–Sacked Super Eagles boss opens up over shock dismissal
Super Eagles chief coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was controversially relieved of his job Thursday morning despite leading the Nigerian team to secure their first victory in the AFCON 2015 qualifier against Sudan in Abuja.
The Big Boss in this interview revealed for the very first time why the African Champions have become a shadow of themselves and how people in the Federation practically plotted his failure…
Sir, a journey that began three years ago ended on Thursday. I know you will have a story to tell on your experience with the senior national team.
It has been a great experience for me, having to serve my country at the highest level. I really want to thank the FA for the opportunity to serve at that capacity as a coach. I have no hard feelings over my dismissal. I thought it came when we are beginning to get it right in the qualifiers but that is in the past. I am happy we won our first game in the qualifiers and was looking forward to winning the next two games when the news came in, I have no problem with that.
The handwriting was clearly written on the wall that you might not be allowed to tinker the Eagles against Congo and South Africa. Did you see it coming?
Firstly, I was not really surprised because I was not on contract, I have been working on pay as you win basis. With that alone, I did not see myself as Super Eagles Manager because there was no contract in place. Besides, with the new board coming in, anything is possible, so I had my mind prepared for any unexpected. Nigeria’s national team job is not meant for Stephen Keshi alone, Nigeria is bigger than anybody so if they think another man can do better, all well and good.
The players must be stunned to hear the news that you won’t be barking out orders to them anymore in their subsequent games.
(Smiles) They were shocked beyond description. They have all left for their various club sides and I wish them all the best in their careers. Some of them came to me and wept when the news of my dismissal came to them. I just calmed them down and urged them to move on, I will always cherish the moments we spent together.
Are you saying the likes of Onazi and some of the younger players wept?
No, I won’t mention any names here for fear of them being frozen out of the team. I will be endangering the careers of such players if I dare mention their names. Let us leave them out of this please.
Some of your sins had to do with the selection methods, which according to many affected Nigeria’s performance at the World Cup and AFCON 2015 qualifiers.
The buck stops on my table in terms of players’ selection and there is no selection I made without the consent of the coaching crew. We did our best at the World Cup and don’t forget nobody raised any eyebrow when we won the AFCON in South Africa. When I got the job in November 2011, my project was to build a national team made up of local players here. I told the FA no country would do well with the entire team coming from different leagues in Europe.
We began and it was yielding positive results ,until a group of people in the past FA board said they don’t want a national team made up of home based players. They told me Nigeria’s best players are based in Europe and I was told to reduce the slots for home based players, that was when we started having problems with results. You saw the way South Africa and Congo played; this is what most African countries do now; building from home and injecting few foreign pros, but Nigeria football eggheads said they don’t want that. I had to try some of our players abroad since they no longer have confidence in the local players. Why are people complaining about those foreign pros?
Many were shocked over players being invited from China. Soccer pundits feel Super Eagles was becoming a dumping ground for every Tom, Dick and Harry.
Well, the same people who complained over a player from the Chinese league praised the player when he scored against Sudan. All I want to achieve is the result and it does not really matter whether the player I invite is white or black. My intention is to build from home and have few professionals around the team but the FA disrupted the programme.
Are you surprised to see your close friend Amodu Shuaibu, taking over from you?
Amodu is a great friend of mine and I see nothing wrong with that. Super Eagles job does not belong to anyone, besides the FA has the right to appoint whosoever they want. He (Amodu) called me on Wednesday, assuring me to keep doing my work, but today is in charge. There are no hard feelings, he is a good friend of mine and I wish Nigeria all the best.
How would you describe your experience with Super Eagles?
Honestly, I had a great time working with the players . We worked together as one happy family and we’re willing to help one another on and off the pitch. When I came in, I told them how we needed to play and to my surprise, they adapted quickly and that explained why we got those results then. I am happy for some of the younger ones that came; we had a programme but it’s unfortunate that I can’t continue now. It’s painful I did not get enough time to say goodbye to those players who gave me their all on the field of play.
Where next from here?
I just want to move on.
(Smiles) Nigeria’s job is over now and I thank everybody for their support and criticisms. This is my country and I am always ready to serve, but I am moving on. I will always cherish my time here as coach.
Do you still see Nigeria qualifying for Morocco 2015 AFCON?
Of course they can! The team seems to have rediscovered that winning formula. The problem started in the qualifiers when NFF started having internal issues and it really affected the team so much against Congo in Calabar. Besides, some people just want the team to fail simply because they don’t like Keshi. This is not about Keshi but Nigeria. It was clear from the first game that a group of people don’t want Nigeria to qualify for Morocco 2015.