•A welcome development — Lagos FA board member
•He allowed success get the better of him — Esu
BY JACOB AJOM
The engagement of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi as Super Eagles coach in 2011 offered Nigeria football new beginning. From the background of a failed bid to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Keshi’s era saw the country qualify for the tournament in South Africa and won it, for the first time in 19 years.
He wound back the glory days of Nigerian football and Nigerians were quick to compare the Keshi-tutored Super Eagles squad with the iconic class of 1994. In the height of the team’s fairy-tale ride at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, the debate was loud in both low and high places. But that has become a distant past.
In the euphoria of the Afcon glory, when accolades were still pouring in from all over the world for the history-making Big Boss, as Keshi is fondly called, the former national team captain stunned Nigerians when, in a no-holds-bar interview, he told a South African radio station that he had resigned as coach of the Eagles. He became the beautiful bride of Nigerian football, particuarly when he said a number of countries were in queue for his signature. The Senate President, David Mark, one of Keshi’s strong backers intervened and promised the Delta State born tactician that his complaints would be looked into. Keshi sheathed his sword and qualified the country for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
To the team’s apologists, it was time to see Keshi create history with Nigeria in Brazil by being the first man to take the national team to the quarter finals of the World Cup. France was between Nigeria and this wish. When the time came, the Super Eagles level of commitment was questionable as their resistance was feeble. The team fell 0-2 to France in a match many thought they were capable of winning.
But events before that match — like the players’ boycott from training and the all night meeting between officials of the NFF and the players did not show a team ready for such an important assignment. More embarrassing was the team’s confrontation with the Senate President, David Mark in Brazil. It was a national embarrassment. All this may have taken its toll on the players, which was evident during play.
After their elimination from the World Cup, the Super Eagles have played four matches in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. For the first time in decades, Nigeria lost a home game 2-3 to Congo, in Calabar, a gosless draw with South Africa. In the midst of these poor results, Keshi remained adamant in his choice of players he invited to the national team. Experienced and free-scoring players like Obafemi Martins in the Major League Soccer, Ikechukwu Uche in the La Liga, Haruna Lukman, a good attacking midfielder, Victor Anichebe, Afcon 2013 hero, Sunday Mba among others were ignored by the Big Boss.Reasons he gave for not inviting them were either selfish or untenable, in most cases.
The next match against Sudan proved to be the biggest test case for Stephen Keshi as the Eagles lost 0-1 in Khartoum. However, the Eagles made amends in the return fixture by beating Sudan 3-1 in Abuja. This was too little and too late to save the neck of Keshi who was angling for a fresh contract with the NFF. His disengagement was announced hours after the 3-1 win over Sudan.
A member of the Executive board of the Lagos State Football Association, Mojeed Adegbide said that the decision by the Nigeria Football Federation to relieve Coach Stephen Keshi of the Super Eagles job did not come as a surprise to him, after a series of poor results by the national team.
“We all saw it coming,” he started. “Given the way the Super Eagles played against Sudan, even as we ended up winning 3-1, we were not comfortable.
“We cannot take that kind of attitude to Congo and think we can take anything from there. A stitch in time saves nine,” Adegbide said.
The Lagos FA member refused to attribute Super Eagles Afcon 2013 success to Keshi’s technical savvy.
“A lot of people feel the feat performed by the team in South Africa was sheer luck. And to a large extent, the team’s performances since then have given credence to those who hold that school of thought,” he said, adding, “it is funny to find this same team under the same technical crew that won the trophy in 2013, struggling in the 2015 qualifiers this way. Out of four matches they have only four points.” He said Keshi should go to those countries that he boasted wanted him. “Is it not embarrassing to see a World Cup coach, an Afcon champion working without a contract?. Let him go to those countries he has always said were waiting for him to say yes.”
Veteran Coach, Godfrey Esu said Keshi ‘dug his own grave’ with his style of management. “He allowed his Afcon success get the better of him,” Esu said.
He accused Keshi of being selfish and said the disengaged Super Eagles caretaker coach was far behind the times in modern management. “In modern football, you don’t work alone. At that national level you work with a team behind you…a team that will be advising you. Some coaches work with very strong public relations people and aides who go about monitoring players all around the world for you. There is no way you do it alone. I think Keshi was selfish.”
Esu looked at the appointment of Amodu Shaibu on an interim basis and observed that “Amodu is not a new man. He has been active and knows the terrain. He has been following the national team and even went to Brazil with them.”
General Manager of Super Sport Felix Awogu would not shed a tear for Keshi but pointed out that the problem with Nigerian football would not end with Keshi’s sack. “No, it is not about Keshi because there are a lot of deep rooted issues in the team.
“Siasia came in and ended up the same way, The same scenario, because we heard of some players that were preferred at the expense of others; the same thing we saw under Keshi. Until our coaches are held to defend their choice of players invited for team selection the problem will remain. Our coaches run a system of exclusion in the national team and it is not good for our football.”
He frowned at the choice of Coach Shaibu Amodu because according to him, the nationa deserves an apology from Amodu. “He should make a public apology over his avowed rejection of home-based players.
“As a stake holder in Nigerian football, I am not comfortable with Amodu who openly said there were no good players in the Nigerian league.”
Awogu said Nigeria needs a coach with a big heart. A coach who would not allow himself to be tossed around. “We need the best coach, from anywhere, local or foreign, black or white.”