Keshi, the comeback kid
AFTER several months of waiting for the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to make up its mind on whether it was going to appoint Stephen Keshi or someone else as coach of the Super Eagles, Keshi has now been unveiled as the substantive coach of the Eagles.
For the sake of continuity, the NFF has got it right in retaining Keshi. Time will prove it has taken the right decision.
Since Keshi “failed” to qualify the Super Eagles for the AFCON 2015 in Equatorial Guinea to defend their title, he has fallen out with many Nigerians. But how short indeed is our collective memory of success!
When he won the 2013 AFCON, his players carried him shoulder high. Nigerians celebrated him. Africa celebrated him. CAF named him the Coach of the Year. Mahmoud El-Gohary of Egypt and Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi are the only people that have won the Nations Cup as a player and as a coach. Nigerians were proud to be associated with Keshi. All now seem to be by-gone.
But in my opinion, Keshi remains the best Nigerian coach for now, and is even better than many foreign coaches. Many African countries covet Keshi. But I feel Keshi’s heart is with Nigeria, as any patriotic Nigerian would. Keshi would rather see that he adds more laurels for Nigeria than be seen to be winning laurels for another country. Nigeria needs a coach that understands the dynamics of football as it applies to Nigerian players.
Football is a team game. Perhaps, you might get one or two people who want to always raise their game in a match, but as long as you have those who are not willing to raise their game, even just one of them not raising his game, that one becomes the weak link. They are the ones who will lose concentration in a match easily.
They are the ones who will not take any risk in a match, they are the ones who will complain about playing on artificial turf, they are the ones when they are supposed to play for the national team, will excuse themselves for “pressing family matters,” they are the ones who blackmail their country over match bonus.
Keshi knows all this. And that is why he does not build his team on any player. That is why he is regularly looking for “unknown” names that will make a name for themselves – even if they are only primed to last for a competition. It does not matter. Keshi goes for raw talent, and what his team lacks in talent, it has as a team.
Keshi understands that “big names” will not win us laurels. It is easier for Nigeria to win the Nations Cup again with Keshi’s “unknown” players than with our under-talented players with over-inflated ego from abroad who choose the match they play.
Some have even said Keshi’s AFCON success was by “luck”. Well, luck follows great coaches.
Keshi is not the problem of our football. No coach is the problem of our football. Even an Alex Ferguson will not succeed in the kind of football environment we have today. Besides, no coach keeps winning forever. There will be a time failure will come in. It happens to the best coaches in the world. But good coaches learn from it, to get even better!
In addition, Nigerians are not patient. Before Sir Alex Ferguson became what he is with Manchester United, his early years had no success. No one sacked him. He was given time. And the results are there to see. Arsene Wenger has been floundering with Arsenal for some years now. Still, management has kept faith with him. They know he has done it before, that he can do it again. Even Louis Van Gaal with Manchester United was not winning matches when he was initially appointed, but today they are third in position in the English Premier League.
The Spanish team, as defending Champions, was disgraced at the last World Cup prompting their coach, Vicente del Bosque, to tender his resignation. The football board did not accept his resignation. They told him that they believe in him. Now, the Spanish team is back to their winning ways.
Keshi has been handed another chance to prove his mettle, another chance to shine. He should not misuse it. He should remember that the future of our football lies in our youths. He should pick the core of his team from the Flying Eagles and the Dream Team. Let no one discourage him with the un-provable excuse that those boys are still young and lack experience. They will garner experience when they play top teams. Both Diego Maradona and Pele made their international debuts at 16 years. Pele played at the World Cup at 17 years.
Keshi is like Nigeria’s President-elect, Major-General Muhammad Buhari, whom Nigerians have a lot of expectations for. Like Buhari, he should hit the ground running. There is no time to waste.
•Dr Odoemena, medical practitioner, lives in Lagos.