Former Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi, widely known as ‘The Big Boss’ for standing up for what he believed in, has died, leaving the world in a shock.
The legendary Keshi, born in Azare, Bauchi State on 23 January 1962, passed on aged 54, just five days after boxing legend Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74.
Keshi won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and as a Coach. The only person to achieve similar feat was Egyptian Mahmoud el-Gohary, who is also of blessed memory.
On 30 June 2014, the Super Eagles lost to France in a 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match. After the match, Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach but later reversed the decision after the Nigerian Football Federation renewed his contract
In July 2015, following Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup, Keshi’s contract with the Nigerian Football Federation expired and was not renewed.
A statement by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Executive Committee, and reported by News24, said the decision was made, having thoroughly reviewed the reports/findings of the NFF Disciplinary Committee and NFF Technical and Development Committee, as well as having reviewed the actions and inaction of Stephen Keshi, in the performance of his duties as Super Eagles’ Head Coach, which NFF found to lack the required commitment to achieve the Federation’s objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract.
Only eight days before his demise, the legend had put a call through to the Super Eagles’ camp in Luxembourg, during which he spoke to interim Head Coach Salisu Yusuf and wished him well in the job. The Eagles went on to beat the Red Lions 3-1. Yusuf was one of Keshi’s assistants when he coached Nigeria between November 2011 and June 2015.
His death came only five days short of a year to his last match with the Eagles – a 2-0 defeat of Chad in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in Kaduna.
Nicknamed ‘Big Boss’, the flambouyant Keshi captained Nigeria between 1983 and 1994, during which he won the Africa Cup of Nations gold, silver and bronze, and led the country to qualify for its first FIFA World Cup finals.
He captained the Eagles at that first FIFA World Cup in USA in 1994, months after also leading the team to win the Africa Cup of Nations for Nigeria for the first time on away soil (Tunisia).
Keshi was assistant to Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere as the Super Eagles finished as runners –up in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000, and then became the first Nigerian to lead the Eagles to Cup of Nations glory at the 2013 finals in South Africa.
In his 44 months in charge of the Super Eagles, Keshi won the Africa Cup of Nations, qualified the team for the FIFA World Cup finals, led the team at the FIFA Confederations Cup and steered the team to the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup.
He however fell out with his employers, the NFF, after news emerged that the FA was scouting for his replacement during the 2013 AFCON. Keshi went on to win the tournament and immediately tendered his resignation.
Then President, Goodluck Jonathan was reported to have intervened, leading the coach to withdraw his resignation.
Before that, he had received global applause after leading Togo to reach their first FIFA World Cup, in 2006. He also coached the senior team of Mali.
A colourful playing career took Keshi to ACB FC of Lagos and NNB of Benin (Nigeria), Stade Abidjan and Africa Sports (Cote d’Ivoire), Lokeren, Anderlecht and Molenbeek (Belgium), Strasbourg (France), Jaguar Bay, San Jose and Sacramento Scorpions (USA) and Perlis of Malaysia.
He represented Nigeria at both junior and senior levels, winning 64 senior caps. His first match for the senior team was against Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) on July 18, 1981 and his last was the FIFA World Cup clash with Greece in the USA on June 30, 1994.
He will be remembered for, among other things, giving home –based players ample opportunity to compete for shirts in the Super Eagles. He was rewarded for this when home –boy Sunday Mba scored two crucial goals as Nigeria won the Cup of Nations in South Africa, including the only goal of the final match against Burkina Faso.
The late Stephen Keshi is survived by four children.