Cyril C. NwokejiSunday, October 19, 2014




he sacking of Coach Stephen Keshi, didn't come to me as a surprise. We all saw the dark clouds hanging around the "Big boss," in the weeks leading up to the termination of his engagement with the NFF. It was clear to all and sundry that something was wrong with the Super Eagles, in recent matches! A team that only twenty months ago, rose to the pinnacle of African soccer, that suddenly found itself struggling in a group with teams like: South Africa, Congo Brazaville and Sudan; teams that with all due respect don't belong to the elite soccer teams in Africa, and with the unfortunate possible consequence - "Tufiakwa" - of missing out on a competition that would give the Super Eagles the opportunity of defending it's hard-won Nations' cup title, was to say the least not only depressing, but shameful and embarrassing! It was an unacceptable scenario for Nigerian soccer; hence the decision of the NFF, though belated, is quite understandable.

The pertinent question at this juncture is, how did the Super Eagles find itself in this rather -and certainly no reason to be in this - unfortunate situation?

Yours sincerely will attempt an analysis:

The problems of the Super Eagles, in my considerd opinion, started, paradoxically, after the 2013 Nations' cup victory. The NFF, that with all due respects, had grown green with jealousy and envy, towards the Keshi-led technical crew, thanks/no thanks to the trappings of success that followed the Nations' cup triumph, sacked Coach Keshi's highly trusted and competent assistant, the tactical genius - Mr. Sylvanus "the quick silver" Okpala. This was a big blow to the "Big boss." All entreaties by Nigerians, including an offer by the erstwhile governor of Anambra state: Governor Peter Obi, to write off Coach Okpala's monthly salary, which was the 'official' reason for his being dropped from the Super Eagles' technical crew, fell on deaf ears! This was certainly a big blow to the "Big boss," but like the trojan he is, he trudged on regardless!

To further worsen matters for the Super Eagles, the "Big boss," apparently buoyed by the confidence of a Nations' cup success, went on a reckless, and arrogant experimental spree; by using the opportunity of a" Confederations cup tournament," to try out players, some of whom were not even good enough to be Super Eagles players, at the expense of some tested and proven Super Eagles players! The consequence, was a very dismal fifth - placed finishing, in an eight team tournament! The NFF and some well meaning Nigerians cried foul at this rather unfortunate turn of events, in Brazil. Yours sincerely, wrote in an article, shortly after the "Confederations cup tournament," on the need for the "Big boss," to be very prudent with experimentations, since Nigerians were very impatient for results from their beloved Super Eagles. A competitive match/tournament, does not provide the opportunity to try out new players; but rather a friendly match. The" Big boss," somewhat stilled his adventuristic instincts, apparently, in response to the public out cry over the Super Eagles' performance at the "Confederations cup tournament," and used the more regular players for the rest of the World cup qualification matches, which certainly helped in no small measure, to getting the World cup ticket to Brazil.

No sooner the World cup ticket was gotten than the "Big boss," went on another wild experimentation spree, this time around with the friendly matches that followed; initially, yours sincerely, an ardent Coach Keshi's fan, didn't see anything wrong with the Super Eagles' coach's choices. After all friendly matches present the best opportunity to among other things, try out new players. But yours sincerely, was shocked to the marrows, when Coach Keshi, released his World cup list. Some of the regular players who only fifteen months earier, helped the coach win the Nations' cup competition, were left out: the Sunday Mbahs, the Brown Ideyes, the Nosa Igiebors, the Ike Uches; even the resurgent Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi, were left out of the list, for whatever reasons best known to the "Big boss!" In their places, were players like: Reuben Gabriel, Ramon Azeez, Uche Nwofor, Michael Uchebo and Shola Ameobi, who with benefit of hindsight didn't add any value to the team! Particularly, the exclusion of Ike Uche, was very painful to Nigerians. Ike Uche, was the best Nigerian striker, in Europe, in the 2013/2014 seizoen! Coach Keshi, stubbornly and arrogantly, resisted pressure from Nigerians - press and public alike, to include this highly talented and resourceful attacker, in his World cup team, for reasons of vendetta!

A closer look at the World cup team list, also revealed the near absence of creative mid-fielders; rather Coach Keshi, filled the mid-field department, with defensive mid-fielders! Yours sincerely complained about this anomaly, in an article written shortly after the release of the World cup list. As if to correct this anomaly, when defender Elderson Echiejile, was injured before the World cup, Coach Keshi replaced him with a creative cum offensive mid-fielder and winger: Ejike Uzoenyi; but it was too little too late!

After the Super Eagles' first game of the World cup, it was clear Nigeria had a problem. The Super Eagles played with no creative mid-fielder, as the trio of: Ogenyi Onazi, Ramon Azeez and John Mikel Obi, all defensive mid-fielders, were used in mid-field. Consequently, the Super Eagles couldn't break down the double defensive wall, put up by Iran, and played a lustreless goalless draw with Iran. However, thanks to the inclusion of Osaze Odenwingie, a player who literally begged to be included in the World cup squad, the needed creativity, was somewhat gotten in the Super Eagles, which certainly played no small role, in the advancement of the Super Eagles to the second round.

One must hasten to add that the NFF, also played a somewhat negative role, in the very average performance of the Super Eagles, at the World cup tournament.The players missed two training sessions as a consequence of non or rather delayed payment of their allowances.It was reported that the players threatened to boycott the second round match against France for the same reason, a situation which prompted the Nigerian government, to intervene, by sending money to Brazil for the players; which was shared until the wee hours of the morning of the day of the match against France! Was it surprising the players with a poor night's rest, conceded two goals to France, in the last fifteen minutes of the game?

After the Brazil World cup tournament, Coach Keshi certainly lost a decent measure of credit, no thanks to what analysts described as a "questionable World cup selection," and consequently, a very average World cup performance; and also the Super Eagles' failure to win sufficiently in quite a decent number of matches! But yours sincerely, supported the extension of his contract, based on what yours sincerely considerd to be his generally good record as coach of the Super Eagles.

But helaas, when the team list was released for the matches against Congo Brazaville and South-Africa, one was surprised at some of the inclusions and exclusions of the "Big boss." One got the impression the "Big boss," had not learnt his lessons about the negative consequences for the Super Eagles, of the inclusion and exclusion of certain players! Agreed, the imbroglio in the NFF, certainly affected the Super Eagles, but one is of the opinion that the selection of our best players, would have turned the table in favour of the Super Eagles, in the matches played in september.

With the October matches in view, and considering the need to bounce back, and with a "pay -per -performance," temporary engagement which could only be turned to a longer term contract based on performance, one expected Coach Keshi, to have learnt his lessons, and invited the best legs for the encounters against Sudan. Rather, we not only saw another spree of wild and unreasonable experimentations in his invitation of players, but an arrogant vow on his part never to invite Ike Uche again to his team, when he was questioned by the press about Uche's continued exclusion from the Super Eagles! When Coach Keshi, turned to China, in the search for good Nigerian player(s), it was clear something was wrong with his thinking. With all due respects to the Chinese soccer competition, the best Nigerian players don't play in China! When Coach Keshi, invited a bench warmer from the not -too - highly rated Austrian league, it didn't give a good impression of his thinking! And of course he completed some of these bizarre invitations, with the invitations of some unsung Nigerian players from the English league; coupled with some lowly- rated home -based players! With all due respects to these players invited in a rather bizarre manner, non of them deserved to be in the Super Eagles team! Nonetheless, one still hoped for success in the games against Sudan. But helass, one was shocked beyond words with what one saw, after watching the Sudan game in khartum, live. I told my 14-year old son and my father - in -law, with whom I watched the match, after the game, that Coach Keshi's days as Super Eagles coach were numberd! The BBC commentator, who commented the match, at the end of the match, wonderd if Coach Keshi, would still be the Nigerian coach, by the next Super Eagles encounter! Thus, to the discerning eye, it was clear the Super Eagles had a problem. The Super Eagles didn't play well against Sudan, in Khartum, the Sudanese deservedly won the match, which the Super Eagles were billed to win, to kick start their Nations' cup campaign. Thus, the Super Eagles that played in Khartum, were a far cry from the team that could have defeated Sudan at home! The reason for this being, in my considerd opinion, the inclusion of a number of unqualified players; whom one has already mentioned earlier in this write up!

The return leg was not much different from the first leg; the Super Eagles won the Abuja match, mainly on the strength of the determination and doggedness of the Super Eagles players and not on account of any technical superiority over the Sudanese! As a matter of fact, the Sudanese gave a good account of themselves, for a team that played away from home.

However, as a die- hard Keshi supporter, one still went against conventional wisdom, to wish for the continued stay of Coach Keshi on the job; in which case, one planned writing an article that would have been titled: "Need to strenghthen the Super Eagles, ahead of the November matches," because one saw clearly that the team that played against Sudan, couldn't get all six points at stake against Congo Brazaville and South-Africa. The NFF, however, dashed all that dream, with their correct, though belated decision to sack Coach Keshi!

In conclusion, notwithstanding the allegations of sabotage by Coach Keshi against certain people; one is still of the opinion that a great deal of Coach Keshi's problems had to do with his menging himself in the "ego fray," with some of the Super Eagles' players and some officials! He should have concentrated solely on his duty as Super Eagles' coach. No coach who caused so much divisions among his players,' the ranks of the football officials and the Nigerian public, can be expected to build, a strong, united team, capable of taking Nigeria's soccer to the next level! Coach Keshi no doubt brought moments of frenzy and excitement to Nigerians through the successes the Super Eagles recorded under his watch, for which Nigerians are grateful, and as a consequence could still be called upon to tinker the Super Eagles, in the future. But for now, the Super Eagles, the NFF, the Nigerian public at large and even Coach Keshi himself, would be better off with a" Keshi break."

The Super Eagles would rise again!