By Jacob Ajom
Family sources have said the former Green Eagles goalkeeper, Joseph Erico, popularly know as ‘Jogo Bonito’, died in his sleep after complaining of body pains and was treated for malaria.
According to a family source, the flamboyant trainer of trainers and respected nurturer of talents “complained of body pains and was treated for malaria, only to be found dead in his bed at dawn on Thursday.”
Meanwhile, his death has been described as a monumental loss to Nigeria by Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare.
A statement by the Minister’s Media Office noted that “Erico’s death is so unfortunate and sad. This is one death too many; a great loss to the entire family and the sporting community.
“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 community. May God bless his soul and comfort his family.”
ALSO READ: Sylvanus Okpala: I was small but mighty
Also, the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, expressed shock over the death of the former Nigeria international.
“It is another sad day for Nigerian Football,” lamented Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, Secretary-General of the NFF.
Sanusi recalled that “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.”
Coaches association mourns
On his part, the President of the Nigerian Football Coaches Association, NFCA, Ladan Bosso, has described the death of veteran coach, Joe Erico as “a great loss” to Nigeria’s football.
Reacting to the sad development, Bosso said: “Nigerian football is going to miss Erico who was a pioneer to modern coaching and a key member of the coaching association. He is irreplaceable.”
The NFCA boss said the death of Erico was a big setback to the association as the late coach was “a stabilising force” in the coaches’ body.
On his part, the National Public Relations Officer of the Association, Etta Egbe, said: “Just as we are trying to recover from the pool of deaths of our coaches, we are yet hit by the death of Coach Erico.
“The development has brought pain and shock to the entire exco and members generally.
“We only hope the immediate family will take solace in the proactive life he lived. May his soul find peace in the Lord.”
Born Joseph Bassey Eric in Creek Town, Odukpani Local Government Area 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 qualifying match against Zambia in Lagos in July 1973 (which Nigeria won 3-2).
He 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.
They also led the team to a bronze-medal finish at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Mali early 2002.
With his death on Thursday morning, it means all members of that historic triumvirate have now passed on.