On Saturday, Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria’s goal king and legendary striker had the ball not on his feet, but by his side as he lay wrapped in white linen at the start of a journey that ended a career that spanned decades, and gave joy to millions of fans around the world.
He will never thump that ball again with his trademark force that terrorized defenders, and for better or worse, family members and close friends know that Yekini died a sad man.
Donations came to the family eventually Saturday, but were hardly enough to provoke excitement for a people bereaved by a loss they believe was avoidable.
“It’s painful that Yekini was left alone to die before all this donation is now coming in,” said Kayode Yusuf, a childhood friend in Irra town in Offa, Kwara state, Yekini’s hometown.
Behind the officialdom, that concern stood central at Yekini’s burial on Saturday: whether the authorities-his state government and notably, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) – could have made interventions to save the former striker as he struggled with sickness.
“They should have rallied round him and fly him out of the country if necessary instead of making a public show here,” Mr. Yusuf said.
Yekini was said to have suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and some other neuro-related ailments. There have been talks of his not receiving adequate medical attention due to financial troubles.
He died in a private hospital aged 48. But his burial on Saturday somehow bellied much of that. Three state governments -Oyo, Osun and Kwara, sent in representatives.
While Oyo and Osun state governments donated N1m each to the family, Kwara state government pledged N1.5m.
Wrapped in white clothing with a football by his left and his Confederation of African Football (CAF) award by his right, the gangling striker was interred after many had taken turns to see the body laid in state, at a tearful event.
The burial proper, which was previously fixed for Saturday morning, was delayed till evening to accommodate those who travelled from long distances to attend the funeral.
By 4 p.m., the body of the former African footballer of the year was brought out from the room where it laid in state and short prayers were rendered before the body was taken into a dug grave behind the family house. It was lowered after more prayers at the grave site.
Yekini’s widow of Yekini, Adeola, and his daughter, Yemi, wept profusely as they observed the dust rites. Former teammates, Ajibade Babalade, Mutiu Adepoju and Ike Shorunmu could not also hold the tears back as they all eulogized the ex-Eagle. Eight days mourning comes up next week at his family home.
Yekini was born in Kaduna state. He started his professional career in the Nigerian league, before moving to Côte d’Ivoire to play for Africa Sports National. From there, he played for the Portuguese side, Vitoria de Setubal where he became the Portuguese first division’s top scorer in 1993–94, with 34 goals in 32 matches. He was named African Footballer of the Year in 1993, Nigeria’s first.
In 1994, he left for Greek side Olympiacos FC, and after a brief stay, left for Sporting de Gijón of Spain. He then played for FC Zürich, Club Athlétique Bizertin and Al-Shabab Riyadh, before returning to Africa to play for Julius Berger FC at 39 after retiring from international football.
As a member of the national team, Yekini had a remarkable career with 37 goals in 58 appearances – the national record. He was part of the team that participated in the 1994 FIFA World Cup where he scored Nigeria’s first-ever goal in a World Cup, in a 3–0 win against Bulgaria and the1998 World Cup.
He helped the Super Eagles win the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, where he also topped the goal charts.
He is reportedly survived by three wives and three children.