The former Nigeria striker Efan Ekoku has told the BBC he’s “mystified and extremely disappointed” by Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi’s comments towards the Malawi coach Tom Saintfiet.
Saintfiet is to report Stephen Keshi to Fifa after the Nigeria coach called him “a white dude who should go back to Belgium”.
The pair have been arguing since Malawi asked Fifa to move next month’s crucial World Cup qualifier from Calabar for safety reasons.
Ekoku, who played in the same Nigerian Africa Cup of Nations winning squad as Keshi in 1994, has added his voice to the row between Keshi and Saintfiet:
“I’m mystified. I’m extremely disappointed – a little bit angry as well, that a guy who’s as smart as Stephen is, has been around international football for a long time, has travelled, has played in Belgium, was a very good footballer with a big profile in African football as well – would feel the need to say something like that.”
Ekoku, speaking on the BBC’s Sportsworld programme, went on to say that Keshi “does shoot from the hip occasionally”.
“He’s been very outspoken, saying there should be a lot more African coaches, home based coaches who are in charge of their national team.
“This kind of comment has been brewing for a while, but as I said, I’m extremely disappointed that he’s chosen to vent his frustration or anger in this way.”
The controversy comes just two weeks before the crucial World Cup Group F qualifier between the two nations on September 7th in Calabar.
Saintfiet believes Keshi “is angry because of the request to change the venue”, but the Belgian stands by his feeling that Calabar is unsafe. Ekoku has never been to the venue, and although he doesn’t agree with Keshi’s language, he does have some sympathy with his view of Calabar:
“Calabar, I know – in the Eastern part of Nigeria – is relatively calm. As far as I’m aware, there haven’t been any disturbances there in the last 25 or 30 years so I can’t see the reasons for the Belgian coach wanting the match to be shifted in the first place. Stephen Keshi is obviously a little big angry that he’s made this request and he’s decided to respond in that fashion which is unfortunate for everyone concerned with Nigerian football”.
Ekoku is hoping Nigeria will be able to put this controversy behind them as they bid to reach the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014.
“Not to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next year would be an absolute disaster, and I’m sure it would cost Stephen Keshi his job.
“Can they go on and perform very well at the World Cup if they qualify? I doubt that the squad is actually that good. I think we’ve had better teams in the past.
“This one went to the Cup of Nations with reduced expectation and that probably worked in their favour. We’ve had better generations of Nigerian footballers and we’ve not been able to win.
“This group of players has won something, we have one or two promising guys. I certainly hope that they can improve and we can find ourselves – in terms of consistency – at the top of the continental game for years to come”.