Adieu, Jogo Bonito | The Nation


With Peter Fregene, ageless goalkeeper in his heydays, Joe Erico, aka Jogo Bonito, epitomized the first golden era of Nigeria’s domestic football.  Jogo Bonito would come to affirm Erico’s glittering career, as coach of class and dash of Julius Berger FC of Lagos.  But everything pivoted from his remarkable club and national team days, back in the 1960s to 1976, when he was Eagles’ goaltender, at the Nation’s Cup in Ethiopia.

In 1968, Nigeria qualified for the football event of Mexico Olympics.  It was the generation of Segun Olumodeji, Kenneth Olayombo, Peter Anieke and others, most of them of Stationery Stores FC of Lagos, which dominated the national football team.  Though of the rival ECN FC, Erico was part of that all-star generation.  Olumodeji, Olayombo and Anieke would score in the famous 3-3 draw with Brazil, though Brazil and Nigeria would occupy the base of a four-team table comprising Spain, Japan, Brazil and Nigeria.

Erico started his football with the Lagos Police FC aka Machine team.  But he would soon, as with the most brilliant players of his day, join the arch-rivalry between Super Stores and ECN (later NEPA) FC, a rivalry that ran for a pulsating two decades or more.

Lagos quaked, as rival fans stormed the Onikan Waterfront Stadium; or much later, the UAC Grounds in Surulere (now Teslim ‘Thunder Balogun’ Stadium).  Each time Erico’s ECN lost back then, Lagos Islanders expected to be “punished” by an hour or two of blackout — such was the community passion!

It was the Erico generation that, therefore, inspired a slew of great goalkeepers like Eyo Essien, Emmanuel Okala, Peter Rufai (another Stores celebrity goalkeeper before pursuing professional football abroad) — all great Eagles goalkeepers.

Along with these goalies were other dazzling talents, like “Master Dribbler” Haruna Ilerika, aka ”the tailor”, schoolboy prodigy that broke into the national team, Ismaila Mabo, of Mighty Jets of Jos fame, Sunny Oyarekhua (Nigeria Police FC) and Yakubu Mambo (another Stores great).  All (except Mabo) won gold for Nigeria in the football event, at the 2nd All Africa Games that held in Lagos, in 1973.

Incidentally too, the young Ilerika was Erico’s team mate at Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, in 1976, when Nigeria won bronze, for the very first time, in the African Nations Cup, sensationally defeating defending champions, Zaire, 4-2, in the opening group match.

Much of Erico’s football life was when the Nigerian local league was strong, clubs like Arsenal (which locals pronounced “ar-se-nal”) and Manchester United, et al, were popular only with pools betters, and the Challenge Cup (now rechristened Confederation Cup) was the zenith of celebration, among the vibrant local football fraternity!

So, it was no surprise that the Erico transition, from player to coach, only moved to another glorious phase, as a folk hero.  Enter, Jogo Bonito!

What the Spaniards call tiki-taka, or Lagos fans crow as “Brazilian soccer” — silky ball skills, enchanting feints and audacious dribbles, eliciting a delirious roar from the packed stadia — wasn’t really new.  It was the exciting stuff Stores, the beloved “Adebajo Babes” of Lagos, strutted to consecutive Challenge Cup glory in 1967 and 1968.

But Erico’s Jogo Bonito’s experiment, as Julius Berger FC coach, was an exciting encore, that the Lagos ball fans simply treasured.  Suddenly, Berger began to pack stadia all over again; and fired excited comparisons with the classical Super Stores era! That top Brazilian clubs toured Nigeria around that time, dishing out raw Brazilian skills, made Erico’s new code the rave of ball fans.  That renewed identity would power Nigeria to Nations Cup glory in Lagos in 1980, the Eagles’ first-ever win.

It was hardly any surprise, therefore, that Erico got called up to manage the Nigeria U-23 team, for  the Sydney (Australia) 2000 Summer Olympics African qualifiers. The team qualified.  Erico, as goalkeeper trainer, with Amodu Shuaibu (head coach) and Stephen Keshi (assistant coach), also qualified Nigeria for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

Both feats, however, ended in mishap, as Erico and his colleagues were dropped, after qualification; and the team handed over to fresh coaches, for the championships proper.  Still, throughout his life, Erico, though outspoken and critical, remained a patriot that dearly loved Nigerian football, and wanted the best deal for the Nigerian footballer.

Which was why his death, at 72, on January 20, after a complaint of stomach pains, shocked not a few.  Might Erico have survived, had the country boasted better and promoter medical services?

Farewell, Jogo Bonito!  Erico, as player and coach, did his duty by his country.  Now, is the time for his country to stand by his widow, and their four offspring.  May his spirit revamp a vibrant Nigerian local league, with ball fans trooping to stadia to cheer homers, instead of the the present, where they are virtual sporty prisoners of war, tethered to foreign leagues on TV.

Source: Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

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