Nigerian football has again been thrown into mourning on Thursday following the death of former Nigeria senior team goalkeeper and one-time assistant coach of the Super Eagles, Joe Erico.
It was gathered that Erico complained of body pain and was treated for malaria, only to be found dead in his bed at dawn on Thursday.
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Born Joseph Bassey Eric in the Odukpani local government area in what is today known as Cross River State, Erico belonged to the class 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 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.
Nicknamed ‘Jogo Bonito’(Beautiful Game) for his preference for fluency and expression 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.
Erico began his football career with the Nigerian Police Force, NEPA, Nigeria Railways, Electricity Connectors of Nigeria and Julius Berger – where he won several diadems.
He attracted the national teams’ selectors in 1968 and he was picked to man Nigeria’s goalpost alongside Prince Zion Ogunfeyimi by coach Tiko Jelisavcic for the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations staged in Ethiopia.
There, he played a crucial role as Jelisavic’s men placed third after defeating Egypt 3-2 in the play-off at the Addis Ababa Stadium.
Sadly, his promising football career came to a halt years later while on international duty.
Erico went into administration and he handled his boyhood club Julius Berger where he introduced the Jogo Bonito style – a distinct style of play in Brazilian football.
He was part of the coaching crew that qualified the Nigeria U23 squad for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Unfortunately, he was fired on the eve of the competition by the Nigeria Football Federation.
Coach Erico is survived by his wife and four children. His burial arrangements will be announced in the coming days.