African football is in mourning after former Nigerian international Rasheed Yekini and Jules Bocande of Senegal passed away within the space of a few days. Not only did the pair both play their part in golden eras for their respective national teams, they also left their mark on the clubs they represented through a combination of pure talent and personality.
Yekini made history by becoming the first ever Nigerian to be named African Footballer of the Year in 1993. A centre-forward in the memorable Super Eagles side that also featured Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amunike and Jay-Jay Okocha, he likewise helped Nigeria win the 1993 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and book their ticket to the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ in the process.
Typically, he made a lasting impression at the main event too, breaking the deadlock in his side’s handsome 3-0 win against Bulgaria. That made him his country’s first ever goalscorer at a FIFA World Cup finals, and he celebrated in unforgettable, instantly iconic style, grabbing the net with both hands as he screamed with joy. "Today I don't think we have a striker who comes even a mile close to how good he was as a striker," his fellow forward Sunday Oliseh told the BBC. “During my generation, he was the reason we were able to achieve the results we did – because of all the important goals he scored."
Originally hailing from Kaduna, where he began his career, Yekini went on to represent no fewer than 11 clubs, including Portuguese outfit Vitoria Setubal and Olympiacos in Greece, as well as Côte d’Ivoire side Africa Sports. Wherever he went, he proved a success in front of goal, just as he remained consistently prolific for his country, registering 37 times in 58 appearances to become the Super Eagles’ all-time leading marksman.
"Rasheed Yekini was one of the great figures at the FIFA World Cup 1994 in the United States," wrote FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter in a letter of condolence. "He scored his first ever goal for his country against Bulgaria. This goal secures his place as a legend in the annals of Nigerian football history. He will be sorely missed."
‘Likeable and approachable’
Before the football family had been able to bid one gifted member a proper farewell, it was then left reeling by the death of another. Jules Bocande passed away just three days later following surgery for a heart complaint. A striker in his playing days, he collected 73 caps for Senegal and found the net 20 times between 1979 and 1993, before later coaching the side from 1994 to 1995 and leading them to the quarter-finals of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.
Bocande also excelled on the club stage and topped the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 23 strikes for Metz in 1985/86. “Jules was a remarkable lad,” commented former Metz coach Joel Muller. “He was hugely likeable and approachable, and he always had a smile. He was one of the greatest players Metz ever had in terms of both talent as well as personality and character. He was very charming and really loved life. Unfortunately, his has ended too soon.”
Metz supporters are sure to echo that sentiment, and, along with fans of Bocande’s other French clubs – Paris Saint-Germain, Nice and Lens – they will long remember his uncanny eye for goal and his trademark braids. Before that, he started out at Casa Sport in his homeland and he also played in Belgium, where he ended his career.
"An international in the 1980s and 1990s, Jules Bocandé undoubtly belongs to the great names in Senegal football," wrote the FIFA President in a letter of condolence. I remember when he was crowned top scorer of France's first division with Metz during the 1985/86 season. He gave everything to Senegalese football through his talent and commitment. He leaves a great void."
Sadly lost to the game within a few short days of each other, Bocande and Yekini actually crossed paths on the pitch during the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations, meeting at the Stade de l’Amitie in Dakar on 12 January that year. Bocande scored; Yekini finished on the winning side.