Former Nigerian football stars and football journalists speak on the way forward for returnee Eagles gaffer in this special report by Completesportsnigeria.com ‘s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI and JAMES AGBEREBI.
The melodrama surrounding the appointment of a substantive coach for the Nigeria national team came to an end on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 when the Nigeria Football Federation finally unveiled Stephen Keshi to the media as the man who will continue to lead the Super Eagles as the head coach.
Keshi guided Nigeria to a third Africa Cup of Nations title in February 2013 in South Africa, but dramatically announced 24 hours later that he was resigning as Nigeria coach.
The 51-year-old broke the news on a South African FM station, and said he had informed the NFF of his decision following the AFCON final.
Keshi who made history as the only Nigerian player and coach to win the African Cup of Nations however rescinded his decision and continued as the coach in charge of the then African champions. The Big Boss had rowed with Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials after it emerged that they booked a flight home for the squad ahead of their quarter-final against tournament favourites Cote d’ Ivoire, a match the Eagles won 2-1.
However, following a meeting with Nigeria’s former Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, the ‘Big Boss’ was persuaded to carry on.
Keshi’s contract would then end after the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil where the Eagles reached the Round of 16, losing to France.
The Eagles’ next focus was on qualifying for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea. But rather than securing Nigeria’s slot in Equatorial Guinea where they would defend their AFCON title, Keshi failed to accomplish the mission, thus turning his most loyal admirers to his critics.
Keshi seemed to have rode his luck as he got the blessing of President Goodluck Jonathan who endorsed his continued stay in charge of the Super Eagles despite the African Cup of Nations disappointment and the consequent NFF board’s decision not to renew his contract.
That presidential fiat behind Keshi would go on to put the NFF’s power of diplomacy to tough test. Of course, the Amaju Pinnick led board failed woefully to convince Nigerians that it was their Technical Director, Amodu Shaibu’s recommendations that prompted them to recall Keshi, and not any President’s influence. Pinnick and company also contended with diplomacy issues trying to agree a new contract with a recalcitrant coach.
Now though, the drumbeat has changed as the President who ultimately backed Keshi to remain the national team boss will leave office on May 29, 2015. Keshi has humbled himself and publicly apologized to the NFF and Nigerians. And now he has secured a two-year contract extension
Completesportsnigeria.com goes to town to find out from former Nigeria internationals and journalists on how best Stephen Keshi could move forward successfully from here, as Super Eagles coach. And the feedback sounds more like 10 Commands.
The 10 Commandments
1. Keshi must have leadership skills to work with his players
2. Keshi must invite only the best available players to the Super Eagles
3. Keshi must discover a new playmaker (number 10) for the Super Eagles
4. Keshi must foster a good relationship with the NFF and sporting media
5. Keshi must not allow his team to be picked by the NFF officials or others
6. Keshi must work on the Super Eagles set pieces
7. Keshi must be tactically adventurous
8. Keshi must set up a scouting network
9. Keshi must embark on self improvement
10. Keshi must avoid player complacency
Ibrahim Galadima was a former Nigeria Football Federation President and now Vice Chairman of Nigerian Professional Football League champions, Kano Pillars Football Club. Galadima opines that leadership skills are what Keshi needs most to be successful in his third stint as Super Eagles chief coach.
“I might not know what went on with him and his players because I am not an insider. But as the head of the technical team, he should know what the team needs. He wears the shoe so knows where it pinches. One expects Keshi to be the leader. His colleagues and players should see him as a leader who gives a good leadership. Once he does that, I am sure they will also follow him and give him the results that he desires.
“The federation in their wisdom have deemed it good to get him back after all these wait and at least Nigerians are relieved on who is going to handle the team for the 2017 AFCON qualifiers.”
Galadima continues: “Time is not on Kesh’s side. So he should realise the challenges ahead of him and the expectations of Nigerians and see how far he can go. Obviously, we pray for him to do well and we hope all Nigerians will benefit from his coming back, I think that is our expectations and hope.
Former Super Eagles goalkeeper Dosu Joseph, who is best remembered for being one of the players that won gold for Nigeria in the football event of the 1996 Olympics insists that Keshi must invite the best Nigerians players across the world, not average players which was one of Keshi’s many offenses against Nigerian football faithful.
“The team have waited enough and I think it is a good one from the federation: that both parties came together to settle the differences that were between them. So for me, I think it is a good one. He is a good coach and it is now left for all Nigerians to come together and support him.
“I understand our grievances, I understand why Nigerians are angry. All Nigerians are asking is for the coach to invite players that are regular in their clubs, players who feature week in, week out. So Nigerians will be happy when they put on the green-white-green, ot players that are always on the bench and who still get invited to the national team, I think that is where the problem is,” Dosu notes.
The former Julius Berger safe hands also does not see the length of the new Keshi contract as a distraction, but long enough to guarantee him another shot at the job if he does well.
“I don’t think the two year contract he signed will put him under pressure. He has been there before. He already understands the players and knows who he wants to invite to the national team. The two year contract ends in 2017, so all he needs to do is do well and get an extension like four years. I just pray he does well so that the team can move forward.
Former Nigeria international Etim Esin endorses the coming back of Keshi and believe he merited his new two year contract.
Speaking specifically about his expectations from the third Keshi shot on the Eagles job, Esin outlines areas he feels the Eagles can improve on.
Since the retirement of Austin Jay Jay Okocha and, Etim Esin before him, the Super Eagles of Nigeria have not had a world class creative midfielder who could change a game for the team.
There have been some players who either were one-game or tournament wonders.
The likes of Wilson Oruma, James Obiorah and Rabiu Ibrahim and now John Mikel Obi have laid claims to being that missing piece in the Super Eagles number 10 role but Esin believes Keshi should still be on the hunt for a resourceful creative midfielder.
“We’ve had some decent players in the creative midfield position, but I don’t really think we’ve found that number 10 like myself or Jay Jay since we hung our boots.
“These days, Mikel Obi plays that position for the Super Eagles but we all know that Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho has altered Mikel’s game and he now finds himself playing as a defensive midfielder.
“This is a position Keshi must work on and ensure he unearths a genuis that will take games by the scruff of the neck. We need another Etim Esin, Okocha, Abedi Pele Ayew if you like, you know,” Esin adds.
Former Nigeria international Tajudeen Disu speaks to Completesportsnigeria.com on the ‘Secret of Success’ for Keshi to implement.
“Keshi must ensure that he has good working relationship with the NFF officials and avoid things that could easily be resolved spiral out of control,” the one-time defunct Abiola Babes captain states.
“Secondly, Keshi must ensure that he has good working relationship with the media because that is very important. The sporting media plays a huge role in the success of national teams. However, the sporting media must criticize constructively. This is very vital in how any coach succeeds or fails.
“Keshi must also ensure that he has good relationship with his players. It’s a good thing to be disciplined, but there must be mutual respect from the coach and his players. These are the ways Keshi could be successful. He must also ensure that his team are picked on merit. He must not allow any NFF official or individual to select his players for games and tournaments.
“Finally, from me, Keshi must ensure that his team are always in a conducive location for training camps away from the distraction of hangers-on,” Disu concludes.
Sports journalists Paul Bassey and Deji Omotoyinbo also spoke on the issue and offer inspiring insights on how Stephen Keshi could overcome pitfalls that may ruin his current stint as Super Eagles coach.
Paul Bassey has worked in the technical committee of the Confederation of African Football, and he is clearly not a fan of Stephen Keshi, but believes that the team’s interest will be best served by supporting the not-so popular choice of the Nigeria Football Federation.
“I don’t have a view concerning his coming back,” Bassey says without mincing words. ” I think we should just move forward. I have a position, and my position has always been that I don’t think Keshi is the best. But now that he has been appointed, I think we should just move forward. It’s not even about Keshi anymore, it’s about this country, it’s the future that is very important, it’s not about Keshi, it’s about the Super Eagles.
“I believe that we should have moved ahead, look for somebody else, but now that the NFF have reappointed him, we would be losing so much. So for me, I just want to move ahead.”
Keshi’s Media Stunts
Finally but surely not the least, Sports Vision’s Deji Omotoyinbo voices his expectation how Keshi should go about his duties.
“The problem of Set pieces has been perennial to the Super Eagles since forever! Poor at defending set pieces and even worse at exploiting same on the offensive side. All five goals conceded at the 2014 world Cup were from either a corner or free kick. Bring in a specialist set piece coach if need be, but Keshi has got to work on this problem. The situation just can’t be allowed to continue,” Omotoyinbo states categorically.
Keshi was willing to speak to the press in his previous spells in charge of the Eagles, but Omotoyinbo finds him guilty of over indulging in it. He expects the Big Boss to exercise caution this time around.
“I personally feel Keshi grants way too many interviews. I understand that there is a certain amount of media responsibility that the job demands but beyond that, he needs to clam up a bit. Too many times his words get twisted in the media and he has to constantly deny and defend himself regarding unsavoury statements credited to him. He should let his team speak for him on the pitch.
“No one is too old to learn. Keshi should also strive at continuos self improvement by using his free time to upgrade his coaching education. Either by attending refresher courses or attachments to world class coaches, he should never stop the thirst for knowledge. There is always room for improvement.
The experienced journalist further talks about scouting network for the senior national team.
“Every national team needs to have a carousel of fresh talent coming through, ideally from the junior national teams and the clubsides. But sometimes players are not discovered this way. An effective scouting network ensures that no talented footballer, home and abroad who is qualified to play for Nigeria escapes the notice of the national team coach. The wider the talent pool, the higher the chances of success.
“It became apparent to me that in the last six months or so, some players were sure of their place in Keshi’s squad. It is a dangerous path to tread. The national team is not the exclusive preserve of some individuals. The players must realise that playing for your country is a privilege to be appreciated and a dip in form or negative attitude means you get the axe! No player is bigger than Nigeria.
On team tactics, Omotoyinbo concludes: “I am of the opinion that Keshi is naturally a pragmatic coach who does not like to take too many tactical risks. Fair enough. But flexibility should be the watchword and ability to mix and match tactically sometimes pays. There are games I feel he could have won by allowing his team to play just that little bit more expansively. Caution is good but sometimes when you throw caution to the wind, you reap great rewards!
“Sometimes in the course of Keshi’s stint as Super Eagles head coach he appeared to be fighting too many battles. Either with the NFF, some players or sections of the media. There always seemed to be something going wrong. Well, it is time to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start across the board.
“Some may have offended him or even hurt his feelings(or vice versa). Keshi must act the big man that he is and forgive, forget and look to the future.”
HAVE YOUR SAY!
Dear reader, the ball is now on your court: to express your opinion on the above discourse.
What is your own contribution on how best Stephen Keshi could come better in his third
time as the Super Eagles coach?
Which points raised above do you agree or disagree with, and why?
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