By Patrick Omorodion
There is no name yet in Nigeria which rivals that of Rashidi Yekini when it comes to the art of scoring goals. Even though the Nigeria Football Association, NFA has no record of how many goals Yekini or any other Super Eagles player scored for the national team, Yekini undoubtably tops in this regard.
When Yekini was in the Eagles, football fans were sure he would nick a goal no matter how difficult the encounter was and his team mates understood his style and how to get the ball to him.
From 1984 when he was a fringe player in the team to 1994 when he helped the Eagles to their first and only Africa Nations Cup victory on away soil, Yekini stood like a colossus and defenders and goalkeepers alike dreaded him like a plague.
Even in 1993 at the Houphet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan, Yekini was in a vantage position to seal victory for the Eagles against Cote dâ€™Ivoire in a World Cup qualifier, but Samson Siasia thought he could do it better and in the end fluffed the chance. Clemens Westerhof, the teamâ€™s handler then, almost kicked out Siasia from the team for that error.
By the Nations Cup in Tunisia in 1994, Yekini had amassed a total of 13 Nations Cup goals, one short of the record 14 held by Cote dâ€™Ivoireâ€™s Laurent Pokou and he looked forward to the 1996 version in South Africa to equal and possibly surpass it.
Then maximum ruler, Sani Abacha scuttled that dream as he pulled the team out of the competition over disagreement with President Nelson Mandela who protested the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa and otherÂ Ogonis.
With a ban placed on the Eagles, it meant Nigeria would not be part of the 1998 edition in Burkina Faso and so Yekini who was already in the twilight of his career could not bounce back in 2000 when Nigeria co-hosted the Nations Cup with Ghana.
What Yekini was prevented from achieving, Samuel Etoâ€™O Fils of Cameroon grabbed with two hands. He equalled the feat and surpassed it in the 2008 edition in Ghana. That has remained a pain Yekini is still nursing, though quietly.
Could that be the reason he has withdrawn from the public glare, distancing himself from all football activities both locally and continently.
This reporter tried in vain to reach the gangling ex Sporting Lisbon of Portugal player. A visit to his home in the Ring Road area of Ibadan did not help as the place looked deserted. No sign that he lives there with anybody as the gates were firmly locked.
A journalist friend even said that he also tried to see him through one of his ex team-mates but the former striker of the defunct Abiola Babes Football Club of Abeokuta allegedly refused to open the gate on sighting the journalist and warned his friend never to bring any journalist to his house.
A former boss of the club said that the ex player hardly mixes with people and appears not to have any friend in Ibadan, as keeps to himself most of the time.
The search for Yekini was borne out of the fact that a player of Yekiniâ€™s calibre in Africa is too big to be ignored when Africa is hosting her first World Cup. Even the NFA has not helped matters as it hardly involves him in its activities.
Could Yekini problem be one of complex or lack of education? Ex players like Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amiesimaka, Dr. Felix Owolabi and even his contemporaries like Mutiu Adepoju, Samson Siasia and Stephen Keshi are always involved in one football event or another, so why is Yekiniâ€™s different?
Or is Yekini bitter with the system which used him and robbedÂ him from making history? Keeping quiet or avoiding people can never be the solution. He should speak out because it said that he who wears the shoe, knows where it pinches.