Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Keshi and Nigeria: There can only be one winner

Where Eagles Dare: Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi

STEPHEN KESHI. Mastermind. Just when you thought Nigeria could go no further against the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations quarter-finals, he wheels out the master-plan and surges to AFCON 2013 glory.

And just when you thought he’d be focused on the Confederations Cup in Brazil, he bashes off a resignation letter to the Nigerian Football Federation and announces his fiendish plot live on air.


He had everyone running around pulling their hair out. Until this morning when he calmly told Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi he’d had another think and would stay in charge of the Super Eagles.

Presumably after he had explained how he wants to remove all those who plotted against him in the build-up to South Africa 2013 – and exactly what kind of package/car/retirement plan/medical scheme he wanted to go forward with.

The right honourable Mr Abdullahi called those “certain assurances” as the smoke cleared this morning.

This is no ordinary bloke. A winner on the field for his nation in 1994, Keshi spent time preparing for the big one with foreign forces Togo and Mali before he turned his eagle eye on the coveted double of playing and coaching in an AFCON triumph for his homeland. Only Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary had ever managed it before.

Right now Keshi is so far ahead of the men who tried to sack him before the 2-1 win over Cote d’Ivor he’s in a different time zone.

In England we’d call this a willy measuring contest. More polite cultures – like the USA where Keshi has spent a lot of time since playing for Sacramento in 1996 - might refer to such extravagant gestures as “strategizing” with a z.

In simple terms, Keshi is bigger than anybody in Nigeria at the moment. He has the trophy, he has broken the drought, he has knocked back the knockers.

Of course, he could have gone home, had a chat with the powers that be and simply agreed a new package. But this way, calling Nigeria’s bluff while he was still in Johannesburg, Keshi arrives in Abuja as an all-conquering untouchable.

He didn’t just see off Africa’s footballers, he has utterly destroyed his detractors. For now.

In a vast nation riven by all kinds of rivalry - particularly between supporters of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan - sporting success can be a useful tool.

One widely quoted source this morning “close to the president” revealed: “Yes, it is very true that Keshi resigned his position as coach of the Eagles. That he confirmed to us. It was quite alarming given the complaints he brought up. There were a lot on things going on that the nation didn’t know.

“He informed us about backlog of salaries, his official car that has only been on paper since he took office. Even in South Africa, money was an issue. It is appalling but the key thing is that Keshi has calmed down and has agreed to continue as the coach of Nigeria.”

But he was never less than calm. By revealing how he’d been sacked before the quarter-final, how his fumbling federation had already booked tickets home before taking on Drogba and the Toure brothers, he has gone 2-0 up and we’re deep in to ego-injury time.

And then there were those classic quotes after the quarter-final triumph: “I don’t have anything against white coaches. Just those that are carpenters at home and coaches in Africa. “

Presumably a pale imitation had already been lined up by the Nigerian federation before their self-esteem started flooding back. But that is guesswork, as is the name of the possible replacement.

Then he was at it again after the emphatic 4-1 semi-final win over Mali in Durban: “If José Mourinho, gets a call from a rich team, he goes. I'm here for now, but if God grants me this AFCON, we'll see if there's anyone out there who wants me.”

That Keshi has now become the first African (South Africa’s Clive Barker could dispute it, but that’s another debate entirely) to win AFCON since Cote d'Ivoire's Yeo Martial in 1992 is a perfect epitaph to his bold outbursts.

Africa, perhaps the world, lies at his feet. Nigeria were never going to accept a public relations stunt like resigning to sports host Robert Marawa, despite his apparently regal status.

Nigerians at home and diasporically around the world honestly believe Keshi – with a little help from Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses and man of the tournament Jon Obi Mikel – could take these Jolly Green Giants to Confederations Cup contention and have the World Cup wobbling.

A Nigeria which has tried 19 coaches in 19 years since their last AFCON victory in 1994 simply could not allow Keshi to walk away. And he knew that.


NFF President Aminu Maigari says he has not spoken to Stephen Keshi since the coach announced his shock resignation on Monday evening.

"I was as surprised as anybody else to hear that he had resigned because I never saw a letter from him. I employed him and there are processes in place for doing things.

If he wanted to resign, he should have shown me respect by informing me the proper way,” Maigari tells KickOffNigeria.com.

Despite Keshi having met with Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi into the early hours before agreeing to rescind his decision, Maigari said he had not spoken to the coach.

"I haven't talked to him. If he has something to tell me, he should come and tell me."

Abdullahi, however, said he spoke to Maigari before going into his meeting with Keshi. All three are on the same chartered flight taking the team to Abuja, but Keshi and most NFF officials avoided each other all the way to boarding.

Abdullahi admits that some friction remains, but says there will be time to resolve all that.

"This is not the time for that. For now we have resolved the issue and he will be staying. After the reception we will sit down and sort things out. Obviously, there are certain things that weren't handled properly, but we will have plenty of time to sort them out."

1979       ACB Lagos           10           (1)
1980–1984           New Nigeria Bank            42           (4)
1985       Stade d'Abidjan                13           (2)
1986       Africa Sports      22           (2)
1986–1987           Lokeren               28           (6)
1987–1991           Anderlecht         99           (18)
1991–1993           RC Strasbourg    62           (9)
1993–1994           Molenbeek        40           (1)
1995       CCV Hydra           20           (1)
1996       Sacramento Scorpions   16           (3)
1997–1998           Perlis FA               34           (4)

1981–1995           Nigeria 64           (9)

2004–2006           Togo
2006–2008           Togo
2008–2010           Mali
2011       Togo
2011–    Nigeria

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