FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiMonday, May 6, 2013
cyril.nwokeji@wol.be
Belgium

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THE MANY SINS OF THE NFF AGAINST STEPHEN KESHI

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uccessive administrations of the NFF, apparently, have a lot of problems dealing with Stephen Keshi. One takes note of the fact that ever since Stephen Keshi became a coach, successive NFF administrations, have shied away from appointing him chief coach of the Super Eagles. They have at best made him assistant coach, and have on a number of occassions denied him or tried to deny him the plum job of Chief coach of the Super Eagles, even when he was the most qualified for the job. It's no secret that his appointment as Super Eagles' coach, has a lot to do with the fortutious circumstances of Sia Sia's failure and the insistence of the NFF chairman, Alhaji Maigari, that heb be appointed coach, at a time some NFF members wanted Nigeria to go foreign after Sia Sia 's failure; apparently ,in a bid to avoid the 'big boss' once again ! We all know his eventual appointment as coach, has so far proved to be a very huge blessing to Nigeria; for no one other than the 'big boss, ' has a better idea, of rebuilding the Super Eagles ; an effort, which is still considered work - in - progress.The pertinent questions at this juncture are : Why are the NFF opposed to Keshi being Super Eagles ' coach? Are they afraid of his reputation as 'big boss' ? A reputation gained during his days as Super Eagles captain. No doubt Keshi, apart from Chairman Christian Chukwu, is the next most celebrated Super Eagles captain. Keshi, even went further than Chukwu, by going professional, and pla ying soccer at the highest levels. It was well known that Keshi fought relentlessly, for the welfare of the players in the Super Eagles, when he was captain. Are the NFF scared of him, because he can dare take the fight to them, if and when necessary? A number of examples will butress the point that the NFF, appa rently, will prefer some one else other than Keshi, as Super Eagles 'coach :

In 2001, the then Super Eagles coach, Bonfree Jo, was sacked, due to a faltering World cup qualifying campaign ; his assistants , Amodu Shaibu and Stephen Keshi, were drafted to replace him. They delivered the World cup ticket to Nigeria, after all hopes seemed lost. During the 2002, Nations' cup competion in Mali, that followed ; after a semi-final loss to Senegal ; which was preceded by a players' revolt over issues of allowances, Keshi and Amodu Shaibu were ignominously sacked by the NFF, together with some senior players. That decision, with benefiet of hindsight, proved to be the beginning of our down fall in soccer. A downward trend, which continued ,till, Stephen Keshi, was appointed coach of the Super Eagles in November, 2011.

In 2008, after the NFF's adventurism, with Berti Voghts, proved to be a failure, no thanks ,to our quarter - fina l elimination at the 2008 edition of the Nations 'cup competition in Ghana ; where our dismal failure earned us the unenviable nickname of ' Super chickens,' the NFF, sacked Voghts and sought an indigenous replacement. Keshi, and some indigenous coaches, applied for the job, and like the others, was subsequently, interviewed for the job ; the NFF, for reasons best known to them, sat on the result of the interview. We started reading in the press , reports of Keshi's stubborness and recalcitrance - newspaper reports ,apparently, sponsored by the NFF, to discredit Keshi ? When it became clear to Keshi, that he wasn't the favourite to land the plum job, he caved - in to the proddings of the Malians and became Mali coach. As soon as Keshi, left the scene, the NFF, which had 'dragged' it's feet over naming the successor to Voghts, came up with the name of Amodu Shaibu, as coach of the Super Eagles. Shaibu, incidentally ,came second at the interview, but got the plum job !

In 2010, after our failure ,at the World cup, in South - Africa, the NFF, entered into negotiations solely with Sia Sia, for the job of Super Eagles coach ; when the NFF, were critic ised for not being democratic, with the selection process, they advertised the job. Keshi ,among other candidates, applied for the job, and together with Sia Sia, were short-listed for interview. At the interview, reports indicated, that Sia Sia didn't do better than Keshi, who had the advantage of experience, as coach ,at the senior level in soccer. The NFF, however, gave the job to Sia Sia, claiming they bowed to pressure from public opinion. With benefiet of hindsight, this proved to be yet another wrong decision, by the NFF !

After Sia Sia's failure, some NFF members, wanted to by pass Keshi - who should have gotten the job, in the first place, instead of Sia Sia - and go for a foreign coach ; but for the intervention of the NFF chairman, Alhaji Maigari, who preferred Keshi. That decision proves to be a very correct and beneficial one !

After Keshi's appointment, as, Super Eagles ' coach, the NFF, initially, cooperated well with Keshi; who gave them a blueprint for rebuilding the Super Eagles. Which among other measures included the active development of the home -based players. All went well till the June 2012 world cup and Nations' cup qualifiers ; the NFF, insisted that Keshi called -up the 'more experienced' foreign -based professionals - tantamount to interference in the coach's job. Keshi, stood his ground, insisting that some of those so - called professionals, didn't fit into his vision of the Super Eagles he was building . Keshi, prefers, highly skillful, fast- playing, mobile, polyvalent, footballers. After the match against the Rwandans in kigali in February 2012, in which the Super Eagles narrowlly escaped defeat, no thanks to the uninspiring display of the so called more 'experienced ' foreign -based professionals, it was clear some of those professionals had outlived their usefullness to the Super Eagles. Keshi, didn't hesitate to wield the 'big stick .' He invested in the more 'modern ,' foreign-based professionals, to the chagrin of the NFF.The NFF, however, didn't relent in their dictations of what kinds of foreign-based professional players, Keshi should inc lude in the new -look Super Eagles. In some cases, the ' big boss,' yielded to pressure from the NFF.

At the Nations' cup competition, in South - Africa, the NFF, after our first two matches, which ended in draws, called a 'crises' meeting, in which, they told Keshi, that 2/6 points, was failure ; and went on to compare Keshi with the Zambian coach, whom they considerd a good coach, and whom they felt was doing a better job in the competition. In my own assessment, the NFF, all but told Keshi, at that juncture of his impending sack, since they didn't have confidence in his ability to go further with the team, in the competition, and had actually lined up a replacement for him. Keshi, was reported to have fla red up at that meeting. Who wouldn't be angry at that kind of humiliation! You and I are witnesses to what subsequently, happened ; the much touted Zambian coach, went home after the preliminaries, with his team, while the under-estimated Keshi went further in the competition ! Compare this scenario, to what happened in Ghana, at the Afcon 2008 ; after our first two matches and the concomittant 1/6 points, the NFF, called a 'crises' meeting; but showed more respect to Berti Voghts. A case of respecting Voghts and humiliating Keshi ?

After our qualification, for the qua rter - finals of Afcon 2013, when we were drawn to meet the Ivory - coast, the NFF, started booking the return flight tickets of the players. Apparently, they didn't consider Keshi, capable of tinkering a side that could eliminate the Ivorians. What gross disrespect to Stephen Keshi!

Two days before the fina l match, against the Burkinabees, the NFF, reared it's ugly head once again towards Keshi, this time, querying his assistant Sylvanus Okpala, for alleged misconduct against the NFF. To rub salt to injury, he was required to answer the query immediately ! Were the NFF, officia ls who made those ludicrous demands on Okpala, on the eve of a very important cup final, patriotic ? Or were they so blind-folded in their desires to torpedoe the efforts of Keshi, as usual, that they forget a more important national cause ?

After the Nations cup was won, and we all rejoiced, the unpatriotic Nigerians at the NFF, didn't relent in their desires to frustrate Keshi out of his job. Unconfirmed reports indicated tha t, when the Super Eagles, faced defea t in Calabar, against Kenya, some NFF officials, were happy, hoping to ridi cule, Keshi, afterwards and set the tone for his eventua l sack. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of us, Nnamdi Odumadi's 94th minute equaliser, put paid to their ambitions.

The NFF, continues this witch -hunting of Keshi, by sacking some members of the coaching crew, including the tactician extraordinaire, and work-aholic ,Sylvanus 'quick silver' Okpala, and drastically reducing Keshi's backroom staff, right in the middle of a crucia l World cup campaign !

In conclusion, I would urge the NFF members to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror, and decide, what kind of NFF members they are. Are they ADMINISTRATORS of our football, or are they KILLERS of Nigerian football ? If they are killers of our football, they had better resign and leave the job for more competent administrators, or else they would be sweept away by the wind of change, which would inevitably follow. If they consider themselves competent administrators, they should do what is right and stop the witch-hunting of Stephen Keshi. They have for so long tried to frustrate this gentleman, a situation, which warranted his resignation, after our Nations' cup victory. Right now the stars are in his favour, any attempt to unsea t him through the back door would certainly back fire on the NFF. It would bring about a 'Tsunami'- like backlash, that would sweep away the NFF board. I caution the NFF; Keshi, right now is 'holy,' and would remain 'holy, ' as long as he delivers the needed results ; they should be very careful in dea ling with him. I urge Stephen Keshi, to appeal to the presidency, for help, with regards maintaining the full complement of his coaching and backroom staff, if the NFF, continues to hold their legs stiff. He should not compromise on any member of his staff ! Alex Ferguson the manager of Mancester United, has a backroom staff of about 30 members! This is necessary, since soccer has gone scientific. You need as many assistants as you can afford, to ensure thorough preparation for each encounter. Keshi's coaching and backroom staff of 17 members is not too much, for the finances of the NFF and certainly not for that of the entire country. Keshi, should realise that in the event of failure, his reduced coaching and backroom staff, would not be an excuse, he would be booted out !That's the reason he has to be uncompromising in his insistence on having the full compliment of his staff, even by the next game of the Super Eagles. UP SUPER EAGLES, UP NIGERIA.

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