THE FIRST major assignment for Amaju Pinnick’s NFF executive committee is what to do with Super Eagles interim coach Stephen Keshi: To renew or not to renew his contract which expired after the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
A coach is probably as good as his last result and Keshi must admit that he is walking a tight rope as far as retaining his job is concerned. To start with, I think he has lost the financial bargaining power which he held before now, and his team’s performances and results in the up-coming double-header with Sudan will be critical.
– SOCCERTALK, 8 October, 2014.
THE foregoing quote is not really spectacular, although it now sounds prophetic following Stephen Keshi’s removal as Super Eagles coach last week. I have only culled it to underline the fact that the turn of events was quite predictable.
Insiders in Nigerian football knew that Amaju Pinnick’s arrival as Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president would spell the end of Keshi’s reign as Pinnick was never pretentious about his preference for a foreign manager. Keshi only made the task easier and faster for Pinnick by recording Nigeria’s first loss to Sudan in 51 years when his under-performing team stumbled to a 1-0 defeat in Khartoum on Saturday, October 11, 2014 to further dent our chances of qualifying for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. The 3-1 win over the Sudanese in the return leg four days later in Abuja came too late for Keshi as the damage had already been done.
I have been following the ensuing debate and Nigerians are deeply divided over the propriety and timing of Keshi’s removal, and his replacement by Shaibu Amodu also on an interim basis.
My take is that Keshi should have been fired immediately after the loss in Khartoum or left in charge to complete the qualifiers the moment he was allowed to oversee the victory in Abuja.
But I am willing to accept the NFF’s timing of the sacking nevertheless because (1) it is their statutory responsibility to make such important decisions and (2) because I understand that they had to make some “consultations” in order to avoid a backlash from Keshi’s “highly-placed” backers in government.
It would have been dangerous for Pinnick to allow Keshi to finish the qualifiers. If the Big Boss somehow managed to turn things around and qualify for AFCON 2015, public opinion would swing in his favour again and Pinnick would be forced to give him a new contract.
A third reason why I accept Keshi’s dismissal irrespective of the timing is that his acrimonious relationship with the NFF was creating unnecessary tension in our football with seemingly no end in sight. And since we cannot sack the NFF because of the coach, the coach had to give way for there to be peace.
Notably, things have been quiet at the Glass House, even if temporarily, since Keshi was fired. Hopefully, the new NFF executive committee can settle down to work without any excuse that the national team coach was forced on them by anybody.
Lastly, I accept Keshi’s dismissal because, as I said in my opening quote, a coach is as good as his last result. Keshi’s recent results have not been impressive and the loss to Sudan was the height of it all.
Having said all that, however, I remain a big admirer of the Big Boss for his achievements with the Super Eagles in just under three years in charge. From rock bottom where he found the national team, Keshi built a squad that became African champions in just one year. He won the 2013 AFCON for Nigeria for the first time since 1994; took us to the second round of the 2014 World Cup for the first time since 1998 and qualified the home-based Eagles for the African Nations Championships (CHAN) for the first time ever.
In the process, Keshi gave confidence and self-belief to players in the domestic league by featuring many of them in the Super Eagles ahead of some previously dominant foreign-based players; he saved the NFF money that was usually wasted by previous coaches purportedly going on monitoring trips abroad and inviting excessive number of players from foreign leagues; he created competition in the national team by calling the bluff of players with large egos until they were ready to abide by his rules.
Keshi’s refusal to relax his disciplinary rules for players like Ikechukwu Uche whom he froze out despite having goalscoring problems in his team has been adduced by many as reason for Keshi’s failure. I tend to disagree.
An insolent Osaze Odemwingie equally was scoring many goals for his clubside when Keshi dropped him from the 2013 AFCON, but Nigeria still went on to win the trophy. On the other hand, Ike Uche who actually made the squad was such a big disappointment in South Africa despite his goals for Villareal in the Spanish League.
Later when Osaze climbed down from his high horse, Keshi promptly included him in the squad to the World Cup in Brazil. Uche reportedly remained aloof and Keshi probably did the right thing by keeping him out. No player is bigger than the team and I salute Keshi for not succumbing to any player power throughout his tenure. He may have lost his job, but his dignity remains firmly intact.
Similarly, I salute Keshi for his brave resistance in the face of persistent interference in his job by the technical committee of the NFF led by a lawyer, Chris Green. The narrative in many quarters is that Keshi refused to take advice from the technical committee and that he became arrogant AFTER winning the 2013 AFCON. The truth, however, is that Keshi had been resisting pressure from the technical committee BEFORE he won the 2013 AFCON. In fact, it was the frustration caused by the persistent pressure from the committee that made him declare on a South African radio station that he was quitting the job after the AFCON win. From then on, his relationship with the NFF was never the same again.
My advice to the new NFF technical committee under the chairmanship of Enyimba FC chairman Chief Felix Anyansi is to recognize the limits of their powers. They can advice the coach on technical matters but they shouldn’t feel slighted if the coach rejects their advise. After all, it is the coach that will be held accountable if the results go wrong.
Keshi’s problem with Green’s technical committee was that he refused to be teleguided by them.
When the Eagles were struggling in the early stages of the 2013 AFCON and they were being criticized by the fans and media, Keshi expected support and encouragement from the technical committee but all he got was attempted interference in team selection and threats of the sack.
Last Saturday in an interview on Rythm FM 93.7 Lagos, new NFF vice-president Seyi Akinwunmi narrated how the new president Amaju Pinnick encouraged the Super Eagles and their coaches after the shock loss to Sudan even when the fans and media were roundly condemning them.
Akinwunmi said the players expressed surprise because, in the past, NFF officials would have joined the fans and media to lambast them. I hope the new technical committee will take a cue from the new NFF president.
No self-respecting coach anywhere in the world will accept team sheets from any technical committee and that should not be translated to mean arrogance on the part of the coach. If sports minister Tammy Danagogo says he wasn’t consulted before Keshi was sacked but he would respect the NFF’s right to select their coach without government interference, the NFF should also respect the coach’s right to select his players without interference. Keshi suffered a lot from such interference but he stood his ground all the way. That is why he was labelled as arrogant.
In the end though, Keshi paid the price for his sometimes questionable team selections which often left even those of us that supported him in a quandary. After the AFCON victory, he kept changing and chopping the players and was perpetually “building the team” as he put it. This led to patchy performances during the World Cup qualifiers and he probably worsened the situation by taking to the Mundial some players who had no future in the national team. After the World Cup, he wanted to start “rebuilding” yet again only for Congo to shock him 3-2 in Calabar before Sudan nailed his coffin 1-0 in Khartoum.
Keshi will look back at his mistakes and hope he will have another chance to correct them in the future. In the meantime, he is bound to miss the glamour of being Super Eagles coach, his tax-free salary and generous match bonuses and the highly rewarding endorsement deals the likes of which he cannot get elsewhere.
But surely, this hero of Nigerian football will certainly be back again in the nearest future.
Shaibu Amodu’s Return.
IT IS IRONIC that Shaibu Amodu who was sacked a few years ago as Super Eagles coach for allegedly playing what the media and fans described as “heart attack football” at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations is the new bride of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
But if there is a Nigerian coach that can bail the Eagles out of the tight corner that Stephen Keshi has put them in the AFCON 2015 qualifying race, it has to be Amodu because he has done it before.
In 2001 when Dutch coach Jo Bonfrere was heading Nigeria’s 2002 World Cup ship for the rocks, it was Amodu, assisted by Stephen Keshi, that stepped in to rescue the situation although he later missed out of leading the team to the finals in Korea/Japan.
I recall that, back then, one of the major sins that we journalists listed against Amodu was his refusal to accept “technical advice” from the Nigeria Football Association’s (NFA) technical team led by Chief Adegboye Onigbinde.
Onigbinde gave Amodu “technical tips” on a sheet of paper at the 2002 AFCON in Mali. Amodu tore up the paper and dumped it in the waste basket, claiming he had read the tips and he didn’t want the paper to fall into wrong hands.
But Onigbinde retrieved the shredded paper and later presented it as evidence of Amodu’s “arrogance” in shunning the technical tips given to him. Eventually, Amodu was sacked for his “arrogance” while Onigbinde led Nigeria to the 2002 World Cup where we didn’t win any match.
I have recalled this story to emphasize the disruptive nature of suggesting “technical tips” or imposing “technical advice” on football coaches, either directly or indirectly. It only leads to conflicts between the coaches and the so-called technical experts.
My view is that when coach is appointed, he should be allowed to do the job the way he knows best without anybody feeling slighted by the coach’s refusal to accept their tips or suggestions.
If you have such brilliant ideas on team selections and tactical formations, why employ the coach in the first place? Why not do the job yourself?
I sincerely hope that Amodu will be allowed to carry out his rescue job without the NFF technical committee trying to dictate to him. If he accepts their advice, that’s OK. If he doesn’t, that should be OK, too. The task of qualifying for the 2015 AFCON is difficult already. We don’t need to complicate it any further.