AS MUCH as he might hate to admit it, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick has resigned himself to the reality that he is now stuck with out-of-contract Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi, despite Keshi’s failure to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
In fact, Pinnick is presently preparing fresh documents to give Keshi a brand new contract which will be signed by both parties very soon. And that would be the end of the agitation by many Nigerians that the Big Boss should be fired. With a presidential directive to keep Keshi hanging over his head, Pinnick has little choice in the matter and he really has nothing to be ashamed of.
His castration by the president is a further blow on meritocracy which has been sent on exile from Nigeria for some time now. But as I have mentioned before in this column, Pinnick himself cannot complain too much because he is also a product of the same warped Nigerian system.
If Keshi would accept my counsel, my admonition would be for him to step aside. I would say to him, Big Boss, you have done very well, but now it’s time to go. But that is the last thing on Keshi’s mind at the moment. With President Goodluck Jonathan firmly on his side, Keshi is holding on firmly to his seat in defiance of any public opinion. Most coaches in his position would probably have quit by now. But Keshi has decided to follow in the footsteps of Vincente Del Bosque and Roy Hogson, the Spain and England coaches to the 2014 FIFA World Cup who sat tight in their jobs despite crashing out in the first round at last summer’s Mundial in Brazil.
The Big Boss is in good (or bad) company, depending on which side of the fence you belong.
I consider myself to be a Keshi supporter and the evidence since he was appointed is well documented. Each time he came under pressure from his irritated bosses at the NFF and an equally irritated section of the media, this column consistently jumped to his defence with the argument that he had the results to show for his stewardship, regardless of his controversial team selections and questionable technical competence.
Within two years of taking over in November 2012, Keshi won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) for Nigeria for the first time in 19 years, qualified the home-based Eagles for the African Nations Championships (CHAN) for the first time ever, and took us to the second round of the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 16 years. I was convinced that I had good reason to defend Keshi all this while and the results he subsequently obtained justified my conviction. Fair-minded and appreciative Nigerians also responded by showering him with encomiums and rewards. He was everybody’s darling.
Last week in Uyo, however, Keshi failed to deliver the result that mattered in our last 2015 AFCON qualifier against South Africa. After a patchy, topsy-turvy campaign that included two undignifying defeats in a weak qualifying group that also featured Congo and Sudan a win of any kind would have sufficed for Nigeria against the already qualified South Africans who even had a man sent off with half an hour to go. But the Eagles could only struggle to a 2-2 draw after going 2-0 down and were knocked out of the 2015 race. Clearly, it was the darkest day for Nigerian football in 2014. After raising our hopes very high with a surprising 2-0 victory away to Congo in Point Noire in their penultimate game, Keshi and his boys brought us crashing down when we least expected.
Football is about results and a coach is as good as his last result, goes the popular saying. I had defended Keshi’s methods up till now because, despite his apparent deficiencies, he delivered the results anyway. But that is no longer the case now.
Keshi met the Super Eagles practically on the floor, the team having failed to qualify for AFCON 2012. He took them to the very top by winning AFCON 2013. Now, he has returned them to the floor by failing to qualify for AFCON 2015.
For a country of Nigeria’s status in football, qualifying for AFCON should be a minimum, irreducible requirement for a coach to retain his job. But Keshi looks set to defy the odds because of the peculiar circumstance of his reinstatement. Pity.
Is Keshi Still A Hero?
“Mr. Alao, is Stephen Keshi still a hero?” That was one of several questions that I was bombarded with at a forum in Ibadan, Oyo State over the weekend. My select audience knew very well about my support for Keshi and one of them took me up on my recent article describing Keshi as a hero even after his appointment was terminated by the NFF before President Goodluck Jonathan ordered his reinstatement.
Here is a paraphrase of my response to the questioner in Ibadan: “You win some and you lose some in football, so Keshi’s failure to qualify for the 2015 AFCON should not cost him his heroic status in Nigerian football because his records of achievements as a player, captain and coach far outweigh his recent failure. But Nigerians now know that he is surviving as Eagles coach not based on the merit of his achievements, but because the president of the country imposed him on the NFF.
“It would have been fine if he had qualified for the Nations Cup because then, people would say the president’s intervention, though absurd, had been justified. But now that he didn’t qualify, hanging on to the job under the president’s protection will affect his status in the long run because he can’t be Eagles coach for ever anyway.
“The decision that Keshi takes on this matter now will determine whether he will remain a hero with Nigerians or become a villain. My opinion is that he should step down now and preserve his dignity. He can still make a comeback as a hero in the future if he doesn’t turn himself into a villain now.”
Who will tell the President?
IN A SANE world without sycophants, someone would have been telling President Goodluck Jonathan that his reinstatement of Keshi as Eagles coach has backfired and that he should now vacate his directive so that the NFF can decide freely on a new way forward for the Super Eagles.
If Keshi accepts counsel, he should be the first to make the move through his highly-placed contacts that got him the president’s intervention in the first place. He should thank the president for believing in him, but “plead” that his position is now untenable because he failed to qualify for the AFCON. He should tell the president that he is making “a personal sacrifice” of stepping down for the good of Nigerian football. But stepping down is an alien concept in the Nigerian polity and you can be sure that Keshi will not be stepping down anytime soon.
If Keshi doesn’t make the move, the man who should act next is minister of sport, Tammy Danagogo. As a federal minister, Danagogo should have the ears of the president on matters like this, but recent events do not uphold this assumption. For example, Danagogo ultimately couldn’t influence the outcome of the last NFF elections despite his attempts to do so.
Subsequently, he was not consulted before the new NFF terminated Keshi’s appointment. He also was not consulted when Keshi got his own contacts to get the president to reinstate him. Danagogo was equally helpless when state security officials stopped NFF president Amaju Pinnick from travelling with him to Equatorial Guinea for the final of the African Women’s Championships. I doubt seriously if Danagogo can summon the courage to tell Mr. President to reverse himself even if he (Danagogo) believes that Keshi should go. He can’t do it.
If Danagogo can’t, the next man in line should be Pinnick, but he dare not lest he gets himself sacked instead by the president! After the disappointment in Uyo, Pinnick and his executive committee members quickly made a press release “accepting responsibility” for the Eagles ouster! Observers believe Pinnick claimed responsibility so that he is not perceived by Aso Rock to be blaming the AFCON ouster on the president’s decision to reinstate Keshi.
Finally, the last man that should reverse President Jonathan’s decision on Keshi is the president himself. Sadly, too, recent events do not raise any hope that this will happen. Even when many Nigerian youths died during a recruitment exercise by the Nigerian Immigration Service not too long ago, the president refused to act and the minister in charge is still in office today. Keshi has not even killed anybody! He only failed to qualify for AFCON, so why should the president remove him?
Take notice that I have not mentioned the media and the general public as possible power blocks capable of exerting pressure on the president in the Keshi matter. In Nigeria, media and public opinion count for nothing!
What Next for Super Eagles?
“WHAT next for the Super Eagles?” Honestly, at the moment, I don’t know. We will have to wait for Keshi’s issue to be resolved because a ship cannot sail without its captain. Luckily for us, there are no immediate assignments in the horizon, no AFCON and no World Cup qualifiers. We should have enough time to sort things out, but do we? We can take our time, but we mustn’t waste time.
In the meantime, a quick reflection will reveal that Nigerian football has definitely retrogressed. During the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, the Eagles were regular semi-finalists and finalists at the Nations Cup. In the early 2000s, they were regularly bronze medal winners. During the last 10 years, they have struggled to reach the quarter-final stage on occasions. Now, in TWO OF THE LAST THREE TOURNAMENTS, they have completely failed to qualify.
With the benefit of hindsight, the 2013 triumph is now looking like a lucky accident, a mere flash in the pan. If we delete it from the graph, we are confronted by a consistent decline in performance….and results!
I have taken some time to analyze the situation. My conclusion is that Nigeria’s style of play, if we can describe it as one, has lost its effectiveness. Power and pace has been the fulcrum of our tactics. We have won the odd matches here and there because of the tremendous speed and strength of our individual players. But, as a football team, the rest of Africa is leaving the Eagles behind.
I request the technical department of the NFF to ask for the recordings of all the matches the Eagles have played on the African continent in the last 10 years or so, and see how many of those matches, irrespective of the result, that we dominated in the area of ball possession.
During the past decade, Nigeria have repeatedly been out-played by the likes of Guinea, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Malawi, Congo and South Africa. In many of those games, I noticed that these modest African teams controlled and moved the ball better, made runs into space, exchanged passes better and did all the simple things better.
In those games, we often managed to win because an Emmanuel Emenike fired an unstoppable shot against the run of play, an Obinna Nsofor blasted home a free kick, a Victor Moses scored a penalty or an Ahmed Musa simply ran his marker aground. When it came to deliberately and creatively working out a goal like the one Osaze Odemwingie scored against Bosnia Herzegovina at Brazil 2014 after combining with Emenike, it is very rare in the Eagles collection.
Against South Africa last week in Uyo, it was the legendary lack of creativity that finally nailed the Eagles’ coffin. As usual, Nigeria tried to over-power the visitors physically, but the Bafana boys played smart and solid to neutralize our physicality. Even when playing against 10 mostly home-based players from the South African league for nearly half an hour, Nigeria’s 11 foreign-based professionals couldn’t calm themselves and methodically exploit the spaces being left by the progressively tiring opposing defenders. Instead, our so-called pros kept launching long balls into the Bafana area, kept playing high corner kicks into the hands of the tall Bafana goalkeeper and kept exerting sheer brawn all over the pitch when smart brains could have done the job.
While the speedy Ahmed Musa frittered away three glorious chances for Nigeria in the opening period, Bafana’s equally fast but more technically sound Tokelo Rantie was a study in composure as he beat Vincent Enyeama twice from close range. Remarkably, it was such composure, rather than power, than eventually got Nigeria’s two late equalizing goals from the boots of Sone Aluko.
Going forward, the Super Eagles need a manager who can harness the undoubted talents of our players into a formidable team force. Keshi succeeded to an extent in building a tightly-knit defence line until recently when they started conceding goals carelessly. But he never really succeeded with the creative midfield and forward lines and that is why he has fallen short.
Keshi’s “China Product”
MY FINAL word today is on Stephen Keshi’s controversial invitee to the Eagles, Aaron Samuel. Nicknamed “China Product” by Complete Sport’s David Meshioye who interviewed him first, Samuel’s selection was fiercely criticized in many quarters because he only played in the Chinese league. But he proved that it didn’t matter where you played when he scored crucial goals against Sudan in Abuja and against Congo in Point Noire.
I was particularly elated by his last minute goal in Point Noire which gave Nigeria a 2-0 win and momentarily put us back in contention for the AFCON ticket (I actually lost my voice shouting “China Product, China Product!!”). It says a lot for Samuel’s impact that Keshi was again criticized for not starting the player or introducing him on time against South Africa last week.
The big question now is, will this particular China Product last? I hope so.
NIGERIA COACHES AT THE ANC
1976 – Father Tiko (Yugoslavia) – 3rd position
1978 – Father Tiko (Yugoslavia) – 3rd position
1980 – Otto Gloria (Brazil) – 1st position
1982 – Otto Gloria (Brazil) -1st Round
1984 – Adegboye Onigbinde (Nigeria) 2nd position
1986 – Patrick EKEJI (Nigeria) Did not qualify
1988 – Manfred Hoener )Germany) 2nd position
1990 – Clemens Westerhof (Holland) 2nd position
1992 – Clemens Westerhof (Holland) 3rd position
1994 – Clemens Westerhof (Holland) 1st position
1996 – Jo Bonfrere (Holland) Withdrew
1998 – Philliper Troussier (France) Suspended
2000 – Jo Bonfrere (Holland) 2nd position
2002 – Shaibu Amodu (Nigeria) 3rd position
2004 – Christian Chukwu (Nigeria) 3rd position
2006 – Augustine Eguaveon (Nigeria) 3rd position
2008 – Berti Vogts (Germany) Quarter-Final
2010 – Shaibu Amodu (Nigeria) 3rd position
2012 – Samson Siasia (Nigeria) Did not qualify
2013 – Stephen Keshi (Nigeria) 1st Position
2014 – Stephen Keshi (Nigeria) Did not qualify