BY MITCHELL OBI, President – AIPS Africa
It comes every four years and it is a feast with a varied menu, hardly the same flavor. Being part of it conjures an appetite that lingers for long until it is checked. But who really wants to miss it? Even for those who have seen it all, played it all, another fresh opportunity stirs up another level of excitement.
And sometimes some go to the extreme to be part of the feast, prompting and lobbying, genuflecting and supplicating, and even calling on their gods to clear their coast and get them on. Just for the sake of the game. It is a fever that spreads wide and the coaches who make the judgment over players to be used get into the stress mode.
As Nigerians sink their heads on the provisional list bound for Brazil, the man on whose head the fate of the Super Eagles will be determined will just stay faithful to a number that has given him not only the big push in his life but as they say in golf, the luck of the green.
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi loves the number four and with the World Cup here with us after four years of Africa hosting the world with unequalled success in South Africa, can we count on the chief from Illah, in Delta State, to provide a new visage for our game at the highest competitive level.
“It’s the number four jersey I wore throughout my career. In Anderlecht (Belgium), in Strasbourg (France), in my club, New Nigeria Bank in Benin, anywhere i play, it became part of me” ,Keshi, opened up on a number that has also marked the glittering career in the Super Eagles of one-time Africa Footballer of the year and soccer ambassador, Nwankwo Kanu.
A solid pillar in the defence, Keshi, like Kanu who called it a day in international football four years ago, also had an eye for goal. When all seemed lost in a crucial game, and the team needs to find a bearing, Keshi, remarkably, comes to the rescue, either joining the attack or waiting for the deadball moments and set pieces to hit his celebrated canons.
This was all from the lesson he learnt watching football greats who played in the same central defence.” When I was growing up, I had three idols. They were playing in the same position and I was studying them. One of them was Frank Beckenbauer. The others were Bobby Moore, the late England Captain, and a former Nigerian Captain that I took over from, Christian Chukwu.”
The influence of this trio on Keshi was not limited to their playing style. He even had to settle for one of their shirts number. “Bobby Moore wore number six. Beckenbaner had number 4 and Chukwu was number 5. I had seen their style of play and I wanted to be part of them. I had a coach from Yugoslavia. I was in the junior team then and he said to me: Hey Keshi I want you to wear number four.
“I looked at him and said how does he know that I am contemplating on which number to wear. I said coach you said number 4? That was how I just picked number four”.
Truly so, all through his rise and shine as a player, Keshi had a fervent attachment to the number four and it became a family predilection and maybe figure of success. “One of my sons if he’s playing, he wants to wear number 4. My daughter if she’s playing, she wants to wear number 4. So it’s just a number I just love to have”.
With 27 days to the seductive sound of the samba and the feast of goals, Keshi will count on the creative strength of the number four to make a difference with a team he has groomed and patterned to play like him,…hard fighting, versatile, direct yet colourful like the four phases of the moon.