This interview was conducted in 2003, after Rashidi Yekini returned from his sojourn in Spain as a professional footballer.
‘No Place Like Home’ – Rashidi Yekini
By JOHNSON AYANTUNJI
Very few footballers at this stage think of coming back home to play. What informs your decision?
I enjoy my profession. And I never give up. I enquired spiritually whether I would be able to make it. Physically, I am all right. Also, I asked my physical trainers whether I would be okay. They gave me the green light. They cited the case of so many players who are even older than me and are still playing. I now decided I should come back instead of wasting away in Europe. For almost two years now, I have not played any competitive football. It is better for me to come back to Nigeria.
But you need a lot of discipline?
Yes, it is true. A lot of discipline is involved. What you eat, what you do, where you go and so on. If you think you are a star and think that you have the money, you can do whatever pleases you, you will lose your shape before you know it, and everything will get out of hand.
Yekini is playing in the league. What stops him from playing in the national team?
I have said it before. Nigerians too know what happened. If they think I can make it, nothing stops me. In the first instance, I never thought I would play abroad. My intention was to work harder and be the best I could be on the domestic scene. However, it turned out to be what it is. It all depends on God. And I am really grateful to God.
So, if you are invited again, will you go?
I am a Nigerian. Who am I to refuse a call to national duty?
You are playing in the Nigerian league again after so many years of absence. Is there any change in the league?
Yes! There is. When I started my footballing career, there were a lot of experienced players that you could dream of taking after, talented and skilful players. Then, there was still professionalism out there. But they were never in a hurry to go out even though the market was still there. But what do you have today? You see a player, after three moths, he wants to go abroad. They are in the habit of saying, “let me just play for a (while) and go abroad to make dollars.” But it is never so. It is not easy. Even if you are in Nigeria here, you can make it. It is unfortunate that we have a lot of Nigerian players who are languishing abroad, doing nothing. Instead of remaining here, they rushed abroad not getting anything. They are neither here nor there. They are neither useful to their family nor themselves. They are just killing their talents there. And it makes my heart to bleed whenever I see them wasting away in Europe. I am using this medium to appeal to journalists and Nigerians to please welcome any of them who decides to come back home. They should not discourage them. I spoke to some of them who say they are afraid of journalists and the fans. Money is not everything. We need happiness and no place is like home. I am enjoying my stay at home. The press has made my coming back enjoyable. There are a lot of things I read, which make me happy. You should extend the same to any of them who comes back home. It makes me think that I can still make it. But if I read anything that will demoralise me, it makes me unhappy. The Brazilian players, whenever anything goes wrong with them, they run back home and the journalists welcome them back. They never say anything evil or bad about them, no matter what. And they are not greedy. But our players here are greedy. There are those making it in Nigeria in spite of the economic situation of the country. It is our country; we have no other place.
The debate has been fierce that since you left, there has been no striker like you. How would you react to this?
Well, I cannot rate myself. It is left for you and the people of Nigeria to judge.
What in your candid opinion is the problem with the Nigerian league?
Well, let me say the truth, we have a lot of talented and skilful players, but they are never committed and devoted to what they are doing. Their heart is not in it. That is the problem.
(This interview with Rashidi Yekini was first published in TELL, March 17, 2003)