By Nnamdi Ezekute:
Nigeria's Late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi and the USA's Late Muhammad Ali scorched a red trails in their respective sport, left some resounding legacies behind and bowed to the cold hands of death at the same period. And their departure has thrown the sports fraternity the world over into a grievous mourning while reliving their heroics.
Trusting that you will understand my comparison that Football's Stephen Keshi and Boxing's Muhammad Ali were both heroes in their own right – the two of a kind who somewhat emancipated their own people and pleased the world with their respective talents.
However, both Ali and Keshi are worlds apart, considering the fact that they accomplished different goals in their respective lifetime, in different environments and circumstances. While Ali died at 74 after struggling with slow killer, Parkinson's disease for 32 years, Keshi died 20 years younger at 54, of Cardiac Sudden Death (CSD). Ali snuffed it after attaining the age of retirement with a long list of accomplishments in and out of the boxing ring. Conversely, Keshi can be said to have left too early, with only a half of his potential accomplished on earth. That is death for us, it's never predictable. It can pluck anyone from the planet earth in a flash, it can also 'delete' one slowly.
May their souls rest peacefully in God's bosom. That's the best the world will wish and pray for these two departed heroes after their eventful, but challenges-laden lifetimes while winning football and boxing laurels that impacted well on individuals and their respective nation's well-being.
I'm speaking my own mind through my MoreGoals blog (Completesportsnigeria.com). I'm agitated even as I pay this heart-felt tribute to the late Keshi and Ali. So, I will say it my own way. If you're equally agitated, agree or disagree with my views in this piece, you can have your own say right here. Just use the 'Leave A Reply' field at the base of this piece and post your own reaction.
I will make brief references to the Muhammad Ali legacies and Keshi's achievements. Keshi's exit too, unceremoniously, from the Nigeria job. Somewhat portend of things yet to come the way of the country's football.
Believing that it was his God-appointed time to pass away, I wish Stephen Keshi had received his deserved full respect from his countrymen before he died just as the United States revered their former four-time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Muhammed Ali. I wish that the Big Boss had retained his Super Eagles job and then died on it, rather than being hounded out of it, as it were, on account of his shortcomings – the same things that didn't matter when he played football and managed football to win laurels for Nigeria.
As expected, a flurry of sweetly-worded tributes have been pouring in for the late Stephen Keshi from all quarters, including the camps of the haters who never recognised nor treated him as a Nigerian hero while he lived, fought for Nigerian football and left great legacies behind which everyone is talking about today.
Enough of these hypocritical nonsense. They have been awash in the news, in the wake of Keshi's departure – so much so that they easily caught the attention of the discerning public, and also making a hot talking point on the social media. Ace comedian, Alibaba, quickly put jokes aside and tweeted via his Twitter handle, @ALIBABAGCFR: "Most of people who asked for Stephen Keshi to be fired as Eagles coach, are now paying glowing tributes to him. He had to die to be valued!"
It's not in dispute that Keshi truly had the love of a large number of Nigerian fans. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of any love and support from the football authorities, hence his very stressful three-year stint as the Super Eagles coach. And 'he had to die to be valued'. Alibaba was just spot-on about the exit of the Big Boss in untoward circumstances.
We know all the excuses about Keshi being stubborn and arrogant which the authorities who were supposed to support the coach adduced when they hounded him out. Who doesn't have shortcomings? Even the life and times of Muhammad Ali have lessons to teach Nigerian football here.
Ali was a braggart – a very stubborn swaggerer. And he admitted it. Ali said of himself: "It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.’’ The Americans didn't hate him eternally for that. However, he fought haters and won enough admirers back with his noble deeds.
Even when Ali adamantly dared the United States government and refused to serve in their Army, the US Supreme Court ruled in his favour on that knotty draft evasion case and set him free. And he spent the rest of his life overgrowing his difficult nature and fighting for just causes even outside the boxing ring.
Muhammad Ali boastfully proclaimed: “I’m the greatest thing that ever lived! I’m the king of the world! I’m a bad man. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”
The nickname 'The Greatest' instantly stuck for the flamboyant pugilist from that controversial quote.
However, United Nations' Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon's official tribute to the late Ali is bound to settle any argument disputing his 'The Greatest' claim. Ki-moon said of the departed UN's Messenger of Peace: “Mr. Ali was far more than a legendary boxer; he was a world champion for equality and peace. With an incomparable combination of principle, charm, wit and grace, he fought for a better world and used his platform to help lift up humanity.”
On the other hand, Stephen Keshi was a national and continental champion – a true Nigerian and an African legend which his standout achievements in football conferred on him.
Keshi's legacies are well known and entrenched in the history books. Even in his death, they will continue to live in the hearts of the football-loving Nigerians.
For a recap; Keshi pioneered the Nigerian footballers' sojourn abroad when he joined Stade d'Abidjan in 1985, and subsequently influenced the switch of some Nigerian and African players to abroad; second African (first Nigerian) to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player (1984) and as a coach (2013); first African to have coached two Nations to qualify for FIFA World Cup (Togo for Germany 2006, and Nigeria for Brazil 2014).
Sadly, Keshi didn't die a very happy man because of his bitter experiences during his last service to his fatherland. He believed he was hounded out of the Super Eagles job.
On Brila FM, different versions of Keshi's recorded voice were replayed to listeners on Wednesday morning (July 8) after his family confirmed his death. The one that rankled me most was a melancholic Big Boss' voice decrying the Nigeria Football Federation's desperation to hire a foreign coach to replace him.
Obviously disconsolate, Keshi sarcastically urged the Federation to go ahead and hire not only a foreign coach for the Super Eagles, but also foreign players to make such a switch complete.
Is the current NFF board under Amaju Pinnick still scouting for a foreign coach? I hear they're still on it, to finally and substantively replace Keshi's successor, Sunday Oliseh.
The suitability or otherwise of a foreign coach for the Super Eagles in the present dispensation is a knotty issue. It shall be my MoreGoals discourse for another day. I won't let it ruin my heart-felt tribute now to the legendary Stephen Keshi and Muhammad Ali.
Before I go, here is another famous Ali quote I personally perceived as having been crafted and kept to inspire the current NFF board in taking their final decision as it concerns the next Super Eagles coach.
"A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." — keshi's transition mate, Muhammad Ali.
Think NFF, think! Has the world changed around the Super Eagles since some foreign coaches took turns to coach Nigeria in the post Clemens Westerhof/ Jo Bonfrere eras?
Finally, Keshi has gone forever and the next plausible thing the Federal Government and other authorities should do is immortalise him. We have read tributes by President Buhari, the Sports Minister, the NFF. They were all awesome. They shouldn't end as mere lip service. Immortalise Keshi befittingly, posthumously now.
Like Alibaba suggested, Keshi has died to be valued. He didn't enjoy such immortalisation while alive, like Adokiye Amiesimaka, who lives to glory in the emergence and splendour of Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium Port Harcourt.
To appease the the spirit of the late Keshi, the NFF should consider actualising the causes he fought for. For instance, putting a stop to the lure for foreign coach. For Keshi, the NFF should support Nigerian born coaches who have the prerequisite credentials to handle the Super Eagles well, and take Nigeria to bigger accomplishments in both the African and world football. That's one big cause Keshi stood for before his demise.
RIP Keshi, RIP Ali.