Following the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for AFCON 2015, the call for Stephen Keshi’s removal as Manager of the team has been strident.
The social media is saturated with calls for his voluntary ‘resignation’ or sack. In this cacophony of opinions, the public forgets that even though his contract with the team expired with the end of the World Cup in July 2014, it has not been renewed. So, there is nothing to resign from, or any imminent sack to be executed!The informal directive from the Presidency that Keshi should be re-instated has not been vacated or formalized, so no one has been able to do anything about the vacant position of coach of the Super Eagles.
Since Nigeria’s ouster from the Nations Cup, the same Presidency has kept silent, not making any statement on the matter, and distancing itself from the disaster.
In order to save face, and regain the lost sympathy of the government, the NFF board has publicly assumed full responsibility for the failure, dampening the political consequences of the seeming bungling of the matter by the Presidency.
All of this puts Stephen Keshi in a tight corner from which he must wriggle out, one way or another, for good or for bad.
He will not resign because he now cannot. To start with he does not even have a subsisting contract. So, resign from what?
More significantly, no public officer ever resigns from any office in Nigeria for any reason, so why should Stephen Keshi be the first to do so now?
Of course, he can choose to step aside if he receives a signal to do so from the same source that informally reinstated him. But that is unlikely to happen because the Presidency has cleverly been reticent on this matter, silent about the national calamity, and allowing their man to absorb the full heat of his own failure.
The NFF that should be at the head of all this is incapacitated by the fear of acting against the script of the Presidency. So, they shield the Presidency from any blame and publicly accept all responsibility for Nigeria’s failure, something that everyone knows was more cosmetic and political than real!
So, what now happens to Keshi? It appears a way has now been found for him around the logjam.
A few days ago, the Sports Ministry finally stirred from its long hibernation. The Director-General of the ministry, in a rare media report, announced that the responsibility for the hiring or firing of the national team coach is the exclusive responsibility of the Nigeria Football Federation.
Everyone knew immediately what that meant – although it was the voice of the sports ministry, the words were the Presidency’s, a signal that the coast is now clear for a dignified exit for one of Nigeria’s greatest football heroes.
The NFF immediately announces that it will fund a refresher course for Keshi in Europe, a phantom programme designed by the West to permanently put down, exploit and humiliate Third World coaches. Who has ever heard of a refresher course for Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardola, Luis Van Gaal, Arsene Wenger, and so on? At the highest level of football coaching, refresher courses do not exist. It is the intellect of the coach that counts.
So, Keshi has been found a soft landing. The coast is also now clear for the original script of the new NFF leadership to play out.
The NFF will not hire another Nigerian to handle the Super Eagles. There is no coach, before the coming of Keshi, that can be justifiably offered that exalted position now. None of them would deserve it, as they would lack the credentials, the experience and the combined achievements of Stephen Keshi.
From Samson Siasia and Stephen Keshi, two former international players that played at the highest levels of football and have handled the senior national team, Nigeria has engaged a new generation of younger indigenous coaches from which it cannot go back anymore.
Unfortunately, after Keshi, also, the pool of qualified Nigerian coaches that can handle the Super Eagles, now a globally acknowledged footballing brand is very small. Beyond Siasia and Amokachi (both have had stints and may not be considered as heads again) I see only Sunday Oliseh as a respected but unlikely option.
He is very well respected as a football analyst, with excellent paper qualifications but still lacking the depth in coaching experience and achievements, that can justify why Nigeria should give him the opportunity to do in the Eagles what Pep Guardola did in Barcelona FC with massive effect on how the Spanish national team started to play their brand of football. Which refresher course would teach the Tiki Taka philosophy and style? So, aside from Oliseh who would not be even be considered by the NFF, the pool is dry for now.
It was deliberate when the NFF flew the kite of the idea of a foreign coach a few weeks ago, before their elections ran into more stormy weather that is still to subside. Nigerians are bracing up for who would be hired that would not create an uproar of contention, after all, after Clemens Westerhof, whose records have now been matched and probably surpassed by Keshi, which other foreign coach has done anything meaningful with Nigerian football and the Super Eagles?
Whatever happens in the days, weeks and months to come, it is clear that the period ahead in the history of the Super Eagles will be marked with more intrigues, contentions and controversies.
The challenge for the NFF would be how to prove to Nigerians that this would not be another rigmarole, a return to the days of senseless squander mania and financial brigandage, where journeymen coaches came to Nigeria with bogus credentials, did very little, fleeced the country, corrupted the officials that hired them, and departed with all their accumulated wealth after failing to do what they were hired to do in the first place.
That’s the issue here – what will the foreign coach be given as his mandate? What would he have to accomplish to justify the astronomical sums of money he would, of course, demand?
Would it be the usual safe bets – a semi-final target at the Nations Cup and the second round at the World Cup, both of which Stephen Keshi, a local, has achieved? Or, would it be something new and more challenging?
I once believed that with the entry of Keshi, Nigeria would never again consider going the old failed route of foreign coaches.
So, for me, for any foreign coach that will be hired, there must be minimum irreducible requirements: his credentials must surpass anything Keshi presented; his playing and coaching experiences must surpass anything Keshi amassed; and, finally, his mandate must also surpass Keshi’s achievements to date.
Keshi has become the barometer to gauge the coaches that must handle the national team of Nigeria into the future!