Coach Joe Erico: His pains, unfulfilled dreams

Joseph Erico

• Ex-Green Eagles goalie found dead in bed
“I swore for them in the NFA or NFF when we came back from Mali 2002 African Nations Cup. They treated all of us: Shuaibu Amodu, Stephen Keshi and myself just anyhow. What basically happened was that, I was very angry at the time. So I went back home, stripped naked and put a curse on Nigeria football and they will know no peace until I am paid my money.”

Those were the words of former Green Eagles goalkeeper and assistant coach, Joe Erico, is his last interview with The Guardian.

The ever-smiling Erico was found dead in his bed in the early hours of yesterday. The news of his death threw Nigerian football family into mourning.

The former assistant coach of the Super Eagles and respected nurturer of talents was said to have complained of body pain and was treated for malaria, only to be found dead in his bed at dawn on Thursday.

Erico, popularly known as Jogo Bonito, belonged to the cast of the very best goalkeepers in the history of Nigeria’s senior team, and served at the same period as the revered Emmanuel Okala and Eyo Essien.

In 2002, Erico, Keshi and Amodu were brought in to do a rescue job for Nigeria as the ship to the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals tottered badly under Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere.

With three matches left in the campaign, and a must-win mandate for all, the trio got the job done and qualified Nigeria for Korea/Japan.

They also led the team to a bronze-medal finish at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Mali early 2002. They were sacked soon on arrival from Mali. His death yesterday morning means all members of that historic triumvirate have now passed on. The duo of Keshi and Amodu had passed on in 2016.

Sadly, Erico never got his full reward for the part he played at Mali 2002 Nations Cup and the qualification to the World Cup in Korea/Japan. He was always in agony, whenever he spoke on issue concerning Nigeria football.

Erico claimed in his last interview with The Guardian that he had placed a curse on Nigeria football, hence the cycle of crisis. “The NFA or NFF will continue to swim in crisis until I am paid the salary and allowances owed me by the federation,” he said.

Born Joseph Bassey Eric in the Odukpani local government area in what is today known as Cross River State, Erico made his debut for then Green Eagles in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Zambia in Lagos in July 1973 (which Nigeria won 3-2), and then kept goal in all of Nigeria’s six matches at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia, where the Eagles finished third – the first time Nigeria would win a medal at the AFCON.

Erico was also in goal in all of Nigeria’s pre-tournament friendlies against Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania just before the team flew to Ethiopia.

NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, described Erico’s death yesterday as shocking.

“It is another sad day for Nigerian Football. Erico was among the very best of Nigeria’s international goalkeepers and also served the country with fervour and diligence as Assistant Coach of the Super Eagles between 2001 and 2002. He will be sorely missed. We pray that Almighty God grant him eternal rest and also grant his family and loved ones the fortitude to bear the big loss.”

Former Green Eagles winger, Adegoke Adelabu was in shocked when The Guardian broke the news of Erico’s death to him yesterday.

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