So much has been, and is being said about Stephen Keshi and his tenure as head coach of the Super Eagles. Now that he has been relieved of his position as head coach, I am certain many more inside stories will be disclosed in the coming months as the players will now be free to bare their minds on the "dictatorship" that was Keshi's reign.
The 2010 World Cup marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Coach Samson Siasia commenced a rebuilding process which saw the return of the beautiful attacking football Nigeria had always been known for. Unfortunately, Siasia's reign was cut short after he failed to qualify for the 2012 AFCON due, in part, to a loss in the opening qualifying game, overseen by the then interim manager, Austin Eguavoen.
On the strength of qualifying Togo for its first ever World Cup in 2006 and the continuous call for indigenous coaches, Mr. Stephen Keshi was contracted to replace Siasia. He started out with unconvincing and uninspiring performances due to his trademark deployment of poor personnel and tactical ineptitude. This was blamed on the “rebuilding” process and it was hoped the team would come good, so the NFF stuck with Coach Keshi despite widespread disapproval. This gamble paid off as, at a time when the major African football powers (notably Egypt, Cameroun and Cote d'Ivoire) were on a decline, Nigeria somewhat surprisingly, won the Nations' Cup in 2013.
From that historic moment – convinced of the infallibility of his methods and the backing of the Presidency – Keshi became larger than life. The “Big Boss” had just written his name amongst the legends of the African game, consequently his ego sky-rocketed. He treaded the path of dictatorship, alienating any and every player who dared to, as much as, have an opinion contrary to his.
The Confederations Cup a few months later served as a forewarning of the possible dangers of his methods, but he failed to read the signs, neither did he listen to others' views. Every advice was taken in bad faith, as criticism. The poor performances continued thereafter as the team wobbled and fumbled to the World Cup amassing a paltry 7 goals in 6 World Cup qualifying games! And on the biggest stage of all in Brazil earlier this year, his team managed to get to the second round (with which Keshi was very satisfied, having equalled Clemens Westerhoff's achievement).
But like they say, pride comes before a fall and it all fell apart immediately the 2015 AFCON qualification series commenced. When we all thought he would be building on the world cup experience, a single point from a possible nine against Congo, South Africa and Sudan and, looking further back, one win in the last 12 games (preceding the 3 - 1 win against Sudan on Wednesday, October 15) was a thing of shame to the country, whether under contract or not, whether the NFF was in shambles or not! Never in the history of our football have Nigerians been so dissatisfied with the performance of the Senior National team.
Keshi during his time consistently cut a picture of a man bereft of ideas and it showed not just in his choices and tactics (if any), but very prominently in that dumb-and-numb look on his face, which failed to give the players the needed encouragement and motivation.
Many have blamed the descent of the (once super) Eagles under Keshi on the overall failure of the Nigerian system. I will not quite disagree, though I fail to see how the country's epileptic bureaucracy is responsible for Keshi’s hallmark preference of mediocre players over more talented ones. I also fail to see how the discrepancies in the system made him put his ego over the country's best interest. Oh, now I see! His appointment was actually one of such failures in the system...
I thank the NFF for yielding to the yearnings of hundreds of millions of Nigerians by finally showing Coach Keshi and his crew the exit door. I specially thank Coach Keshi for his numerous achievements as well as his shortcomings with the National team.
I wish him well in his endeavour henceforth as I am sure there are several countries (we heard they were up to seven at a time) lining up for his signature...