BY KUNLE SOLAJA
On this date, 1 July 1986, one of Nigeria’s most successful and charismatic coach, Jelisavicic Tihomir-Tiko, popularly known as ‘Father Tiko’ died, aged 57.
He coached the then Green Eagles in the 1970s and took the team to the last qualifying point for the Argentina ’78 World Cup before an own-goal by hitherto reliable Godwin Odiye, ended the dream.
Sadly it was almost at the occasion of a World Cup tournament that the Yugoslavian died. He had been part of the Mexico ’86 World Cup as an observer. But two days after the tournament, he was heading to Cancum in Mexico to take up a new coaching appointment before an automobile accident took his life.
He was the Green Eagles’ coach at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia where he surpassed Nigeria’s previous efforts by taken the team to the second runners-up position.
He achieved the same position at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, but was relegated to the Flying Eagles in the late 1989 when the National Sports Commission signed on a Brazilian, Otto Gloria to guide the Green Eagles to the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations on home soil.
For the records, he is the third coach with most matches for the Nigerian national team. Under him from 1975 to 1978, Nigeria had 45 matches, ranking him behind four-term Amodu Shaibu (53 matches) and Clemens Westerhof (52 matches).
In terms of duration, he stayed longest among all the foreign coaches Nigeria ever had, as he stay in the country was for eight years even though he handled the then Green Eagles for only three years.
He was also the most widely travelled in Nigeria among those in his ilk as moved from one match venue to the other in search of talents in the then National League.
The legendry Nigerian speedy winger, Segun Odegbami once told the story of how Father Tiko switched him from the inside left position to the right wing just days before a Nigeria versus Sierra Leone World Cup qualifiers in October 1976.