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Keshi Must Swim….Or Sink!

*IF I WAS Stephen Keshi, I’d be on the pitch now, swinging fists like a windmill at every single one of the players. They’re better than this.” – By Ian Macintosh on Twitter. @iainmacintosh. Retweeted by Oluwashina Okeleji. @oluwashina.
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THE FOREGOING was my pick of the pack as angry Nigerians and lovers of Nigerian football took to the social media to express their frustrations at the disappointing performance of the Super Eagles in their opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Iran at the Arena da Baixada stadium in Curitiba on Monday evening.

It is hard to pick between world and European champions Spain, and the African champions Nigeria which side has kicked off her tournament with the “wrongest” foot.

I always said Spain’s tiki-taka would be exposed at this World Cup, but even I never thought it would be done with so much brutality as Louis van Gaal’s Holland did in smashing the world champions 5-1. Also, I always warned Nigerian fans not to expect too much from the Eagles at this World Cup, but even I never thought that Keshi’s team could descend as low as they did against Iran.

The major difference between the two, though, is that while Spain came up against a quality Dutch side, Nigeria came unstuck against a relatively poor Iranian opposition. And while Spain have the quality to turn the tide and still progress from their group, Nigeria’s chances are looking dim already because of the tougher opponents still to come.

In the heat of the Iran game, the following were some of the words that I used to describe the Eagles performance and I’m not taking any of them back: Terrible, disappointing, lethargic, lackadaisical, pedestrian, unprofessional, embarrassing, shambolic. Yeah, it was a total shambles.

I have highlighted Macintosh’s quote above because, apart from the millions of Nigerians whose emotion was brutalized and the hundreds of businesses (including the sports media to which I belong) whose fortunes are negatively affected by any Eagles’ poor performance, the main man in the eye of the storm is team coach Stephen Keshi.

In the last two years, Keshi has been the “star player” of this team. He took them to a surprising triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, a respectable showing at the FIFA Confederations Cup and a qualifying ticket for this World. Cup. These achievements rightly earned him public backing against intruding Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) officials, and good money in the bank from numerous endorsement deals. Indeed, if Keshi was thinking like Ian Macintosh, he should have realized by now that all his goodwill – and his job! – is on the line.

I met the NFF top hierarchy at the Mixed Zone after the match, and their faces showed the turmoil that was going through their minds. President Aminu Maigari, Vice President Mike Umeh and chairman of the technical committee Green Chris all trudged in looking disconsolate. They must have been saying amongst themselves: “See the mess that this man (Keshi) has put us despite all our efforts to support him. We offered him technical assistance, he refused. Look at the big mess he has created.”

Maigari was measured in his public response to the media although he struggled to hide his inner feelings. “We are not a party to failure,” he began when asked about the Eagles performance before quickly toning down his rhetoric: “Although the team has not failed totally, we are not happy with the performance. When the players and the technical crew have settled down, we will let them know how we feel and together chart a way forward.”

That “official feeling” would have been passed across to Keshi by now and the situation in the Eagles camp would be a repeat of the 2013 Africa Cup Nations when the NFF breathed down his neck following a testy opening match in which the Eagles were held to a 1-1 draw by Burkina Faso. On that occasion, Keshi turned things around and went on to win the tournament which led to the public adulation and commercial endorsements that followed for him.

If he can respond similarly to the Iran draw with a victory against Bosnia Herzegovina in the next game (implausible at this point but not impossible), Nigeria’s World Cup aspirations will be back on track. But whether even that will earn him a contract extension which some of us had advocated is seriously questionable now. He may have to start looking at some of his reported “five job offers,” assuming they are still on the table after the World Cup.

In the meantime, though, Keshi must, in the words of Macintosh, swing his fists like a windmill at every single one of his players IN TRAINING ahead of the game against Bosnia Herzegovina because he would not be allowed on the pitch! He must tell them that their performance against Iran was totally unacceptable and demand a spirited response from them. Irrespective of the outcome against Bosnia, Nigerians want to see a Super Eagles playing with spirit and aggression, creativity and quick movements, accurate passing and overlapping runs, as well as accurate shooting and goal scoring.

Keshi must remind his players, again in the words of Macintosh, that they are better than what we saw from them against Iran.

WHAT WENT WRONG AGAINST IRAN?

WHAT went wrong against Iran? That is the million Naira question that most Nigerians want an answer to.

Coach Stephen Keshi who should provide the answer reportedly flunked the question when he was asked at the post-match press conference. I missed the press conference because my press pass gave me access to the Mixed Zone only. Keshi was later quoted as saying that some of his players didn’t play to instruction.

But Keshi told me a different story when he later came over to the Mixed Zone. “It wasn’t the best day for many of the boys. They didn’t hit good form. But, tactically, our biggest problem was that our movement of the ball was too slow. That gave the Iranians enough time to recover to their defensive positions.”

So, what did you do about it, I asked Keshi. “We were shouting to the boys. I was shouting to them to move the ball quickly, but they were not responding. As I said, it was a bad day. Sometimes, football is like that. You can have a bad day.”

Here is my departmental analysis of the Eagles performance…

GOALKEEPING: Vincent Enyeama was at his commanding best and pulled off a big save on the rare occasion he was called to action. He generously exonerated his colleagues from “individual blames” when I spoke to him in the Mixed Zone. But if others had showed equal commitment to their duties as him, Nigeria would have beaten Iran.

DEFENCE: John Mastoroudes had always complained about the Eagles ineffectual full-backs when it comes to joining the attack. Ambrose Efe does it occasionally at right back, but he hardly made a single dangerous cross against Iran. Oshaniwa who stood in for Echiejile on the left did not strike any understanding with Victor Moses. Subsequently, Nigeria lacked the attacking contribution from the full-backs which is a hallmark of modern day football. The central defense of Kenneth Omeruo, Godfrey Oboabona (later substituted by Joseph Yobo) held out well against Iran. But the next two games will tell us their true worth.

MIDFIELD: Keshi is right about the Eagles slow midfield build-ups, but this has been a major problem for some time which he failed to solve. Making Mikel Obi your midfield lynchpin will slow down any team as we all know that speed has never been one of Mikel’s strong attributes. I will therefore blame Keshi for insisting on using Mikel as a playmaker when he is not one.

Still in midfield, I will accept the explanation that Ogenyi Onazi was not in form and we missed his rampaging runs upfront. He tried it once in the first half and came close to scoring, shooting just wide. But after that, he fizzled out and was notable only for wrong passes directly to the opponent or wide into touch.

Ramon Azeez was completely out of his depth and made no impact on the game.

ATTACK: Victor Moses made a few mazy runs in the opening part of the game, but his lack of fitness from sitting on the Liverpool bench last season soon caught up with him and he tired out.

Ahmed Musa did not surprise me with his insipid display as he has always been a questionable first teamer for me. It was an off day for Emmanuel Emenike who, ordinarily would have bulldozed his way despite The Iranian defense wall. Shola Ameobi shook things up when he subbed…… While Osaze Odemwingie made a very strong case for a starting shirt when he was introduced. After Moses departed, Osaze was the only player with the guile to open up the Iranian defense. He showed imagination and creativity with a few attempts and we can only imagine what might have been if he had more playing time.

THE BENCH: I asked for assistant coach Daniel Amokachi’s assessment of the game in the Mixed Zone, but he rightly directed me to Stephen Keshi. “The boss is here, he will do the talking,” Da Bull said to me. Indeed, it is Keshi’s call.

My assessment is that Keshi got the call wrong against Iran, especially in midfield and attack.
Mikel, Onazi and Azeez are all defensive by orientation and Keshi’s gamble to use any of them as a playmaker did not pay off. None of them could deliver a single penetrating pass to the strikers in 90 minutes of football. With the full backs also failing to deliver the crosses and the wingers failing to fly on the wings, the strikers were starved of the supply needed to have a chance of scoring.

NEXT GAME PLAN VS BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA:

Osaze did not impress in his comeback game in one of the Eagles pre-World Cup friendly matches in the USA. He kept giving the ball away, and that probably explains why Keshi did not consider him for a starting place against Iran. But on the strength of his second half performance as substitute, I would certainly start Osaze ahead of Musa in attack.

Alternatively, I could keep Musa and Moses and hope that they have a good day, drop Azeez and then give Osaze a free role behind Emenike upfront. With Osaze roving between the midfield and attack as my make-shift playmaker, I will instruct Mikel and Onazi to concentrate on doing their defensive midfield duties and join the attack only when the opportunity arises. Depending on Oboabona’s condition, he or Yobo starts and the rest of the defense line picks itself. The goalkeeper, Enyeama, also picks himself.

These are my thoughts for the game against Bosnia. Obviously, I have not considered the other substitutes in Keshi’s team because I’m not privy to their readiness. After all, it’s Keshi’s call.

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COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 10
  • Omooba 4 years ago

    Abdulmumuni,
    Keshi will either swim or sink with the Bosnia’s match as the big boss and o the firing line now. The eleven players paraded against Iran appeared exhausted and lacked creativity. They played as if there was nothing at stake but for Enyeama, Iran would have run away with lone goal victory and made history out of Nigeria.
    It is most irresponsible, divisive and uncharitable of Keshi to single out Osaze for blame as not playing to instruction for 26 minutes without telling the whole world what instruction he gave him. Whereas he was the gaffer that lacked the initiative as a catalyst to propel the team into breaking into the defensive wall of the Iranians when it was obvious their game plan was to pack the buses. The poor boy played like someone hungry rearing to go and indeed changed the character of the team when introduced.
    Perhaps he has proved the cynics right that he was not best suited to lead the Eagles to the Mundial. As it is, Nigeria’s exit at the group stage is imminent as progress to the knockout stage is wishful thinking.

  • Michael 4 years ago

    Frank talk, Keshi must swim or sink…… I believe that Eagles can do better that they did against Iran when they square up with Bosnia and Hezergovina ( amust win) And then “park their own bus” against Argentina and earn a draw to have a hope of making it through to the next stage of Brazil 2014 world cup.

  • PLAYMAKER 4 years ago

    NFA please make sunday olise or JJ okocha our next super eagles coach because the so called big boss has sold his soul to south African FA and do not care care about the out come of this group stage weather he win any mach or loose all he will sure be paid his world cup bonus and off to SA he goes so lets start planing for this day for we have a football tactician in this tow great footballers of our NIJA I BEG UNA EVERY THING NOR BE BOOKORU NA MAKE OYINBO DEY BRING LABORER COME NIJA WE GO CALL THEM ENGINEER AND BRING BALL BOYS /PICKERS WE GO CALL THEM FOREIGN COACH
    UP OKOCHA UP OLISE FOR EAGLES NEW MERIT COACH

  • Adesina Adeyemo 4 years ago

    Thanks for this great analysis,the damage has been done as regards the match against Iran,Going forward I completely agree with the formation proposed against Bosnia,Ramon Azeez should be on bench with Osaze playing as a playmaker.Let us hope this will turn things around for good.

  • Nzekwe Asugha 4 years ago

    Good article based on sound analysis. The big question is whether the arrogant KESHI will hear and heed to the voice of reason. He has shown why his employers wanted to change him at the last AFCON. From what i have seen in the current tournament, we have a long long way to go. There is no doubt about the pool of talents in Nigeria, but how do we harness them together to play as a team? Our coaches are technically and tactically bereft of ideas. They are not ready to improve on the little that they know, yet they are not ready to seek for assistance. Keshi is carried away by the power of his being, having the illusion that he has arrived. NFF need to take a hard decision. It is either he becomes an assistant to a sound technical adviser or he will be sacked. There is a limit to what we can tolerate when it comes to our soccer, that is the only unifying instrument that makes all of us think and feel as a Nation, it is risky to leave it in the hands of a half knitted coach like KESHI.

  • Sheena Mcjayes 4 years ago

    Continuing with Keshi as the national coach may not be the best idea, obviously all his goodwill has been depleted with his wild experiments. It is very clear to anyone who scrutinizes his tactical approaches to games that he lacks depth and flexibility to make any meaningful impact on the international level.
    Even Scolari of Brazil knowing his limitations, included technical assistance in his bench. Siasia was wise to include the Dutch assistance. It is even rumored that Okpara was the brain behind Afcon success. Getting a draw against Iran was not the issue ( Iran played more quality friendlies than the SE anyway), rather, it was the manner they played that shamed Nigerian football. This is the biggest shame that our country has ever be subjected to in any football fiesta. The collateral damage will be collossal, our players rating will become so dismal that getting quality clubs to play will become more elusive.
    In my opinion, I do not think the pool of talents abundant in Nigeria can be fully harnessed by Keshi. Let him go.
    Before we are totally doomed, the process of looking for a replacement should commence bearing in mind that we have very few months to defend the Afcon title in Morocco.

  • In Nigeria, everybody is always better than whosoever is saddled with a responsibility in every facet of our national life. With a draw against Iran, a team that no opponent has scored against in ten games, Keshi has become the worst coach and our boys the worst players on earth. I wonder what would have become of Keshi and these boys were Nigeria to be the defending champions that have crashed out with 6 goals deficit. It has being our way; we are all experts for as long as we are not the ones calling the shots but the moment we’ve made enough noise and get called up to handle the same thing, we show how much the bile of envy and jealousy have been the oil running our engines and how much more mediocre we are than the person we have been running down! It’s basically been our bane as a people. While not holding brief for the nervy performance of our boys against Iran, I would think that much of the vituperation Keshi and his boys have had since the match against Iran are manifestations of bottled up venom for a man that has refused to kowtow to some people’s preferences. Whatever be our interests, inclinations and bias for or against these compatriots, can we please oblige them some respect and the peace of mind that they need to prosecute this world cup campaign for us please?

  • Yusuf Ango 4 years ago

    Sound analysis by Mumini as usual, I agree with Nzekwe, above. My question is, are all the Keshi assistant coaches, like Danny the Bull, not making inputs to decision making by Keshi? It is normal that people who have achieved a feat such as what we see in players and Coaches, become arrogant to an extent. What we need to do is apply, under such circumstances, human management skills. This why a Psychologist should be attached to the team. This will help, even if it does not solve all the problems. Westerhof bungled our world Cup appearance too, in 1994, after a convincing Nations Cup win, and a good performance pedigree. Better luck, Nigeria!

  • Olutayo (USA) 4 years ago

    Octopus munini,please make your suggestion available to the technical crew

    I suggest Keshi uses Uzoenyi/Odemwingie/Mikel/Onazi in the middle on Saturday with Emenike/Moses in attack
    Barring any injuries,subs should be Nwofor/Musa or Ameobi and Azeez or Uchebo.

    We fans are tired of people saying Nigeria has potentials with no World stage show.

    At least,the SE should allow us enjoy our entiltled 3 matches!

    Moreover,nothing stops us from packing 2 buses once we score our goal and rely on counter attacks with our speedstars.

    Long live CS/SE/Nigeria!

  • eniola 4 years ago

    What Next, Super Eagles of Nigeria?

    Iran V Nigeria game is over and many of us still feel disappointed about the outcome. However this is a group stage match and there are still a couple of games left for the team to redeem its image & restoring the pride of Nigerian football, that was left in tatters after last night’s shambolic displays.
    What really went wrong?

    1. SELECTION: The first thing that came to my mind when i first saw the line-up was why play three defensive midfielders in a game you need to win, and against the supposedly weakest team in the group? Mikel, Onazi and Azeez are defensive players and that’s the role they play for their respective clubs. They provide a good cover for the team but offer very little going forward, and this explains the lateral passes and the yawning gap between the midfield and the attack. The play was too predictable for the opponent to break down. Lateral interchange of passes between the three midfielders, then a hopeful long punt to the wings or a lump to the striker.
    2. TACTICS: On realising that the 4-3-3 formation wasn’t working, Keshi took off a winger (Moses) and brought on another striker(Ameobi). While the change in formation was no surprise, it was the personnel that were changed that left me questioning the tactical ability or perhaps bravery of the coach. I had expected one of the midfield trio to be taken off (perhaps Azeez) and NOT Moses. While Moses was not having his best game, he is still by far the most creative player in the team and you knew it was only a mater of time before he found a way to get into the box with his trickery but the coach took him off rather too early. Keshi was too scared to take risks. The fear of losing meant the coach stuck to the same midfield trio and instead introduced Ameobi. This meant our best striker, Emenike kept going to the left side, where Moses vacated, to fight for the ball himself which was counter-productive as the idea was to switch to a 4-4-2 formation.
    3. PLAYERS: Sadly but true, we do not have the quality of players we once boasted of. At best, what we have now are a bunch of average but determined players but this can’t take you very far. I have tried not to mention names cos we can only play with the 23 players the coach has selected but i may never understand the dropping of Ideye Brown or the complete omission of Lukman Haruna. Ideye was accused of not being prolific but so is his replacement Ameobi. If anything, Ideye’s technical ability, movement and hustling are by far better assets to Ameobi’s physical presence. Also when you have four defensive midfielders (add Rueben Gabriel) in your team, you begin to wonder what the coach aims to achieve in the tournament. A natural No.10 like Lukman Haruna would have offered something better going forward… Confident on the ball, and able to spot passes in tight areas as well as a good shooting ability., even a poorSunday Mba. We all saw the urgency, neat touches Odemwingie brought to the team when he came in the second half. Despite playing in an unfamiliar deeper role, he still stood out.

    The Way forward:
    It is obvious the lack of a proper play-maker has stunted the Eagles play in recent years as our makeshift alternative, Mikel, just isn’t the answer. There’s no doubting his talent but he takes too many touches on the ball.. He walks when others are running and stands when others walk. He slows down the game and he becomes a liability when the team needs to move the ball up quicker. Yes, Mikel can shield the ball well and he’s very hard to knock off the ball but sometimes you get the feeling he plays to draw a foul from the opponent which wouldn’t have been a bad idea if only it is done nearer the opponent’s goal area or if the team utilizes these set pieces. We rarely score or threaten from set-pieces so why play for it? He should be asked to move the ball out to the others quicker. Ditto Onazi, who is one player i admire his engine a lot but he could conserve this energy and channel it towards running into opponents box . Simply put, The Eagles have got players with pace yet they lack pace in their play. The Eagles build up play is simply too pedestrian. Mikel is just an example of players being adapted to a different position, which has not really worked. A good coach should play to the strength of his players rather than play them in unfamiliar roles. (Square pegs in round hole.,eh?)
    Some people might argue saying we won the Nations Cup with the same set of players. Yes we did but was it because we were the best at the Tournament? No, but We were hungrier than the rest, our play suited the Tournament, which is generally slow-paced and most importantly, we were lucky. This is reality, on the biggest stage, the World Cup… where you expect the team to be hungrier. Is the hunger and desire in the boys gone? I do not think so… I just think this one is a step too far and you can’t expect players to perform beyond their abilities.
    As typical of Nigerian teams, they tend to play better against top opponents but never win these matches. I see this trend continuing in the next few days but deep down inside me, i pray to be proved wrong. Who knows, Iran could end up deciding who qualifies out of the group outside Argentina.
    Fingers crossed.

    PS: This article (comment) was written a day after the Iran V Nigeria match, therefore the similarities in observations. Just thought i’d share my views as well,