Thursday, 21st January was another sad day in Nigerian football as one of its legends, Joe Erico passed on at 72; after a brief illness.
Nicknamed ‘Jogo Bonito’(Beautiful Game), Erico’s career as a goalkeeper saw him play for the Nigerian Police Force and other local teams as NEPA, Nigeria Railways, Electricity Connectors of Nigeria and Julius Berger. As a prominent member of the Green Eagles (as it was then known) squad to the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia – the first AFCON medal for the country, the team finished third with Erico in goal for all of the team’s six games.
For any Nigerian soccer fan above 30, the period in history that can best be described as the glory days of the Super Eagles, would be the 1990s. This doesn’t put into account big names the country produced before this time as Segun Odegbami (Mathematical), Samuel Okwaraji, Teslim Balogun, Christian Chukwu among others.
Understandably, the Super Eagles team that represented the country at the 1994 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Tunisia and the FIFA World Cup hosted by U.S.A. and the 1996 Olympic Team popularly known as the Dream Team, still hold a huge place in the hearts of Nigerians. Prominent members of these squads are for many today, the idols of Nigerian football.
Stephen Keshi, Emmanuel Amunike, Sunday Oliseh, Samson Siasia, Augustine Eguavoen, Nduka Ugbade, Peter Rufai and Alloysius Agu have all gone on to coach various national teams with various levels of success.
Difficult to forget however, is the historic triumvate of Shuaibu Amoudu, Stephen Keshi and Joe Erico who were brought in, to help save the country during its 3rd bid for a place in the FIFA World Cup.
Having featured in the last 2 editions at the time (USA ’94 and France ’98), it would have been a huge shame for the Super Eagles to be absent at the 2002 edition co-hosted by Korea/Japan. The triumvate took up the role with three must-win matches left and not only did the magic; Dutch tatician, Johannes Bonfrere struggled at, but went on to win bronze at the 2002 African Cup of Nations in Mali.
Erico, as assistant to Jo Bonfrere had earlier led the Super Eagles to clinch silver at the 2000 AFCON co-hosted by Ghana and Nigeria. This is after he and his colleagues (coaching crew) qualified the Nigeria U23 squad for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Described as ‘flamboyant and one of the country’s best goalkeepers in same league as Emmanuel Okala and Eyo Essien,’ the Cross River-born goalie will also be dearly missed for “his preference for fluency and expression in the rhythm of play of his teams as a coach.”
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Political Journalist, Analyst and Social Change Advocate with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.