Rashidi Yekini’s place in the pantheon of Nigerian football history is cemented.
The late frontman scored the Super Eagles’ first ever World Cup goal against Bulgaria in 1994, matched with an iconic celebration, and currently sits as the country’s top scorer with 37 strikes in 58 caps.
In addition, the departed forward was the first Nigerian to win the African Footballer of the Year award in 1993, a feat that heralded more successes for the West African nation for the remainder of the 90s: Emmanuel Amunike picked up the award the very next year and was beaten to successive awards by George Weah in 1995, while Daniel Amokachi came in at third.
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Nwankwo Kanu won it twice in 1996 and 1999, Victor Ikpeba in 1997 to continue an impressive period for Super Eagles’ stars. Jay-Jay Okocha narrowly missed out in 1998, pipped by Mustapha Hadji, with Sunday Oliseh ending third.
Only one Nigerian star has been in the top two since Kanu’s triumph at the end of that decade, Mikel John Obi, while only two other players – Okocha (twice) and Vincent Enyeama – have made the final three.
Yekini was Nigeria's trailblazer for that run of five titles in the first eight years of the award being handed out by the Confederation of African Football, who replaced France Football as the accolade's organisers.
His influence in ending the West African nation’s 14-year wait for the Africa Cup of Nations is equally well documented; he scored five goals en route the country’s second triumph and was deservedly named player of the tournament.
While he will forever be remembered as the catalyst for his compatriots’ amazing run on the continent, the ex-striker 37-goal record for the Super Eagles still remains after over two decades.
Yekini not only beat Segun Odegbami’s haul of 22 strikes, but netted 15 more to establish an unassailable lead since his retirement in 1998.
Several contenders have stepped up but they haven’t even come close to the legendary striker who also has the best goals ratio in the history of the national team. Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Ikechukwu Uche, Obafemi Martins and recently Odion Ighalo have all threatened to compete with The Bull's numbers, only to ultimately fall way short.
The latest player to be touted is Victor Osimhen, the 21-year-old whose upward curve has been exciting since he came to the fore at the U-17 World Cup in 2015. The talented forward netted 10 goals at the showpiece in Chile, which marked the Golden Eaglets’ fifth success in the competition.
He was beaten to the Golden Ball by teammate Kelechi Nwakali and had to settle for second-place, yet there was the feeling that the nation had found two stars for the future.
While Nwakali’s star has dimmed somewhat in the last few years, Osimhen’s has shone, yet it wasn’t without difficulty. Extended injuries and the inability to win the trust of Wolfsburg bosses Andries Jonker, Martin Schmidt and Bruno Labbadia threatened to stall his development.
He found his feet at on loan at Sporting Charleroi in 2018-19, netting 20 times in 36 in all competitions, and that return prompted LOSC Lille to swoop in the summer.
Fortunately, the frontman’s thriving the second time around in one of Europe’s top five leagues, having found the back of the net in 18 of 36 matches for Christophe Galtier’s troops, while setting up six goals.
The young striker had equalled his total goal contributions from two years ago (20 goals and four assists) before football across Europe was suspended owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leading to speculation of another move to a higher-echelon club such as Manchester United.
Such a transfer will represent a huge leap for Osimhen, who probably never imagined his luck will change so soon after two dreadful years in the German top flight.
Predictably, the forward’s change in luck has thrust him into the prominent role of being Nigeria’s number nine, a position he’s occupied unchallenged since Ighalo’s retirement after the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
As it is, the 21-year-old seems to be justifying Gernot Rohr’s faith having found the back of the net with regularity since the continental showpiece in Egypt, now taking his Super Eagles tally to four goals.
That return has come in fewer than 10 games too, prompting suggestions he could be the one to finally supplant Yekini’s status as Nigeria’s leading marksman.
Admittedly, the Lille forward has age on his side and is actually on pace to overtake the late frontman if he maintains his impressive scoring statistic of roughly a goal a game.
However, the likelihood of actually keeping this up is somewhat improbable and the realistic scenario is a reversion to the mean for the striker soon enough.
Other details that could help or hinder the former Wolfsburg attacker besides a drop in form include the coach’s style and tactics, the quality of players around him and challengers to his unopposed place in the team, to name a few.
Until then, however, fans will continue to get excited about the prospect who many think is the long-awaited heir to Africa’s best player 20 years ago and one of the country’s greatest exports.
Indeed, Yekini’s achievements on the continent with the Super Eagles may be unmatched for a while, but the growing Osimhen will back himself to beat the one record that has eluded many before him, and become Nigeria’s all-time scorer.