Keshi: A patriot exit the sporting stage at his prime

By Olaolu Oladipo, Lagos

Stephen Kesh3iThe nation woke up to the news of the passing on to glory of one of its mercurial sons, Mr. Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. All across the Nigerian space, the atmosphere of mourning is very palpable with torrents of tributes to his memory.

Arguably one of the most successful Nigerian footballers to have ever played the round leather game, his death will naturally evoke some form of passion and sadness. Though cut away in his prime at the age of 54, he nonetheless made his impact in Nigeria’s sporting sector.

Though Kesh was born on the 23 of January 1962 in Azare in Bauchi State to Ika (Igbo speaking) parents from the present day Delta State, Keshi knew quite early in life that his divine call was in football and he utilised his God giving talents to bring joy to the homes of his compatriots.

Keshi parents soon moved to Lagos and their little son became enrolled at the prestigious St. Finbarrs College in Akoka. It is to the credit of the school that several of the nation’s football talents were moulded and nurtured there.

As a student of the school, Keshi’s reputation went ahead of him when he was the captain of the school’s team. During the 1980s, Keshi led the team to series of victories when the team campaigned for the Principals’ Cup.

His prowess soon earned him a place in the national team, then Green Eagles and was a member of the team that campaigned for the 1984 edition of the African Cup of Nations staged in the Ivory Coast. His impact was little but the team made its way to the final of the competition losing the trophy to the Camerouns.

Stephen Keshi2With a place in the national team, Keshi soon became the toast of the various football clubs in the national league but he signed for the New Nigeria Bank football Club of Benin. While there, Keshi alongside football greats such Henry Nwosu, Humphrey          Edobor, and others formed a formidable team that won virtually all the major football competitions in the country.

It must be stated that he first played for the now disbanded ACB Football Club of Lagos before moving to the Invory Coast to play for Stade d’Abidjan and later Africa Sports.

When the dust raised by his departure to the West African nation refused to subside, he left for Europe, where he played at various times for FC Lokeren, Anderlecht, RC Strasbourg and RWDM before moving to the United States, where he represented CCV Hydra and Sacramento Scorpions.

Upon his retirement, Keshi coached the Togolese national football team between 2004 and 2006. To everyone’s surprise won a FIFA World Cup ticket to their first and only tournament in Germany 2006.

He was replaced by a German coach Otto Pfister shortly before the World Cup finals. His sack came after Togo showed a dismal performance and failed to advance to the knock-out stage in 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Keshi was recalled by the Togolese FA on February 2007 but the new romance ended before it actually started.

He was appointed manager of the Mali national football team in April 2008 on a two-year deal. Keshi was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Keshi became coach of the Nigerian National Team in 2011.He led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. He was one of only two people, along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach.

The following day Keshi handed in his resignation, only to reverse his decision the day after. Keshi led Nigeria to the 2013 Confederations Cup, defeated Tahiti 6–1, and lost 1–2 to Uruguay in the second game, and also lost 0–3 to World Cup winners, Spain in their final group game.

On 16 November 2013, Keshi’s Nigeria secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup by beating Ethiopia 4–1 on aggregate in a play-off.

On 18 November 2013, Stephen keshi set a record in African football by being the first African coach to successfully qualify two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) to the World Cup Finals. He also helped Nigeria become the first country to achieve an African Cup of Nations trophy and World Cup qualification, both in 2013.

On 30 June 2014, the Super Eagles lost to France in a 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match. After the match, Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach but later reversed the decision after the Nigerian Football Federation renewed his contract.

In July 2015, following Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup, Keshi’s contract with the Nigerian Football Federation expired and was not renewed.

A statement by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Executive Committee said the decision was made, having thoroughly reviewed the reports/findings of the NFF Disciplinary Committee and NFF Technical and Development Committee, as well as having reviewed the actions and inaction of Stephen Keshi, in the performance of his duties as Super Eagles’ Head Coach, which NFF found to lack the required commitment to achieve the Federation’s objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract.

Keshi was married to his wife late Kate (née Abureme) for 33 years. She died on 10 December 2015, after battling cancer for three years. They had four children. Keshi died today  in Benin City, after suffering from a cardiac arrest. He was 54.

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