Joe Erico: A Tribute – By Julius Enehikhuere
Joe Erico’s passing to the greater beyond has continued to draw sympathy from home and abroad, simply because he was a man greatly admired by football players and supporters.
Many described him as a revolutionary in Nigerian football with his introduction of a brand of football tagged “Jogo Bonito” and which means “Beautiful Game” in the Brazilian language.
Erico died on Jan. 21 in Lagos at the age of 72 after a brief illness, with family sources saying Erico had complained of body pains and was being treated for malaria.
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, paid him a glowing tribute in a statement, describing him as one of the best goalkeepers Nigeria has ever produced.
Erico was a former senior team goalkeeper and one-time assistant coach of the Super Eagles.
Sanusi particularly said the football family would sorely miss “Joe the gentleman” who did his best for the football family.
But it is sad to say that the new generation of football followers may not have been conversant with Erico’s contributions to football development in the country.
One thing is sure however, he made his mark in the development of the beautiful game.
Erico had brushes with managers of football in the country as he was never afraid to speak truth to power.
But who was Joe Erico?
Joseph Bassey Eric was born in Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River, in the South-South zone of Nigeria.
He made his debut for the then Green Eagles of Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Zambia in Lagos in July 1973, with Nigeria winning 3-2.
Erico was Nigeria’s goalkeeper in six matches at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia, where the Eagles finished third.
Erico, alongside the late Amodu Shaibu and late Stephen Keshi, did the rescue job for Nigeria when things were so bad during the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
With three matches to go, the Super Eagles team under Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere were facing a must-win game, but the three coaches delivered the job by helping Nigeria to qualify for Korea/Japan.
They thereafter led the Super Eagles team to a bronze medal finish at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Mali.
With his death on Thursday morning, the Nigerian football family has again lost a football ambassador who will be remembered for introducing beautiful football to its teeming football supporters.
Some of the former students of Erico, who rose to become Super Eagles players, remembered him for his passion for football development and particularly his positive contribution to their development.
Sunday Oliseh, speaking on the death of Erico, described himself as a product of Erico from his early years at Julius Berger Football Club and said whatever he was today in football was all thanks to Erico.
“I am totally a student of Erico from my days as a youth. I played for the Super Eagles under him and now I am a coach.
“My only regret is that, just like Stephen Keshi, Amodu Shaibu, and now Erico, these guys don’t live long enough to reap the benefits of their efforts.
“As I speak now, these guys are still being owed some form of allowances by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
“So sad (that) my mentor is gone,’’Oliseh added.
On whether Erico was a friend or a foe, Oliseh said: “What I know is that he made an invaluable contribution to the development of football in the country.
“Remember Erico introduced “Jogo Bonito” which became the turning point in Nigerian football.
“Erico was ahead of his peers in his coaching career. What the likes of Pep Guardiola when he was at FC Barcelona introduced as ‘Tiki Taka’ was already in Nigeria, thanks to Erico.’’
Jonathan Akpoborire, who played under Erico at Julius Berger and Super Eagles, equally described his death as a rude shock.
“I saw Joe a few days before his death. He did not look like someone ready to die.
“Under Joe, I became a better youth and a better footballer.
Joe had inter-personal relations with all his boys up to family level.
“He was a great manager that you can depend upon anytime.
Another Super Eagles, Benjamin James who described Erico as a great administrator, said the football family would surely miss him.
“I never played under him, but his name and great work were well known to me and many others.”
Erico may be gone, but his contributions to the development of football in Nigeria will never be forgotten.(NAN)