By Pini Jason
TWO things made me happy more than the winning of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations by the Super Eagles in South Africa. One was the relationship between Keshi and the Super Eagles players.
The other was Stephen Keshi’s resignation immediately after winning the Nations’ Cup. There was evident mutual respect and camaraderie in camp. There was no doubt that the Eagles knew who was The Boss.
This is important because the excuse usually deployed by those in the Football administration to make a case for their usual racket of “world class foreign coach” was that because the players earn more than the Nigerian coaches, they don’t respect them. Oh yeah? Who employs Nigerian coaches on peanuts which they would not even pay? Who are those who impoverish the Nigerian coaches while lining their pockets?
In the case of people like Keshi, Sunday Oliseh and Samson Siasia, they make different excuses to avoid them. They accuse them of being stubborn, simply because as players, these coaches knew the corruption in our football administration; they knew how the administrators put themselves before and above everything else; they knew that these coaches as players witnessed and learnt from Clemense Westerhoff how to contain the excesses of the greedy administrators. So they feel uncomfortable having any of them as coaches.
They actually did not want Keshi. They simply fulfilled all righteousness by employing him, hoping to frustrate him out after the Nations’ Cup. That was why they owed him months of salaries, official car and house. But they did not reckon that Keshi was smarter than they thought.
Let us rewind a bit to series of bunglings by our football administrators, especially after eminent and patriotic administrators like Sunday Dankaro, Isaac Akioye, Orok Oyo, Ogufrey, etc. There was a day in the eighties, when the Eagles had a friendly march in Ibadan and as the match was to start, it turned out that the administrators forgot the kits in Lagos!
Recall that in the eighties, Stephen Keshi and Tarila Okoronwata were banned for reporting late to Eagles camp. To keep his career alive, Keshi escaped to Cote D’Ivoire and played professional football there before going to Belgium to play. Keshi thus opened the floodgate of African footballers going to Europe for professional career.
As Sammy Kouffor, ex-Ghanaian and Beryen Munich international said: “Keshi is the Boss, not just to Nigerian footballers, but to all of us, African footballers. He opened the doors for us for professional career in Europe”.
Even then our soccer mal-administrators were slamming bans on our players caught going abroad for trials. In their ignorance, the only way to have our players available for the national team was to cage them here and deny them a professional career. It was Westerhoff who said you don’t do that.
Westerhoff taught them that it was in our interest for the players to acquire better skills abroad; that there was a FIFA rule that says such players must be released not later than two weeks to any competition and that moreover, there was money to be made by the clubs and the FA on the proper transfer of the players and that all that the FA need do (which they never did) was to ensure that our players did not sign bad contracts or go to inferior leagues.
They even accuse Westerhoff of selling our players when he helped some of them to clubs (Omokachi to Bruggs, Uche Okechukwu to Brondby) better than some of the clubs they wanted to sign for in Belgium.
To qualify for the 1994 World Cup in USA, we only needed a draw in Tunisia. The players were promised some monetary reward if they qualified.
They did. But the money promised them was not paid! When Westerhoff complained, the guy who was clutching the bag of money threatened him with a sack and indeed preceded Westerhoff to Lagos to blackmail him. When we went to USA for the World Cup, Westerhoff’s contract was to expire.
He shouted himself hoarse but the FA refused to renew his contract. They probably had had enough of him. A day to our quarter final match with Italy, Westerhoff complained that there were too much distractions in the Eagles camp and ordered them to join him in another hotel.
But instead of directing the players to join their coach, the FA went to plead with Westerhoff to return to the rowdy camp. We were leading Italy 20 minutes to the end but we lost. I believe that had we won that match we would probably have won the World Cup or at least played in the final in our first outing.
Having crashed out, Westerhoff considered it a waste of money to return to Nigeria when he had no contract and did not trust that the free loaders in the FA would give any new contract.
He went home from USA after five years of mastering the labyrinth of Nigerian bureaucracy and at a time we needed to benefit from that experience. It suited them to throw the bath water and the baby away for their selfish end.
To completely eradicate Westerhoff’s legacy, they also fired Christian Chukwu, Westerhoff’s understudy for five years! They lied that Westerhoff abandoned us. How? The man did not have a contract. Instead, like a dog going back to its vomit, they hired Bonferer Joe, who Westehoff hired and paid from his pocket to take us to Atlanta 96.
We began to feast on Westerhoff’s sweat of five years. All they were doing was to wander the whole of Europe, pockets full of estacode, ostensibly searching for or interviewing foreign coaches who used Westerhoff’s products to get us bronze or silver which, in our culture of celebrating mediocrity, they went to Abuja with for monetary handshakes. That was the beginning of hiring coaches for competitions and not for development of our football!
As Onochie Anibeze (Onoch to Westerhoff!), group sports editor, Vanguard, will bear witness, I said it long ago that when we exhaust the crop of Westerhoff tutored footballers, our football would nosedive. That was exactly what happened.
Keshi, a chip off the Westerhoff block has just returned to football development. But the leeches in the FA had neither the patience nor the confidence. That was the only reason they would book return flight tickets for the team and enter into negotiation with the Zambian coach who could not defend his championship, ever before we played Cote D’Ivoire! For them, a “local coach” may not guarantee them monetary handshakes at Abuja!
But they did not even know the team Keshi had and the relationship he had with them. They did not know the level of conspiratorial confidence the team had in themselves as “rejected” people. And they forgot that God is still on the throne!
And so when I heard that Keshi had resigned I leapt up for joy! Well, if a man can strategise to deal with the star-studded Cote D’Ivoire that scared the FA into unbelief and dispatch Mali, he should be smart enough to strategise to earn respect for Nigerian and African coaches and liberate himself and our football from the shackles of people we do not know their football pedigree.
What Keshi did was really to sack the FA that wanted to sack him! Those guys should all have resigned once Keshi was begged by superior authority to rescind his resignation. Today, if our football survives, it will be because Keshi knew when to hold his card and when to throw it, as Kenny Rogers sang.
It was ridiculous for the FA to be complaining of being side lined in the celebration of the victory. They never learn. The most important people in football are the players! Whether Keshi remains the coach of Super Eagles or not, he has pulled the rug from under the feet of those who have killed our beautiful game.
They still think they can gag Keshi. They are biting their fingers that the goodies for the boys who brought us honour are not passing through their sticky fingers for them to cheat those who sweated. The honourable thing for the FA to do is to yield way to the new mood.
Look at the man who runs Zambia FA as President—KalushaBwalya, who played during Keshi’s time. Pep Goudiola, former coach of FC Bercelona played for Bercelona alongside our own Emmanuel Amunike. But Amunike came here to coach and they offered him N125, 000 a month on a take-it-or-leave-it basis!
What is the football pedigree of these people who have consistently used blackmail to keep out SegunOdebgami, Jay JayOkocha, KanuNwankwo and others from our football administration? Giving Keshi all he deserves may not solve our problem.
They will attempt to sabotage and blackmail him. What we desire now is a complete sanitization of the rot in our football administration. Let those who will run to SeppBlatter also collect the money to run our football from Blatter!