Thursday Jun 09, 2016. 10:30
Shortly after his first game in charge as chief coach of the Super Eagles in 2011, Stephen Keshi reckoned he wanted to build a solid team that would qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, following Nigeria’s failure to make the 2012 edition under Samson Siasia.
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He said: “The aim is to build a solid team that will qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and also the 2014 World Cup, but we have to take it one step at a time.”
He did not just meet both targets, he went on to win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations – Nigeria’s first after a 19-year hiatus.
When he was named as Siasia’s replacement, not many expected a lot, given that the Super Eagles were on an all-time low.
It is also pertinent to note that Nigeria had appeared at every Africa Cup of Nations tournament (except in 1996 and ’98) since winning it for the second time in Tunisia in 1994, but the best they achieved was a second-place finish.
The most telling aspect of that triumph was the fact that he went to that tournament with mostly players with very little or no international experience. In fact, 16 of the 23 players he took to South Africa were only playing at their first international competition for the Super Eagles.
He began with a team with virtual unknowns dominated by home-based players and with expectations at an all-time low, he got Nigeria a ticket to the Africa Cup of Nations.
The road to victory in South Africa was far from smooth, as there were reports of disagreements between the ‘Big Boss’ and his employers, the NFF, following Nigeria’s slow start to the competition.
It was also reported that the NFF had even booked return flight tickets home for the team when they qualified to the quarter-final and were set to face the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. But that was just the beginning of what would eventually turn out to be triumphant outing.
After winning Nigeria’s third Africa Cup of Nations, he became only the second person to win the competition both as a player and as a coach after Egypt’s Mohamed El-Gohary, but he became the first Nigerian coach to win the tournament with the Super Eagles.
The subsequent qualification to the 2014 World Cup and a Round of 16 finish made him the most successful Nigerian coach and arguably the best coach the country has ever had.
While Clemens Westerhof is widely regarded as the country’s most successful coach, having won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and also leading the Super Eagles to a first-ever World Cup appearance in the same year, but it took him the whole of five years to achieve those feats.
The Dutchman was employed in 1989 and his first real successes only came five years later, in 1994.
But Keshi achieved all of that in less than three years in charge, despite not having as much support as Westerhof had.
And no matter what is said or what is written, and until somebody else comes on the scene and does better, the ‘Big Boss’ continues to boss the other Nigerian coaches in terms of achievements…even in death.
Born January 23 1962
1979 – ACB Lagos
1980 – 1984 – New Nigeria Bank
1985 - Stade Abidjan (Ivory Coast)
1986 –Lokeren (Belgium)
1987 – 1991 - Anderlecht (Belgium)
1991 -1993 – RC Strasbourg (France)
1993 -1994 – RWDM
1996 – Sacramento Scorpions (USA)
1997-1998 – Perils FA (Malaysia)
2004-2006 – Togo
2007-2008 – Togo
2008-2010 – Mali
2011 – Togo
2011-2015 - Nigeria
Won 1994 Africa Cup of Nations as player and the 2013 edition as coach
Qualified Togo to the 2006 World Cup, Nigeria to the 2014 World Cup
By Chris Oguguo