I was in a long chat with a friend who was worried about the campaign to “leave Keshi alone.”
My friend recognises the freedom coaches enjoy on technical matters especially with regard to selection of players and team tactics. But he is afraid that the Nigerian factor could make nonsense of the freedom coaches enjoy on technical matters. Nigerians either give in to sentiments or get swayed by inducements.

It is against this background that my friend warns that what works in foreign lands may fail here.

He, therefore, argues that we cannot adopt every western practice. My friend was not in any way suggesting that Stephen Keshi could be influenced by whatever inducements but he does not trust all the staff of the Eagles who could in one way or the other influence his selection. It is better to quote my friend who is a senior colleague.

His words: “Leave Keshi alone, leave Keshi alone; that’s all we read in the media these days. Ordinarily, we should leave Keshi alone. If you, Onochie, trust Keshi, do you trust others working with him? Do you know that somebody can mount pressure on him and make him include a name for personal interests? Can’t somebody make a strong argument in favour of somebody who may not merit being in the team? Keshi can be convinced to include a name on the grounds that such a player will pick up during the tournament or that he plays better when you pair him with so, so and so player.

We have heard that in the past but this is the World Cup. So should we leave Keshi alone? World Cup is not Nations Cup. Should we leave Keshi alone when he includes Chigozie Agbim in the World Cup list? Should we leave Keshi alone when he includes Brown Ideye in the World Cup team? Can we adopt, wholly, what works in western world knowing that circumstances differ? So, should we leave Keshi alone in all matters and swim or sink with him because he is Keshi?”
My friend did not allow me to answer before ending the conversation as he hurried to the airport to catch a flight, saying that he would call me on his return.

Many Nigerians have their opinions on what the sour relationship between the football federation and Keshi is. It started at the Nations Cup in South Africa. And when the federation queried Keshi few days ago for overstaying on his vacation and for not attending a technical committee meeting, the public renewed the “leave Keshi alone” campaign.

Well, Keshi has answered the query, saying that while on leave he attended a course in Brazil and also executed the friendly match against Mexico and that it was normal he extended his leave to cover the said days. He also stated that the date of the meeting was not communicated to him and that he was not aware that President Goodluck Jonathan was to host the CHAN team before he booked his ticket for his leave in the US.

NFF board member, Emeka Inyama, in his press conference in Abuja, Tuesday, said the war with Keshi was over and that it was time for absolute cooperation. It may no longer be necessary to delve into the seeming bad blood between Keshi and the Federation although, I must confess that the whole thing has remained a big surprise to me knowing how Aminu Maigari supported and actually approved the engagement of Keshi as Eagles coach.

The peace Inyama spoke about will be put to test from now to Brazil beginning with the April 22 meeting when Keshi is expected to defend his provisional list for the World Cup. Will Osaze Odewengie and Ike Uche be on the list? If they are not, will the board insist on their invitation as some board members have canvassed? And what about Chigozie Agbim, Brown Ideye and any other player whose quality is in doubt?

This brings me back to the question posed by my friend – do we leave Keshi alone in all these and other matters? My answer is simple. We may not leave Keshi alone in all matters but professionalism demands that we leave him alone on technical matters. The same professionalism also entails that Keshi listens to genuine advice. It does not end there. Professionalism also allows him the final decision as the buck lies on his table. So, as far as Brazil 2014 is concerned, we are stuck with Keshi and Keshi is stuck with us as veteran Bizlaw would put it. For me, the situation calls for cooperation, respect and sincerity on all parties.

Osaze had an issue with Keshi and other members of the federation whom he publicly castigated. He had similar problems in his former English club, Westbrom. He has since apologised. Keshi has accepted the apology but it is not yet known if he would invite him. He may and may not. Ike Uche, to the understanding of the entire coaches of the Eagles bluntly refused to play to instructions during the last Nations Cup. It was so bad that his team mates reportedly fumed over his play and asked for his substitution in the final as they claimed that he refused to fall back to help in marking each time Eagles lost the ball. He was said to have acted in same manner in the other matches that he featured. Added to that was his condemnation of the team tactics before some administration officials. He was also said to have always canvassed for the adoption of his club’s tactical approach. It is largely against this background that Keshi has repeatedly said that he was leaving out Ike Uche because he lacked team spirit. I’m entirely of the opinion that the recall or otherwise of Ike Uche and Osaze should be left for Keshi.

If the federation coerces Keshi into recalling them where will their loyalty lie especially if they know how they got on the team? And what happens to the team spirit that Keshi has been clamouring for? It is a sensitive matter. Osaze is known in the national team to easily take offence if he is on the bench or substituted in a game. Has he truly changed? As I said before, Uche should make the move to convince Keshi that he would offer his all to the Eagles if given a chance. It is also interesting to note that the two players were awful in their last matches for Nigeria. They are in the news because of their current form in their clubs. However, that one is playing well for his club does not necessarily mean that he will do so for country. But there were times these players performed well for the national team and if Keshi feels he could have them back the choice is his. But if he does not, nobody should try to impose them on him. The crisis that will follow could destroy our World Cup dreams.

I don’t think that, based on current form, Keshi will take Agbim to the World Cup. And for Brown Ideye, the man has consistently shown that he lacks the quality to play for us in Brazil. Shola Ameobi did well in the two matches he played for Nigeria. Let’s see more of him in the camp and the friendlies. Chinedu Ogbuke appears to be rising again and could be tried too.

I’m sure Keshi must have confidence in some players in that support striking role if he is not recalling Osaze and Uche. Team spirit matters. He is in charge and must enjoy the freedom he deserves on technical matters even if he is not left alone on all matters. But it is also wise to listen to voice of reason. The choice is his. And he takes full responsibility. LET THERE BE PEACE.

Thanks Mr. M. O.Udeh

Mr. M. O. Udeh from Enugu contributed the piece, An open letter to Onochie Anibeze, which I published last week. Printers Devil deleted his name. The error is regretted. Thanks Mr. Udeh.


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