Stakeholders in Nigerian football were yesterday thrown into mourning following the news of the demise of former national team player and coach, Kelechi ‘Caterpillar’ Emeteole.
Emeteole died in the early hours of yesterday in a New Delhi hospital, India, where he had gone for throat cancer treatment. He was 66 years old.
The late coach was regarded as one of the most successful coaches in the Nigerian league where he managed Spartans of Owerri to WAFU Cup final in 1983 and also coached Enyimba, El Kanemi, Enugu Rangers and Heartland of Owerri.
As a player, Emeteole played for the national team under the Yugoslavian football coach, Tihomir “Tiko” Jelisavčić (Father Tiko) during the 1976 African Cup of Nations where Nigeria came third.
As coach, he also led Iwuanyanwu Nationale to the final of CAF Champions League in 2009. He won 17 caps playing for the Green Eagles and was also a member of the coaching crew to the U-17 World Cups in China in 1985 and Canada in 1987.
Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung yesterday expressed dismay and sadness over the death of the coach, who was a member of the ‘Dammam Miracle’ coaching crew.
In a statement, Dalung expressed shock that despite the timely intervention of Nigerians to raise funds for his medicals, he still succumbed to the cold hands of death.
He seized the opportunity to commiserate with the family of the deceased, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the entire football confraternity over this unfortunate incident.
“When we were still grappling with the reality of Lizzy Onyenwenwa’s death, we have lost another sports icon who was dear many Nigerians. “This is one death too many, but who are we to question God? All we can do as humans is to mourn the departed and accept the inevitability of death.”
Dalung reckoned that the former Heartland of Owerri and Supersand Eagles Coach was well loved by many after Nigerians came together to contribute their own quota to ensure his trip to India for advance treatment.
“I was impressed at how Nigerians home and abroad heeded the clarion call to donate their widows mite for the coach popularly known as ‘Caterpillar’. It was a testament to who he was and how much he was loved by all.”
Speaking on Emeteole’s death, one of his former teammates, Emma Okala told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) it was yet another sad day for the nation’s sports family, especially football.
Okala disclosed that he had drawn government’s attention to the health of Emetole when Kenneth Ilodigwe died but wondered if it was heeded. He described Emeteole as a dependable friend and teammate who gave his all to the country both as a player and a coach.
“Oh, what is this again, unusually a former national keeper called me and after a long discussion he broke the news to me. “It is sad that we are losing those who built the foundation of Nigerian football in quick succession.
“It is a black day and we will miss Emetole for a long time, I pray that God consoles his family. I want to also call attention of the public to the plight of Christian Madu, another fine player who has been sick, those in charge should come to his aid and to the aid of those of us still alive,” he said.
Joseph Aniedobe, a former teammate of Emeteole at defunct Textile Mills of Aba and Enugu Rangers lamented uncontrollably of the news of Emetole’s demise.
Aniedobe, popularly called “Uncle Joe”, said his relationship with “The Caterpillar” dated back to 1972 when he played for the defunct Aba side against Emeteole’s defunct team from Kaduna. He added that Emeteole was his personal friend.
“I find it difficult to believe Kelechi is dead, we have been friends since 1972 when I convinced him to join us in Textile Mill of Aba. We were together in the same house for about a year before we moved to Rangers International of Enugu.