Former Super Eagles captain and coach, Stephen Keshi, who died on Wednesday was a respected and popular figure in football and a contemporary African hero.
Obviously, the younger ones will recall his fatherly figure during Nigeria’s second round match against France at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A year earlier, Keshi had won on the bench the African Cup of Nations in 2013, a competition that Nigeria had not won since 1994. At that time, the powerful central defender was still the captain and enjoyed leadership position at the age of 34. As such, he became the second African winner of CAN as a player and technician, after the Egyptian Mahmoud El-Gohari.
A long time ago, well before becoming the technician so appreciated on the African continent, he led the Mali and Togo teams to a qualify for the 2016 World Cup, without participat8ing in the finals.
Keshi was an outstanding player.
At 24, he left his country for the Ivory Coast, where for two seasons he enchanted Stade Abidjan and Africa Sport. In the summer of 1986, he moved to Belgium where he will soon become a reference point. At first Lokeren, then later at Anderlecht, playing the role of big brother to the young Africans who landed as the Ghanaian Nii Lamptey, who he treated as his son.. He won several national awards.
His short stint in France, with RC Strasbourg, marked by the rise of the Alsatian club in D1. It illustrated dams against Rennes by scoring an ultra-powerful strike. Keshi had grown to become a hero. His last European season (1993-94), at RWD Molenbeek, coincided with an injury that handicapped him at the 1994 World Cup in USA
True Nigerian patriot
Keshi leaves the image of an affable man, a lover of football tand a true patriot, always ready to help Nigeria.
Keshi left with his wife and children in the United States to begin his new profession as a coach. He was still in Nigeria when he died on Wednesday at 54 years. This is six months after his contract with Nigeria was not renewed, after being accused of having been a candidate for the Ivorian post, when still under contract with the Nigeria Football Federation.
At that time, he was a widower, his wife Kate having succumbed to a long illness.
His name was circulated to take over the coaching reins of Guinea, then Orlando Pirates of South Africa hoped to engage him but those links worked.
The “Big Boss” will remain for some time the first African coach to have passed the first round of a World Cup at the head of an African team at Brazil 2014.