A farewell to Jogo Bonito

The Nigerian football family is in a long period of mourning following the death of goalkeeper Joe Erico, fondly referred to as Jogo Bonito.

Erico died in his sleep on Thursday, January 21, 2021. He was said to have complained of body pains and was admitted at the hospital a week earlier where he was treated for malaria before his passage in his sleep. He was aged 72.Born Joseph Bassey Eric, he started his soccer career with the Nigeria Police Force. His goalkeeping talents soon attracted national attention hence he was called to the Green Eagles’ camp.Arguably one of the best goalkeepers to stand between the sticks for the Green Eagles throughout his playing career that began at the turn of the 70s, Jogo Bonito was an exponent of method. It was this philosophy that earned him the Jogo Bonito moniker, meaning Beautiful Games.As a goalkeeper, he helped the Green Eagles to capture their first AFCON medal, a bronze, at the 3rd edition of the tournament held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, under the watch of Head Coach Father Tiko.

He went on to inspire the Eagles to win several other laurels for Nigeria.Upon retiring from football, he took interest in coaching and he was equally outstanding in the dugout. As an assistant coach handling the goalkeeping department of the national team, he contributed immensely to the relatively impressive outing of the Super Eagles at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.In 2002, Jogo Bonito, Stephen Keshi and Shuaibu Ahmadu were brought together to lead the Super Eagles to Mali for the AFCON tournament where they clinched a bronze medal. The trio was drafted back into the squad that was tottering on its way to Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup qualifiers with the Dutch gaffer, Bonfrere Joe, in charge.

The mandate was to qualify the Super Eagles for the tournament with three must-win matches remaining. The mission was accomplished but the football ruling body threw the trio out and brought Coach Adegboye Onigbinde to lead the team to the global showpiece.The Super Eagles could not advance beyond the group stage at the tournament.When their efforts in Mali and for qualifying Nigeria for the Japan/Korea jamboree went unrewarded, Erico reportedly placed a curse on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), assuring that the body would know no peace until his dues were paid to him.Despite his grouses with the establishment, the iconic goalkeeper did not shy away from football matters. He was always noticeable with his comments on any issues pertaining to football at all levels, analysing and proffering solutions.He was highly respected in the soccer circle and was reputed as a nurturer of talents.

He was a very approachable personality whose knowledge in modern football coaching and administration was admirable.Tributes have been pouring in from many quarters. NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, described Erico’s death as shocking.He said, “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.”The Chairman of the Lagos Council of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Mr Debo Oshundun, in his reaction, described the late coach Erico as a journalist’s delight anyday, stressing that he never turned down any interview request and media invitation. “Joe Erico, ‘Jogo Bonito’ as we fondly called him, was a personal friend to me as he was to all journalists. He was so passionate about football and football development in Nigeria.

Erico gave his all to football as a player, coach and administrator. Nigeria has lost a committed patriot and devoted sportsman,” Oshundun said.A senior sportswriter, Mr Patrick Ibe, described Erico as a unique sportsman and coach who understood the mechanisms of press relations and was always willing to listen to questions from journalists at short notice. In his own tribute, Bunmi Ogunyale, Secretary of the Lagos council of SWAN, told NAN that Erico’s demise has left a big scar on everyone’s heart. “He was a lover of media men and you would think he was a journalist.

We dined, wined and cracked jokes together, and it is still like a mirage that ‘Jogo Bonito’ has passed away. His human relations were second to none. He was such a good fellow. He flowed with everybody, either media managers or rookies. We all have different nicknames coined by the late veteran. “His demise is a big loss to all of us, the nation, the NFF and his family,” Ogunyale said.Blueprint Weekend joins millions of Nigerian football followers in mourning the painful loss.

May God console his family, friends and numerous admirers and grant his kind soul eternal rest.

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