rough but, see now, I’m nearly through. Next May, I’ll be free from Setubal. I believe my fortune still lies ahead.”
Ironically, Yekini’s contract will expire just on time – on the eve of the World Cup finals. When he goes to USA with the Super Eagles in June 1994, he would be as free as air to start another romance. A brilliant World Cup outing will mean top clubs falling at his feet to obtain his signature. Yekini is naturally thrilled at the prospect but then, the philosopher in him comes to the fore again…
“It’s good to think about these things, but who knows whether I’ll even be at USA at all? Suppose we fail to qualified this evening? (They qualified!). Okay, even if we qualify, suppose I’m dropped from the team that will go to USA?!
“Personally, I have the confidence that we will qualify but what will happen when we get there, I dont know. Only God knows.
“If I make the squad to USA, however, I suppose the much I can say is that I will try my best as usual. And I hope my other colleagues will do the same as well because it will be to the good of all of us.
“I’m not relying solely on the World Cup finals to get a new club when I leave Setubal. At the end of last season, I already had good offers from several clubs but Setubal refused to let me go. When my contract expires, they can’t stop me again. I will certainly get a better club although I admit that the World Cup will enhance my chances if I go.” (Yekini signed for Olympiakos of Greece after USA ’94).
Yekini’s consideration that he could be dropped from the Super Eagles World Cup squad, a consideration which football watchers would definitely find unimaginable, led this writer to wonder about the player’s opinion of the Eagles technical crew. Does he nurse some reservations about their capability or he’s just driving home the point about his own modesty?
“It’s not my style to pass verdicts on the technical ability of my coaches,” Rashidi Yekini explains. “As a professional player, my own is to carry out the coach’s instruction on the field and use my initiatives where I deem fit.
“Clemens Westerhof is the Eagles coach and I respect him a lot. If he goes today and another man comes, I’ll respect that man also, that’s all. I’m not a technical man. My own is to play.
“One thing about me is that I don’t rush anything in this life. What is there to rush when the fact is that one day, you’ll simply drop dead and leave everything behind. My philosophy is to do my simple best and leave the rest to God.
“This evening (October 8, 1993), my plan as usual is to put in my best against Algeria and hope that we’ll qualify for the World Cup. It will take Nigeria a long time to get this close again if we fail to qualify this time around.”
Epilogue: TheEagles did qualify for USA ’94 and Yekini went on to score Nigeria’s historic first goal in the Super Eagles opening game against Bulgaria which ended 3-0 in Nigeria’s favour. Yekini died on 4 May, 2012 in Ibadan before his 48th birthday.
Short & Sharp: Complete Football vs Rashidi Yekini
CF: The other time, you were saying something about a mix-up in your birth records.
YEKINI: Yes, my international passport says I was born in 1963. Well, that’s not true. I was born in 1964. Precisely October 23, 1964.
CF: Who wrote 1963 in your passport then?
YEKINI: I wonder who.
CF: Which of your eight goals in the World Cup qualifiers gave you the most satisfaction?
YEKINI: People have said so much about my second goal against Algeria in Lagos where I scored from a tight angle. But for me, all the goals are the same. They all gave me total satisfaction. A goal is a goal.
CF: Who is your favourite striking partner in the Super Eagles?
YEKINI: You this COMPLETE FOOTBALL man, Na wah for you. What do you expect me to say to that?
CF: The truth.
YEKINI: Well, I have no choice partner. It’s whoever the coaches decide. During the qualifiers, I think I played with Richard Owubokiri, Samson Siasia and Daniel Amokachi in different games. I even played with Barnabas Imenger in a Nations Cup qualifier, and I enjoyed myself in all the games. Nigeria is lucky to have so many good players. I choose everybody as my favourite!
CF: You’re 29 years old now. When are you getting married?
YEKINI: Sebi (Didn’t) one sports newspaper say that I was married already. Where did they get that story?
CF: You tell us the truth.
YEKINI: Well, I’m not married yet and I don’t understand why people are so interested in this matter.
CF: Because you are a celebrity.
YEKINI: Well, that is your opinion. I’m not ready to discuss my private life in public.
CF: Then, people will continue to write what they think.
YEKINI: That is their business. Let them write what they like. As long as I know what my plans are, I have no problem. God dey. (There’s God).
CF: You talk so much about God, are you that religious?
YEKINI: I am a muslim. I have a good relationship with Allah and He’s in control of my destiny. That’s all I know.
CF: You pray five times daily?
YEKINI: I try my best. But my total belief in the oneness of God is unshaken.
CF: At which clubside have you enjoyed yourself the most?
YEKINI: Africa Sport in Abidjan, of course. Their club president Zinsou was like a father to me and I was his obedient son. He was good to me and I played well for his club and scored lots of goals for them. The fans loved me, too. I still have a good relationship with Zinsou. After Ibadan in Nigeria, Abidjan is my second home.
CF: How’s the life in Portugal outside football?
YEKINI: Forget it!
CF: Forget what?
YEKINI: It’s nothing to write home about. The whole place is dry. All I do is play my football and later listen to the reggae muffin music.
CF: COMPLETE FOOTBALL shall come out there one of these days.
YEKINI: What for?
CF: To come and watch you and Ricky Owubokiri, of course. To tell Nigerians how you two are faring in your natural abode like we’ve done for the guys in Belgium and Holland.
YEKINI: Don’t come to Portugal.
CF: Why not?
YEKINI: You’re just coming to waste your time. There’s nothing in Portugal, I tell you, nothing to write home about. The whole place is dry.
CF: No wonder you always seize every opportunity to visit Nigeria.
YEKINI: Well, if you say so…
CF: Are you still in contact with your childhood friends?
YEKINI: Definitely. You see, I can never forget my roots. Whenever I come home, I still go to play “set” (street corner football) with the guys that I grew up with in Ibadan. These are my true friends, not those who come round to say “How now?” just because I’m what I am today.
CF: What are you today?
YEKINI: I am Rashidi Yekini. (Extended Laughter).