The sporting fraternity will for long remember 2016 as the year the cold hands of death snatched some of its icons.
The deaths, especially in the football family, brought tears and anguish to family, friends, and sports followers.
As part of PREMIUM TIMES’ 2016 year end review, we look at seven of Nigerian football’s most shocking losses in the outgoing year.
Keshi, winner of the African Cup of Nations as a player and coach with the Super Eagles, died aged 54 on June 8.
The football legend passed away after a suspected heart attack in Benin City, South-south Nigeria.
During his illustrious career first as player, Keshi played in five different African Cup of Nations tournaments, captaining the Super Eagles team to their second continental success in 1994 in Tunisia.
He was instrumental as Nigeria made their maiden appearance at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the U.S. where they reached the second round before losing in extra time to Italy.
Fondly called the Big Boss for his domineering influence on the sport in Nigeria, Keshi played professionally in Ivory Coast, Belgium, France, the U.S. and Malaysia.
Aside the Super Eagles, he also managed the national teams of Togo and Mali and was the only African coach to have guided two nations to qualify for the World Cup
First appointed manager of the Nigerian team on November 2011, Keshi handled the Super Eagles over four spells, leading them to the 2013 African Cup of Nations title in South Africa.
While Nigerians and African football were still getting to grips with the shocking news of the demise of Keshi, Coach Amodu Shuaibu, who was then the Technical Director for the Nigeria Football Federation, died three days later, also in Benin.
Shuaibu can be best described as “the man whose name is synonymous with the Super Eagles.”
He was head coach at different times with BCC Lions, El-Kanemi Warriors and Shooting Stars in Nigeria and Orlando Pirates of South Africa. He died in his sleep after complaining of chest pains over the night. He was known to be hypertensive and had rejected an invitation to once again take over the Super Eagles’ coaching job in February on this ground.
He first took charge of the national team in 1994 at the age of 36, and would be reappointed to the position three times more in 1999, 2001-2002 and 2008-2010. He guided the Super Eagles through the qualifiers for the 2002 and 2010 editions of the FIFA World Cup but was not allowed to lead the team to the tournaments.
Shuaibu also qualified the Beach Soccer National Team, Supersand Eagles, for the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, but did not lead the team at the finals as he refused to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He was the first Nigerian to qualify the Super Eagles for the FIFA World Cup, when with Keshi and Joe Erico as his assistants, he rescued the Eagles’ flagging campaign by guiding the team to win the last three qualifying matches, following the departure of Dutchman Johannes Bonfere, to reach the finals in Korea/Japan 2002.
The late Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan defender lost his life to the bullets of men of the military Joint Task Force, JTF while on an end of season visit to his hometown. Though initial reports suggested that the footballer was a victim of stray bullets, the family has insisted that he was felled by the trigger-happy military men.
Izu, a regular with the Oluyole Warriors in the Nigerian Professional Football League 2015/16 season, helped the team retain Premiership status before he was shot dead in Okaki in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The year 2016 started on a sour note for Nigerian football with the news of the death following a protracted illness of Chinedu Agwu, a former Enyimba and Kaduna United goalkeeper.
Agwu died a few hours into the year. The 30-year-old shot stopper made waves at Kaduna United but did not enjoy first team opportunities after an ambitious move to Enyimba
The former Nigerian youth international died at 42 after a brief illness in his home at Kurudu village in the Federal Capital Territory. Ogaba burst into limelight at a tender age. He was the youngest Nigerian player at the FIFA U-20 World Cup hosted by Saudi Arabia in 1989 where the Flying Eagles then handled by Coach Tunde Disu lost in the final to Portugal. Ogaba had been the youngest player at Canada ’87 FIFA U-17 World Cup, at age 13.
During his active days, he played in KSC Lokeren in Belgium. He went on loan from Lokeren after sustaining a hamstring injury to Finland, FC Oulu, where he won the league.
Ogaba’s last known club was MSV Duisburg which he played for in the 1993/1994 season.
Until his brutal murder, Abubakar was head of protocol, Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
He was shot dead by suspected armed robbers at his Abuja residence. The Kaduna-born football administrator was subsequently conveyed to his hometown where he was buried in accordance with Islamic rites.
The young Nigerian footballer died on the field at Azerbaijani First Division club, Zagatala PFK. The 20-year old Umanyika reportedly slumped during his first training session with the team after returning from vacation in Nigeria, and could not be revived despite the medical team on ground. He had joined Zagatala PFK last season and made 20 appearances for the club.