— In football, coaches always come back!
That is the message of consolation that Stephen Keshi should take with him as he moves on in search of another green pasture in the uncertain field of football coaching.
In the short space of a few months, the man who could do no wrong as he led Nigeria to rebuild a new national team, has turned villain and has become one of the most criticized and most vilified coaches in Nigeria’s history.
The man that led the country to win the African Nations Cup and qualified the country for the World Cup has struggled to win even one match in the last five outings of the Super Eagles. The team has been playing as if in a trance, without style or flair or creativity.
So Keshi’s ‘sack’ did not come as a surprise. It has been a long time coming and every observer knew it was a matter of when and not if, for him to be shown the way out.
In the few short years of his reign as manager of the Super Eagles, he did his job the way he knew best, and worked under excruciatingly difficult conditions (he was called names, denied his wages for months, denied the confidence of a contract, often threatened with a sack, and at constant loggerheads with the Chairman of the Technical Committee), but in the process he trampled on the toes and egos of some powerful people in Nigerian football with his style and character. These are people that would also not go to sleep until they saw his dismissal, that he even survived this long is almost a miracle.
It is surprising though that no one seems to be mourning his exit.The good news for him should be that he is leaving now – before what could potentially be a major crash!
Stephen Keshi must walk away relieved that he is leaving with his credentials and achievements intact. His part in the history of Nigerian football will live on for a long time to come.One day, the cycle will turn in his direction again as it inevitably does and Nigerians will look back at his present achievements and dream again.
So, Big Boss, do not worry, you will be back again one day!
The End Of An Era!
Last Sunday night, I received a lot of telephone calls after Nigeria lost the match against Sudan in Khartoum. Before that, Nigeria had not lost a match, home or away, to Sudan in over four decades! It was, therefore, hard for Nigerians to accept such a humiliating loss against the background that only a few months ago the Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations championship and went to the 2014 World Cup as one of Africa’s five representatives.
How could Nigeria, with all her loaded football credentials, the largest number of African professional footballers overseas, and with the best accumulated results at all levels and genres in African football, have lost to Sudan, a team ranked ‘eons’ below them in the global FIFA ranking of national teams? To the consternation of Nigerians, that is exactly what happened.
Nigerians fumed and ‘wept’, made to bear the shame, pain and humiliation of losing against Sudan, of all teams!
On that eventful night, one of the several calls that I received was from Bishop Felix Femi Ajakaiye, the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti Diocese, a priest, a football enthusiast to the core, an author and a stakeholder in football in his own right. His words still ring in my head: ‘We are witnessing the end of an era in Nigerian Football. What is going on? How did things get this bad?’
He could not have put it better. He could also not have been more prophetic. Nigeria is at a tipping point. There is no place to hide any more and Nigeria must now confront the starkness of the reality that stares it in the face, that the country’s football is in serious trouble!
The big question is this: is this new era for better or for worse?
The New NFF Executive Committee
On the eve of the first Sudan-Nigeria match, a new Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation came into power, anchored to a process that some consider unjust, unfair and corrupt! The elements would surely take sides if there were indeed such tyranny and the angst of victims would just not evaporate and go away!
Everyone has since noted that the committee opened its scorecard on a losing note.A few days after that they also recorded a victory in the return match that saw the Super Eagles wobble to defeat Sudan.
Then a Volcano Erupted!
One day after that match, Stephen Keshi, the most successful indigenous coach in the history of Nigerian football, the man that took Nigeria to the World Cup, the man that was ‘begged’ by the President to return to the team when he resigned after winning the African Cup of Nations, was relieved of his position by the executive committee.
In his place, was introduced a temporary arrangement that has left many people bemused and confused. If this is indicative of what the ‘new’ era under the new Executive Committee portends then the country should brace up for shocks!
In the past ten years, Nigerian football had not known much peace. Since Nigeria’s failure to go to the 2006 World Cup and the exit of Ibrahim Galadima as President of the Nigeria Football Association, Nigerian football has been swimming in infested waters. Somehow, the gravity of the ailment in administration did not seem to affect the fortunes of the national football teams as they continued to win and provided essential life support for the impunity, mediocrity, injustice and corruption in the system!
Somehow, it is all now coming to a head. Nigerian football, captured in the quality of it’s senior national football team, the Super Eagles, has been in steep decline.Take the last match this week for example. In order to defeat Sudan, the NFF had to throw everything into the match.
They offered the team higher bonuses, returned the match to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and threw open the gates of the stadium to the public for free entry.The pressure to win became so high that it is hard to imagine how the team went through the 90 minutes of hell that the encounter against Sudan eventually became. On a normal day the Eagles would have had this very ordinary Sudanese team for light breakfast any time, any where in the world!
Nigeria may still qualify for the next African Cup of Nations even after playing some of the worst kind of football in the country’s recent football history. The team may also still continue to fumble and win matches on the African continent, but the reality stares all in the face that the country is still not good enough to compete at the highest levels, yet.
The country’s domestic league is not developing great football and, definitely, not breeding exceptional footballers. A cursory look at the quality of players in the present national team clearly reveals so. Nigeria is now reduced to searching for players in the unknown lower leagues of Asia and America. Even some of the most celebrated players amongst the Eagles now are minnows in the hierarchy of great artists of the game in the country’s history.
The new Executive Committee must look beyond sentiments, beyond romanticising with an unprofitable past, and repair their relationship with the injured members of the football family that will not wish them well or even support them should the need arise! They should not forget that Nigerian football is a musical game of chairs – it keeps going around in a state of constant change!