tephen Okechukwu Keshi, has no doubt propelled himself to legendary status in Nigerian football. The beautiful football story of this great son of Nigeria, started at the famed St. Finbarrs college football 'academy,' the precursor of the present football academies in Nigeria. Stephen Keshi, as a young man - a teenager - was already a regular member of the famed St. Finbarrs college football team of 1977, that revolutionised school soccer, not only in Lagos state, but in Nigeria as a whole ; needless saying that that beautiful soccer team won the 1977 edition of the Principal's cup competition in Lagos state. The team comprised highly talented young men - teenagers - who exhibited ,a highly exhilirating, splendid, entertaining, technical and highly tactically organised soccer, in a 4-2-4 formation. Kudos to coach Malagu that raised that legendary team! Those young men were Eagles or potential Eagles materials. Those of them that eventually took to football, like Stephen Keshi, went quite far in soccer. That legendary team comprised the following players in the first eleven : Goalkeeper was the late Muri Sanni ; right full- back, was Stephen ' Terry' Keshi, he was given the nickname of 'Terry,' after the legendary England right full-back - Terry Cooper- who revolutionised the playing style of full-backs, with his overlapping runs down the right flank, that way joined the attack and also fell back to defend, when necessary. This was in sharp contrast to the norm for full-backs then, who stayed in the defence to defend at all times. Stephen Keshi's then overlapping runs down the right flank earned him that nickname. At left-full back was Jones Nseyo ; at centre - half back was Amechi Nwaogu - Livinus - ;at left -half back was my very good friend and football mentor JOACHINS ARONU OGUGUA, alias GORIMAPA. The two man midfield comprised Emeka James, as defensive mid-fielder and Nathaniel Ogedengbe, who was the team's captain, as creative mid-fielder. The four man attack comprised : Wakilu Oyenuga at out side right; Samuel Owoh, and Henry Nwosu were the central strikers ; the late Adedeji Obe was at outside-left. They were a beauty to behold,
Stephen Keshi and Henry Nwosu were called up and played for the, Junior Eagles, the precursor of the present Flying Eagles, and later on called up to the Super Eagles. In preparation for the 1980, African cup of Nation's competition, the following members of that legendary school boy's team were invited to the Super Eagles camp for screening : My very good friend and mentor JOACHINS ARONU OGUGUA, Wakilu Oyenuga, Samuel Owoh, Henry Nwosu and Stephen Keshi. My good friend JOACHINS ARONU, left the Eagles camp, due to injury, sustained in training, he was later to leave for the United - states of America via Enugu Rangers, in search of the golden fleece. Henry Nwosu, made the final 22- man list for the Nation's cup, while the other players fell short of the requirements.
Notwithstanding that initial set-back, Stephen Keshi trudged on like the true trojan he is; playing for clubs in Lagos state like: Wema Bank and ACB football clubs. At the end of his college studies at St. Finbarrs, he relocated to Benin-city, and was enrolled at Eghosa grammer school, in Benin-city, while there he played for and eventually captained the New-Nigerian Bank football club of Benin -city, winning the WAFU cup twice. He finally made it to the Super Eagles team, debuting in the friendly game against Uganda, in 1981, in Benin ,during preparations for the final world-cup qualifier, against Algeria. He was later to play his first competitive match for the Super Eagles, against Algeria, in Lagos; coming in to replace the match rusty Christian Chukwu in the second-half, with the Eagles down 2-O. He made his impact felt, with his long throws, power packed shots and his characteristic overlapping runs. I still remember how he stopped the rampaging Mustapha Koichi, who hitherto terrorissed our defence.
Keshi made his Nation's cup debut, in Libya, in 1982 ; scoring two goals in the opening match against Ethiopia, a match in which the Eagles triumphed 3-0. As a result of our early elimination from that tournament, the then NFA, sacked the Brazillian coach and disbanded the Eagles. Chief Festus Adegboye Onigbinde, was charged with the task of rebuilding the Eagles. He made Keshi captain of the new -look Super Eagles. The team under his tutelage, qualified for the 1984 edition of the Nation's cup competition. After a not- too- impressive first round performance, reached the Semi-finals, and confronted the Pharaohs of Egypt. Within the first 15 minutes, the Eagles were 2 goals down. I thought it was all over ; but the Eagles under leadership of Keshi, fought back and towards the end of the first half ,earned, a penalty, when the rampaging Chibuzor Ehilegbu, was brought down in the penalty box. The resultant spot kick was initially missed by Keshi, but he was alert enough to score from the rebound. With scores 2-1, the Eagles piled on the pressure in the second half and were rewarded in the 75th minute, when Bala Ali scored with a glancing header ,off a Stephen Keshi lob in, for the equaliser. From then onwards, the momentum, was on our side and we eventually won the penalty shoot-out, when scores remained 2-2, after 120 minutes. The Young, dynamic and inexperienced Nigerian side, lost to the more experienced Camerounian side in the finals 3-1 .
In 1985, Stephen Keshi's career with the Super Eagles, nose-dived, when as a consequence of reporting late to the Eagles camp, was banned for 2 years by then NFA, alongside : Henry Nwosu, Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, and Clement Temile. Keshi was eventually, stripped of the captain's band. Having failed to convince the NFA for pardon, after due apologies, Stephen Keshi, left for the Ivory Coast, that gave him the opportunity, to play soccer, without NFA's clearance. He played for Asec Mimosas and later on Stella football clubs of Abidjan. His sterling performances caught the attention of Belgian scouts, he consequently earned a professional contract in Belgium; playing for FC Lokeren and RSC Anderlecht. He won many titles with Anderlecht, the high point being playing the finals of the European cup winner's cup competition in 1990, and losing narrowly in extra time to Juventus of Italy.He later on played for Strasbourg Fc of France, a second division side ; and helped the team earn promotion to the first divison. He later on played for RWDM of Belgium, before relocating to the United -states for MLS soccer. At the National team level, his truncated career was, reignited, in 1987. He helped Nigeria qualify for the AFCON 1988 - MAROC '88 - losing narrowly to Cameroun in the finals. A final that would be rememberd for the brilliant goal scored by Henry Nwosu - off a billiant right-wing cross by the mesmerising Ndubuisi Okosieme, son of the legendary Rangers/ Bendel Insurance goal-keeper, Cyril Okosieme, who single handedly tore the Cameronian defence to shreds - which was unfairly cancelled by the refree.
In 1989, under pressure from the media, after a sterling performance in Angola, during a 1990 world-cup qualifier against Angola, in which he scored the equaliser that levelled scores 2-2, Stephen Keshi, was reappointed Super Eagles captain - after an interregnum of 4 years - in his absence, Henry Nwosu and Peter Rufai filed in for him as captains of the Super Eagles .The Super Eagles under the leadership of Keshi, failed to qualify for the world cup in Italy, in 1990 ; after having been stopped by Cameroun, in Yaounde, in 1989.
After the 1990 world cup failure, the Dutch man Clemens Westerhoff, was charged with the task of rebuilding the Eagles. He did this with Stephen Keshi as captain of the Eagles. The Eagles finished runners-up in the AFCON, 1990, in Algeria ; finished in third place in AFCON 1992, in Senegal and won the AFCON, 1994, in Tunisia. That same year, the Eagles, qualified for the 1994 world cup competition, for the first time, in the United - states of America. The Eagles, under the captaincy of Stephen Keshi - then largely a non-playing captain - was one of three countries that represented Africa. The Eagles impressesed all and sundry, with their scintillating brand of attacking soccer; losing narrowly to Italy in the second round 2-1. Stephen Keshi played one game, in the 2-0 victory over Greece .
After the 1994 world cup, Stephen Keshi left the national side, with the ovation loudest, and began studying for his coaching diploma. His first coaching assignment, was as assistant coach to Bonfree Jo, during preparations for the 2000 nation's cup competition, jointly hosted by Nigeria and Ghana. That competition was particularly note worthy by the way we lost in the finals ; through a dubious decision of the Tunisian refree, who cancelled a penalty goal, scored by Victor Ikpeba. The Camerounians won the penalty shoot-out 4- 3 .He later on had a short coaching stint with the Nations under-20 side, the flying Eagles, leading them to the African youth championship, in 2001.
As a consequence of a faltering 2002 world cup qualifying campaign, Bonfree Jo, was sacked ; Keshi assisted Amodu Shaibu, in tinkering the Eagles. The world cup ticket was eventually won by Nigeria, under the tutelage of Stephen Keshi and Amodu Shaibu .However, after a semi - final loss to Senegal, at the 2002 Nation's cup competition, which was blamed on a players' revolt, Keshi and Amodu, were sacked by the NFA, for what was perceived to be the coaches' sympathy for the players. Keshi thus missed the opportunity to help coach the Eagles at the 2002 world cup, Togo snapped up Keshi, to help tinker their national side. It was to be his first fully fledged assignment as coach of a senior national side ; he did not fail, as he helped Togo, qualify for their first ever world cup finals, in Germany. However, misfortune struck him once again, when he was sacked, as a consequence of having lost all the first round games at the 2006 Nations' cup competition, coupled with a disagrement with Emmanuel Adebayor. He thus missed another opportunity, to take a national side he helped qualify for the world cup to the world cup proper! The Togolese later made up for this, reappointing him, after the 2006 world cup. He later coached Mali, and qualified them for the 2010 Nations' cup competition, in Angola. A not- too- impressive performance in Angola, saw the Malians terminate his contract. When the Nigeria job became available, in 2010, he contested with Samson Siasia, for the plum job. Siasia was selected, largely due to the overwhelming public opinion in favour of Siasia's appointment. When Siasia failed, the job came naturally to Keshi, who inherited a team in tatters. He inherited the onerous task of rebuilding the Super Eagles - then ranked 63rd in the world ; 10th, in Africa and rightly or wrongly called the 'Super Chickens. ' In 15 months, he remarkably turned around the fortunes of the Super Eagles, unexpectedly, making them African champions to the bargain,
Now we are back to the pinnacle of African soccer at the highest level, it's time for Keshi, to keep his feet firmly on the ground; he should not be carried away by the encomiums he is getting now. He should concentrate on the task of rebuilding the Eagles; I'm happy he realises he doesn't have his dream team yet.
He should constantly remember, that a coach is as good as his last match, For now a very, very big Kudos to this great son of Nigeria,