By Joe Apu
Tributes have continued to pour in for the late former Super Eagles Assistant Coach Joe Erico who died Thursday morning in his sleep aged 71.
The minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare while reacting to the death of former Green Eagles goalkeeper described the passing on as a monumental loss to Nigeria.
In a statement from the media department, Dare ex-claimed; “Erico dead? This is so unfortunate and sad. This is one death too many, a great loss to the entire family and the sporting fraternity. He was a great goalkeeper who stood out among his peers; he also made his mark as Assistant Super Eagles coach. My deepest condolences to the family, friends and the football family. May God bless his soul and comfort his family.” the statement concluded.
Nigeria Football Federation General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi said in Abuja: “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.”
Ex-internationals are not left out as they paid glowing tributes. Wahidi Akanni, a former NEPA FC player, described the late coach as a perfect gentleman on and off the pitch.
“Erico was one of the most patient and respectable coaches. Whenever there is an issue, just talk to him and he will sort you out. His death is a big loss to Nigeria.
Sharing the same view, Dosu Joseph, a former Super Eagles goalkeeper, described Erico as a brilliant coach who mentored him as a young player.
“He trained me. He mentored me. Erico made me who I am today, plus the grace of God. It is sad that he is gone. We usually don’t want our loved ones to die.
Also speaking, Emmanuel Babayaro, a former Super Eagles goalkeeper, described Erico’s demise as a huge loss to the Nigeria football family.
“I was with him around November 2020, he was an all-rounder. When it comes to football and human management, he was particular about ensuring that things went smoothly. I can attest to the fact that he was a good man. Football was his life, and he gave his best, I pray young starts will be as humble and kind as Joe was.”
Born Joseph Bassey Eric in the Odukpani Local Government area in what is today known as Cross River State. Erico 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.
He made his debut for then Green Eagles in an Africa Cup of Nations qualify- ing 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 friend- lies against Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania just before the team flew to Ethiopia.
Nicknamed ‘Jogo Bonito’ (Beautiful Game) for his preference for fluency and expres- sion in the rhythm of play of his teams as a coach, Erico was part of the triumvirate (alongside late Amodu Shaibu and late Stephen Keshi) who were shooed 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.