By Onochie Anibeze
Clemens Westerhof, arguably Nigeria’s best coach ever was mourning yesterday when we called him for his reaction on the death of his captain when he coached Nigeria, leading the Eagles to Nations Cup victory in 1994 and performing well at the USA ’94 World Cup.
“We lost our son,” were his first words. And then the usual drama that characterises his life followed. However, it was western and sorrowful and not his usual words spiced with humour.
“I lit four candles and I had a quiet evening, meditating with my wife. It was a quiet evening Wednesday, the day he died. The four candles represented the four years Keshi worked with me. They were great moments. But what happened? What killed him? I heard the news in the morning, just few hours after he died. First, his wife died and now Keshi himself.” Silence reigned. A deep loud breath showed he got emotional.
“Hello, hello,” this reporter yelled, fearing that the line had terminated. It did not. Westerhof was probably getting himself together. Keshi was his friend and player. Keshi helped him organise the Eagles. He was the kind of leader he wanted for his team. Club engagements did not permit Keshi join Westerhof in his first major assignment for Nigeria, the Algiers ’90 Nations Cup where Nigeria won the silver after losing the opening match 5-1. But Keshi had hand in the remaining feats Westerhof achieved throughout his stay in Nigeria. The Bronze medal at the Senegal ’92 Nations Cup and the victory in Tunisia.
Most importantly was the USA ’94 World Cup qualification, the first time Nigeria was doing so in history. Those moments apparently flashed through Westerhof’s mind during the moment of silence in the telephone chat. He spoke from his home in Arhnem, Holland.
“Ha ya ya ya ya,” the voice returned. “ You know, when God calls one, there’s nothing any person can do. At 54, that’s too young to die but God’s ways are unpredictable. I feel sorry for this.”
On how he would describe the late Nigerian soccer legend, Westerhof said, “he was a great person, a great player and a great coach. I can describe his death as terrible, very unfortunate and a big tragedy.”
Some teammates of the legend have been reacting to his passing.
Aloy Agu said it would be difficult to fill the vacuum Keshi created because he was exceptional. “He was our captain and he made everybody happy. He made you feel wanted. He led on and outside the field. It is shocking. Nobody expected this death. It is terrible.”
Emmanuel Amuneke who now coaches the Flying Eagles said that Keshi inspired many of them. “He was a great player and when we were growing up he inspired many of us. Later, some of us were privileged to play with him and he was an outstanding leader. We will sorely miss him.”