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On line with Stephen Keshi

By Onochie Anibeze
IT was interesting talking to Stephen Keshi in a long  telephone chat five days after Tunisia held Nigeria to a  2-2 draw in Abuja.

The last time we spoke was immediately after the Ghana Nations Cup when Nigeria had sacked Berti Vogts and wanted a new coach. Samson Siasia, Shaibu Amodu, himself, Sunday Oliseh etc were all in contention. Dr. Amos Adamu, then Director-General of the National Sports Commission wanted the Football Federation to give the job to Clemens Westerhof and Stephen Keshi.

That raised Keshi’s hopes of returning to Nigeria. He had offers from about three countries but preferred to work in Nigeria because he felt he would achieve more with Nigeria. People had raised issues with Adamu for influencing the appointment or election of some people into some offices.

He became mindful of this and never wanted to be seen as interfering in the affairs of the football federation.

He, therefore, made his views known to the federation but never pushed for them. When I found out that the Sani Lulu board was not comfortable with Keshi’s seemingly intimidating image and charisma, I informed him not to lose Mali’s offer by waiting for too long for a country that never respects merit. Keshi thanked me for my advice and moved on.

He has been in charge in Mali and has a chance to play in the Nations Cup in Angola. On two separate occasions in one week, we had had long discussions. Some were sensitive and not good for public consumption now and some very useful for me as a newsman.  First, was his reaction to developments in Nigeria after Tunisia held the Eagles to a 2-2 draw in Abuja.

Keshi  read about players blaming each other, the coaches blaming the players and fellow coaches bashing Amodu etc. He expressed concern over these matters.

“This is the time to come together to say ‘gentlemen, we can still make it’.  It is no time to start apportioning blames. It is wrong for coaches to publicly condemn their colleagues the way they are doing in Nigeria. They can discuss among themselves and exchange ideas but not to attack each other publicly. The players have also made comments that surprised me. They blamed each other publicly.

This will not promote unity in the team. Let the Eagles struggle to the end. Nigerians should not lose hope. This is the time to support the team. Shaibu Amodu will not be there forever. His time will come and go. Now that he is there, let him have the support of everybody until he is no longer there.

That is the right way.”

Keshi also asked some questions about Nigeria including the report that Austin Jay Jay Okocha will return to play for Eagles if Nigeria qualifies for the World Cup finals.

I gave him the background to the Okocha story right from when ex international Adokiye Amiesimaka started campaigning for his return on the grounds that Eagles’ midfield lacked creativity. Adokiye also recalled that the likes of Roger Milla quit retirement and returned to make impact in the World Cup. I also gave Keshi insight into some of the problems of Eagles whose play lacks aggression.

Again, because Nigerians adored Okocha, many of the players like holding to the ball with the intention to play like Okocha. Keshi bared his heart: “If Okocha returns to Eagles it means football is not developing in our country. I understand the feelings especially those of Adokiye.

But I watch the Nigerian league on television from here and we see so many Okochas, so many Uche Okechukwus, Siasias and Ben Irohas in our league.

I see so many potentials who can mature to stardom if well guided. I have seen a couple of games from teams like Heartland, Enyimba, Bayelsa and Kano Pillars and the players there can become the stars of tomorrow.

I see what these guys do even on bad pitches and I imagine what they could be like if properly guided and exposed. I think that we have the talents back home.

If Adokiye returned after retiring, we would probably not have discovered the likes of Humphrey Edebor. There’s time for everybody. Once your time is up, there’s nothing much you can do.

If the argument is that there are no more players or creative players, then we can begin to campaign that Sunday Oliseh should return. We can make cases for the return of Garba Lawal, Mutiu Adepoju, Emmanuel Amuneke etc.

There are players in our league otherwise the clubs will not be doing well in the continental competitions. We cannot run away from our league.

That should be the basis of our football development after proper youth football. If Okocha has to return to Eagles, then it should be now. He has to help the team qualify, not to join after they would have qualified.”

Sani Lulu on FIFA’s  MRI Scan

When I heard that Sani Lulu said that he would no longer subscribe to Nigeria’s U-17 players submitting themselves to Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a type of scanning of the bones to ascertain true ages of the players, I did not believe it until I heard his recorded voice loud and clear.

According to him, such a test was not in the rules of the competition. It was, therefore illegal, null and void and will have no effect on the players Nigeria will present in the championship.

I really don’t know what to say about this gentleman who I am absolutely sure means well for Nigerian football but who doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to turn it around. It may not be his fault. I think somebody is misleading him. I blame his friends who are supposed to be knowledgeable in the game of football.

They should tell him that FIFA, from time to time, introduces rules and regulations for the good of the game.

And on August 30, they published on their site that they would use MRI to test players for the U-17 competition in Nigeria. Lulu can pull the Nigerian team out of the competition if he doesn’t want to abide by the decisions of the governing body. We can host without fielding a team, at least the history will be unprecedented.

I’m sorry, Taribo West

Taribo West had planned to be with the Green Eagles in their last match against Tunisia in Abuja.
Four days to the match, his father Joseph West, 75,  from Buguma in Rivers State died in Lagos.

That meant the end to his trip to Abuja. Taribo still offered advice to Eagles on how to beat Tunisia. “They must play power game.

That is the best way to play the North Africans especially in a game that we need to win to be in contention for the World Cup.”

Eagles lacked the power game Taribo talked about and ended the game 2-2. This is not about the match but my sincere condolences to my very good friend, Monchaditutu Taribo West. May his father’s soul rest in piece.

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