Categories: Football, General, Sports Development
Written By: bigseg
In the history of Nigerian football only two coaches have ever survived the axe of the NFA. Even then, both of them left in circumstances that are not far from being sacked. Clemens Westerhof, touted to be the most successful coach in the country’s history, abandoned the Eagles in America following a ‘mutiny’ by the players and never returned to his job. Incidentally, he was at the tail end of his contract and Nigerians seemed to have had enough of him with a section of the media already campaigning that his assistant was the one doing all the work and should be hired in his place. Othman Calder, the German coach that was hired to raise a new Green Eagles following the shocking and humiliating defeat of Nigeria by Zambia in 1974 absconded from the country after working for just a few weeks as coach of the senior national team. Nigerians woke up one day to find that his room at the Eko Hotel was empty and Othman had vamoosed without informing his employers, the National Sports Commission. No one can tell specifically till this day what made him run away from Nigeria. Otherwise, every other coach, Nigerian or foreign, that has had the opportunity to handle the national team has suffered the ‘indignity’ of being sacked from the job. It is the life of coaches to be hired with fanfare and relieved of the same job with ignominy. If that really is the case it makes sense, therefore, to assume that Stephen Keshi, with all the ceremony of his appointment, some time into the future, will also suffer the inevitable fate of being sacked, and in his own case, being a Nigerian with no where else but Nigeria to abscond to when things go awry as they inevitably would do some day, he would sit back at home and face the ‘music’ as Samson Siasia and all those before him have had to do. It is ironic that some of those that were themselves sacked from the same position for lack of productivity now find themselves making grandlocutous speeches and sitting in judgement over Siasia. The title of my column this week must not be misunderstood therefore, because it will not be out of place to peer into the future and see Stephen Keshi also facing a sack. The only question now should be: ‘How long will Stephen Keshi last?’
Let me start by dispelling any notion that I have anything against Stephen Keshi and his employment as coach of the national team. Far from it. My respect for him has always being. He is my friend. We played together in the national team when I was captain. Indeed but for political intrigues that ruined our chances at the last hurdle of Nigeria’s quest to attend her first World Cup in 1981, Keshi would have played the final two matches against Algeria and, probably, would have helped the country to qualify for the World Cup of 1982. Professor Otto Gloria that led Nigeria to win the 1980 African Cup of Nations became a victim of political manipulation, when he listened to politicians, abandoned principles for sentiments, replaced a young and effective Stephen Keshi for a retired Christian Chukwu and threw away Nigeria’s chances of making history. Many believed that Nigeria would have won with Keshi at the heart of the Nigerian defence. He was Nigeria’s best Centre-half at the time and for the next 13 years.
At his best as a player, Keshi was in a class of his own – a great captain and motivator who led by example. He was an organiser of his team, directing, almost as a coach, how the team played, taking on responsibility to cover up for his co-defenders when they faltered, and joining the attack when goals failed to come early. Even as centre-half he scored 10 goals in his 64-match national team career.
As a coach he has proven his mentle with his stints outside Nigeria, coaching Togo and Mali, the first Nigerian with that distinction. Keshi will make a good coach any day any where. He knows the game and has since acquired the necessary professional qualifications to coach any team, with his vast and varied experiences playing under renowned coaches at all levels of the game standing him in good stead.
So, Stefan (for thats what I call him) is well qualified for the national team assignment and will get my own unequivocal support as he embarks on this journey! My question, therefore, is meant as a warning to him to ‘beware the ides of March’.
Stephen Keshi is taking up a most difficult job. He is stepping into the national team job at a very challenging time in the country’s football history. The team, under Amodu Shuaibu, steadily became weak and unattractive. It may have qualified for the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations but did not do so in a convincing manner. The standard of performance did not reflect the high expectations of the people who became so disenchanted and disappointed that the clamour for Shuaibu’s removal after the dismal outing at the Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea, before the World Cup, was unanimous. Lars Lagerbeck came and went light a candle in the wind leaving behind a trail of anger and more disappointment. When Siasia arrived he was heralded as the long-awaited messiah, riding on the back of the disenchantment with Amodu and the failure of Lars Lagerbeck. The public support he received was unprecedented. No Nigerian coach before him had enjoyed that level of support and confidence. Even Stephen Keshi that was interviewed along side Siasia backed off and conceded that it was the Bayelsan that the people wanted, and for good reason too. Nigeria needed a new team. Siasia, for 5 years, had been building one from the junior level in 2005. He had taken the core of that same team to the Olympic games and came within touching distance of winning the Gold medal. It made absolute sense at the time that the right way to go was with Samson and his emerging team. So, whatever happened to derail the train that appeared to be so much on course?
The body that employed Samson, and that has now employed Stephen, has not changed. The Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, has been, and still is, in deep physical and metaphysical crisis since it illegally assumed power following the annulled election process of August 2010 that was so brazenly conducted against the grain of morality and justice. Do you notice that everything the body has ‘touched’ since then has been haunted and blunted by failure? All the national teams one after the other have been falling and failing. The domestic clubs representing the country, one after the other, have been falling and failing. The domestic game has lost its once-growing shine. Public interest has waned and the sponsorship of the professional league has suffered irreparable and incalculable damage to its image. Unanswered corruption charges litter the football administrative scene. The leadership of the Professional league that the NFF seeks to control has been infected with a plague and has fallen on bad times. It is in disarray and embroiled in its own circle of legal crisis, like the NFF itself, without an end in sight. Nigerian football administration has never been this bad and this poor in the country’s history. That is the atmosphere Stephen Keshi is stepping into.
Thats why I worry. Before Samson had even been disengaged many of his colleagues in the national team were scampering to replace him. It was so ugly to observe the seeming desperation to see him go. Stephen Keshi has been given the job and has come in with promises to return Nigerian football to its past glory. I believe he intends to do this by influencing developments at every level of the game, from grassroots to the professional league. He has promised to go to every nook and cranny of Nigeria in search of players and to give every player discovered a chance to prove themselves worthy of a place in his team. All of that is good. But what happens to the ‘cursed’ body to which his good intentions are anchored? I belief is that until the right things are done to right past wrongs and lift the curse of the just, it will not be too long before even Keshi’s ‘time’ will also come. The present NFF must go before Nigerian football will know peace and progress. The writing has been on the wall for almost two years and no one is truthfully addressing reading it and dealing with the real issues. I wish the Big Boss the best of luck and sincerely hope that even against the odds and the elements he will succeed!