The termination of Stephen Keshi’s contract as Super Eagles coach came like a thief in the night on Saturday and caught many by surprise.
But completesportsnigeria.com’s NURUDEEN OBALOLA gives six reasons here why the sacking had been coming for some time…
1 The removal of Keshi’s presidency godfather
One of the biggest inside stories during Stephen Keshi’s fractious reign as Super Eagles boss was the patronage he allegedly enjoyed from powerful politicians. He was said to even have the ears of the then President Goodluck Jonathan, so much so that he reportedly boasted once that nobody could sack him.
Indeed, nobody could sack Keshi, as it proved when the decision to terminate his contract following the struggles in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers was reversed. The NFF had to come up with ridiculous cover-up excuses to make it appear as if it was their call, but those who knew were not fooled. The NFF had acted on ‘orders from above’.
But even when President Jonathan lost his bid for re-election, Keshi remained untouchable, confirming suggestions that his influence was not just the President.
Apparently, the link that had led Keshi to earn the ex-President’s favours was still very much around. That link was the Director-General of the all-powerful Department of State Security, Nigeria’s own Nazi-era Gestapo (Adolf Hitler’s secret police).
Ekpeyong reportedly had a long-standing relationship with Keshi and fully protected his friend. At the height of the NFF/Keshi spat, it was Ekpeyong who allegedly had Amaju Pinnick’s passport seized and prevented the NFF President from travelling for a CAF event.
So, it was not a co-incidence that barely 48 hours after Ekpeyong was removed by President Muhammadu Buhari, Keshi was fired. The shield had been removed; the once powerless NFF could strike. And they did.
2 Keshi shot himself in the foot with Cote d’Ivoire application
The Yoruba have a saying perfect for this Keshi situation. Roughly translated, it refers to someone like Keshi as ‘a person being prepared as a meal dipping himself in cooking oil.’
Keshi did not only dip himself in oil, he took a bath with palm oil and even lit the fire, with his application for the Cote d’Ivoire job.
If the NFF were looking for an excuse to get rid of Keshi, he just handed it to them on a plate. They were never going to pass up the opportunity.
Even with his rather unconvincing denial – he claimed his representatives sent in his resume without his knowledge – the NFF had found enough grounds to carry out their plot.
Even if Keshi takes the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the NFF would argue that there was a breach on the coach’s part. Keshi handed the NFF that one. They didn’t have to look for it.
3 Pinnick is an advocate for foreign coaches
Apparently, if NFF President Amaju Pinnick had his way, all the national teams would be handled by foreign coaches.
Since he assumed office last year, the former Delta FA boss has not hidden his preference for an expatriate to handle the national teams, especially the senior ones.
When he first attempted to sack Keshi, it was apparent a foreign coach was already lined up and the NFF almost admitted as much in their press statement back then, promising to get a permanent expatriate ‘in due course.’
Only recently, the NFF allegedly contacted Sweden’s coach at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, when it was apparent Edwin Okon was getting the sack.
With Pinnick’s apparent mistrust of the abilities of Nigerian coaches, it was a matter of time before Keshi was shown the door.
4 Keshi had too many enemies
Keshi built up a great deal of goodwill with the backs-against-the-wall, never-say-die manner of the 2013 AFCON triumph. He came across as one who had been victorious despite the odds, especially without the support of the Aminu Maigari-led NFF and a section of the media.
He had gone to the toughest competition in Africa with a bunch of rookies and returned home with the trophy. He deservedly got a heroes’ welcome.
But then, Keshiperhaps felt that win made him beyond reproach and he started taking up battles with anyone who had a contrary opinion. He fought most of the press, his assistant coach Daniel Amokachi and, crucially, probably had no friends on the NFF board.
Even when his team performed poorly, Keshi saw criticism as a witch-hunt and he gradually alienated those that backed him. The support base dwindled, and at the time of his sacking, not many people who had previously fought his corner were ready to defend him.
There was little resistance from those who would have taken up arms in Keshi’s defence, because he had turned the majority of them into his enemies. There wasn’t much his small band of remaining loyalists could do prevent his exit.
5 Performances on the pitch did not help Keshi’s cause
Keshi would of course point to the victory over Chad as one of the reasons he should have kept his job. But it seems the team needed much more than a result.
Even Keshi’s staunchest supporters would agree that the team has not played well since winning AFCON in 2013. They beat only whipping boys Haiti at the FIFA Confederations Cup, did the barest minimum at the World Cup, where they won only one of four games, and were embarrassingly abject in failing to qualify for the 2015 AFCON.
Keshi, like the proverbial cat with nine lives, survived all these below-par showings to somehow retain the job.
So, he had the opportunity to right the wrongs and produce the kind of performances that would have made him ‘unsackable’.
That didn’t happen though.
Despite the AFCON qualifier win over Chad, the performance did not inspire enough confidence for anyone to expect a straightforward qualification for Gabon 2017.
Having seen this, the NFF knew there wouldn’t be much outrage if they sacked Keshi. They were right.
6 Keshi’s endless rebuilding and dismantling of Super Eagles
One of the greatest positives of Keshi’s tenure was how he built the Super Eagles practically from scratch and turned them into champions.
Few expected to see Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo, Sunday Mba and the like become heroes, but these young men were key to the AFCON triumph in South Africa.
Obviously, Keshi had constructed a team that would go on and dominate Africa for years, or at least compete at the highest level. All that team needed was a tweak now and then to make it fresh.
But Keshi had other ideas and eventually dismantled his own good work with endless experimentation, fuelled by shady undertakings, some claim.
All of a sudden, out went some of the pillars of the AFCON 2013 squad, replaced by average journeymen. Few Nigerians could stomach the inclusion of the likes of Chigozie Agbim,Michael Uchebo, Reuben Gabriel, Uche Nwofor and Ramon Azeez in the World Cup squad when players like Brown Ideye, Sunday Mba, Ikechukwu Uche and John Ogu were excluded.
But Keshi continued his ‘experimentation’ even into what was to be his last game as Super Eagles boss. Out went Mikel Obi, Elderson Echiejile, Efe Ambrose, Ideye and in came Anderson Esiti and Co.
Yes, the team beat Chad, but the fallout was the huge public spat between Keshi and the NFF over the inclusion of one non-league player, Gabriel Okechukwu, in the matchday squad. Keshi even gave Okechukwu the iconic No.10 jersey. Sacrilege.
That tiny little fart had spoiled Keshi’s buttocks. The NFF had the ammunition they needed, conveniently procured for them by Keshi, the man they wanted to destroy it with.