Former Eagles Coach, Clemens Westehof has tipped his protege and former captain, Stephen Keshi to surpass his achievement with the Super Eagles.
Westerhof is reputed to be the best Eagles coach till date, having guided the team to a Nations Cup win in 1994 and their first appearance at the FIFA World Cup in the same year.
He introduced a brand of attacking football, tailored after the Brazilian and Dutch teams, which won wide acclaim and catapulted the Eagles to the fifth position in the monthly FIFA rankings in 1994. It remains the best position ever attained by Nigerian.
Keshi was the captain of the team that Westerhof tinkered to great heights and has since gone on to become coach of the Eagle, on the march to their fifth World Cup outing this summer in Brazil.
The country’s best finish at the Mundial remains the second round, which ironically Westerhof first reached at the 1994 finals in the United States of America and looking at the antecedents and progress of his former central defender, the Dutchman believes that Keshi is on his way to stardom if he harps on tactical and team discipline.
Speaking in a telephone interview with Sports Vanguard, Westerhof said that it would be a catastrophe if Keshi, with all his rich playing and coaching experience is unable to lead the Eagles beyond the quarterfinal of Brazil 2014.
“It is an honour to me that my former captain is now the coach of the national team. In fact, it is double joy for me because the head coach and the assistant coach, Daniel Amokachi,were both my former players.
“These two coaches were exceptional players. Keshi played for Lokeren and Anderlecht in Belgium and Strasbourg in France and during this time, he had the privilege of playing against great players while Amikachi also played for Club Brugge in Belgium, Besiktas in Turkey, Everton in England and Colorado Rapids of U.S.A.
“Both have played at the highest level against top players and know what it takes to play against teams like Spain, Germany, Argentina, Italy and England at the World Cup. They must not be afraid because they know what it is like to play against big teams with top players. They understand the atmosphere and pressure that come with playing at the biggest stage.
“With such a rich playing experience, it is possible for Nigeria to get to the last four of the World Cup. But we must also be lucky to go far in Brazil because at times, you play well but the ball may hit the bar three times in a roll and your opponent would be in an offside position, which the linesman mightl not see it and will score and send you out of the tournament”,added Westerhof.
Continuing, the former Zimbabwe and Mamelodi Sundowns coach said there would not be any hiding place for the Eagles in Brazil. Eaghes are in Group F, comprising Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, who they open their campaign against on June 16 in Curitiba.
“The eyes of the world will be on Nigeria because your team are known and other teams will be prepared for you. Nigeria have lost the element of surprise as your players are known globally. No team will underrate Nigeria. In fact, there would not be any hiding place for the great Super Eagles. So we must be serious with the preparations and be more serious during the tournament
“The NFF must also be serious in ensuring that the team get all they need to do well in Brazil. They know exactly what they must do and Keshi also knows what he must do to ensure a fantastic tournament for Nigeria”, said Westehof, who once coached top Dutch teams like Vitesse, Feyenoord and MVV.
He promised to consult with Keshi over the team list for the World Cup and offer tips on how Eagles can reach the World Cup last four stage, when he meets his former captain next month.
“I want the team to succeed. I want Nigerian football to grow and do well in Brazil. So I will discuss with Keshi and tell him how to make the last four”, Westerhof quipped over the telephone line.
Recalling his time time in Nigeria, Westerhof said the first words he learnt here was “no problem’, even when it was clear that there was a problem.
“For me, the greatest challenge I faced in Nigeria happened to be the first words that I learnt here, which was no problem. When I asked if there was a problem with this thing, the answer I got was ‘no problem’. People were living in self denial, which was a setback to the country.
“It so happened that people did not do what I wanted them to do and they were still telling me no problem sir. But I had other plans and got them to key into my project. The first thing I did was to make the team a family. I respected my players and they had to show me the respect too and that made the NFA to give us our due respect.
“As the team prepare to go the World Cup, Keshi must ensure that tactical and team discipline are high on his priority list. The players must eat the right meal and sleep at the right time. Nigeria have a lot of good players but they must have the right discipline to stand a chance of excelling in Brazil”, Westerhof added.
Set to celebrate his 73rd birthday on May 3 at a lavish bash in Lagos, Westehof, looking back at his years on earth, said that he was contented with what life has thrown at him.
“My brother, I am a very happy and contended man. These last 72 years on earth have been remarkable and rewarding. I am blessed and happy. I am getting old and to keep myself alive and fit, I run in the woods everyday, at least for an hour.
“I do it my own day, not at full speed. After that, I take a shower, make myself a cup of coffee, which I enjoy a lot. I am still strong at this age and you never can tell if I can land a big coaching contract”, Westerhof remarked.