Nigerian football will be the loser if Stephen Keshi, coach of the Super Eagles, is allowed to resign. Within two years of his tenure, has been able to lay a solid foundation for the growth of the beautiful game and should be allowed to water it
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Jul. 14, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
IF Nigerians fail to recognise the value of Stephen Keshi, coach of the Super Eagles, in uplifting the standard of football in the country in just two years, other countries do. His achievements at the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Brazil have distinguished him as the best indigenous football coach. On Wednesday, June 25, 2014, Keshi became the first African coach to lead an African team to the knockout stage of FIFA World Cup.
The big boss, as he is fondly called, led Nigeria to what would be described as the country’s most successful world cup showing in 16 years. In the country’s previous world cup outings, the Super Eagles failed to progress beyond the group stage. In the 2002 World Cup, the team went down with only one point after losing two matches and drawing one at the group stage. In the 2006 World Cup, the Super Eagles failed to qualify, while in the 2010 World Cup, they also went out at the group stage with a point.
Though the team left for Brazil with most Nigerians not having much confidence that it would qualify from Group F that paraded Argentina, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Keshi was pleased to take the team beyond the group stage for the first time since 1998. The team put up an unconvincing performance against Iran which resulted in a barren draw but later went on to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina. Even though the Super Eagles improved as the tournament progressed and had their best performance against France in the round of 16, they still lacked clinical finishing and paid dearly for it.
Keshi went to the World Cup with a squad that had no stars but was more organised than previous squads. The Keshi-led Super Eagles have accomplished more than the other African teams with bigger star players like Ghana and Ivory Coast. The coach stepped on many toes following some of the tough decisions he made and stuck by them. A lot of them part paid off while others backfired. One year into his reign as the Super Eagles coach, Keshi led the team to win the African title in South Africa with a host of new players after he did away with the bulk of the squad that failed to qualify for the tournament in 2012. For the first time in living memory, Nigeria qualified for the World Cup without much hassle. Gone were the days of waiting for the result of other matches to go in their favour, but with Keshi as coach, the Super Eagles topped their group and defeated Ethiopia in a two- leg Confederation of African Football, CAF, playoffs to get a ticket to Brazil.
In just two years, Keshi surpassed the achievements of Clemens Westerhof, former Super Eagles coach, rated as the most successful coach to have ever led the team before Keshi. It took Westerhof five years to assemble a formidable team that won the second African Cup of Nations title for the country, whereas Keshi spent only one year to achieve that feat.
Keshi has established himself as a coach in Africa by following in the footsteps of his mentor Westerhof. He is the only African to qualify two African nations to the World Cup as well as being the second person after Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to win the Nations Cup as a player and a coach. But his critics blame him for Nigeria’s ouster in Brazil. They insist that he should have brought Ikechukwu Uche, Sunday Mba and Nosa Igiebor to Brazil. But he has taken credit for bringing out some unknown talents like Michael Babatunde for the world to see. Keshi was equally criticised for his inability to read matches correctly and this failure could work against his advancement as a coach.
It was not easy for Keshi to operate as a national coach in Nigeria. For instance, he went on for seven months without pay. His backroom staff suffered from poor administrative issues that bedevilled the Nigeria Football Federation. It was one of the reasons that players decided not to train in Brazil on Thursday, June 26, as a way to press home their financial demands. Keshi even had to pay his backroom staff from his own pocket in order to make his job of leading the national team easier.
The bonus row at the World Cup and the non-payment of his salary seem to have prompted the controversial resignation of Keshi. He did the same shortly after winning the African Nations Cup and was persuaded to stay on. But this time around, Keshi said in an interview with TheCable.ng, that he is tired of all the plotting and backbiting in the job. “Yes I have done my bit. I am tired of all the intrigues and backbiting and insinuations I get. The criticisms are nothing really because even siblings criticise each other. In this job, sometimes it goes overboard and my family and those of my players get called names. I have had to tell the players many times to ignore those criticisms and just focus on the task at hand,” he said.
But Tammy Danagogo, minister of sports, has denied the reports that Keshi has resigned his position. The minister said Keshi should be treated with respect by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, adding that the officials should have discussed the issue of the coach’s contract with him before making it a media issue. In a statement by Patrick Omorodion, his special assistant on media, the minister said, “It is not true that Keshi has resigned. He told me that he never said so, that his contract only expired. I expect the NFF to do the needful.”
On his part, Austine Okocha, former Super Eagles captain, has said the resignation of Keshi as Super Eagles coach would be unwise for the growth of the country’s football. He believes that Keshi still has a great future with the Super Eagles despite his team’s exit from the World Cup. He described the 52-year old coach as the best indigenous coach Nigeria has ever had and who deserves a long term job with the national team.
“I don’t think his future is in doubt. Keshi’s exit must be the craziest decision we will ever make as a nation. He will come out of this competition as a better coach though. The future looks bright for him. He has gone about the business the right way by going back to our local league to pick the future Keshi, Mikel and Omokachi. He is planning well for the future for Nigeria. He is on the right track,” he said.
Meanwhile, there are reports in the media that the NFF is planning to offer Keshi an improved deal that will pay him seven million Naira a month (over $43,000). The plan according to AfricanFootball.com, comes amid confusion on whether Keshi has quit his post. The website reported that the NFF also has a plan B to hire a foreign coach to be assisted by a local coach and this would be if Keshi turns down the new contract tabled by his employers.
Be that as it may, whether Keshi remains as the Super Eagles coach or not, football loving fans in Nigeria will remember him in several ways. To some, Keshi is perceived as a troublemaker, but to others, he is a pathfinder while many recognise him as a legend.