KESHI: CAN EAGLES SOAR WITH BIG BOSS?
• Stephen Keshi
At last, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi has been handed the opportunity he had long dreamt of, to coach the Super Eagles of Nigeria, more than 16 years after he captained the national team to lift the Nations Cup at Tunisia'94 and also led the Nigerian team to its first World Cup appearance same year.
Many had tipped the former Super Eagles' captain, popularly known as the Big Boss, to succeed Dutchman Clemence Westerhof as Nigeria's coach. Even the Dutch tactician himself predicted that Keshi had the qualities to succeed him as Nigeria's coach giving his phenomenal influence as captain of the Super Eagles. But Keshi had to wait since then till Wednesday, November 2, 2011 to actualise that ultimate ambition of his.
What is, however, agitating the minds of most soccer-loving Nigerians, particularly, those that have followed Keshi's career both as a player and as a coach, is whether the Super Eagles would fly under the Delta State-born ex-international.
An ex-international, who would not want his name in prints, recalled that it was Keshi that introduced mafia syndrome in the national team.
'I have my fears that Keshi may not succeed as Super Eagles' coach. He believes in the divide and rule principle of leadership. Don't forget that he was the one that introduced mafia syndrome in the national team. That was how he earned the nickname, Big Boss,' he recalled.
Already, many people have expressed doubts as to whether the former New Nigeria Bank (NNB) FC of Benin would not repeat the same mistakes Coach Samson Siasia made as handler of the senior national team. Although his record of qualifying tiny Togo for the 2006 World Cup in Germany remains legendary, Keshi's ability to manage players has been a major source of worry to many observers and football analysts.
'I have a great deal of respect for Keshi, particularly, for leading Togo to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but my fear is that he lacks the ability to manage his players,' Kaduna United's Belgian tactician, Maurice Cooreman, noted.
Cooreman cited Keshi's celebrated row with Togo's inspirational captain, Emmanuel Adebayor, which led to the latter's suspension from the national team during the first tenure of the former as coach of Togo. It was widely alleged that both parties fell apart because Adebayor refused Keshi's move to become his manager.
Keshi, also, had similar experience with Sevilla of Spain forward and former African Footballer of the Year, Fredrick Kanoute, while he was coaching the Eagles of Mali.
A coach that would confine his best player to the bench in a crucial game when the said player was not injured or serving match suspension due to card offence, certainly, has a man-managing deficiency. A mature coach should know when and where to draw the line between personal ego and professionalism.
For ex-international, Jonathan Akpoborie, Keshi might not fair better than Siasia, not necessarily because he is not qualified as a coach, but for the simple reason that the job of rebuilding the Super Eagles would be too enormous for the Big Boss or any indigenous coach for that matter.
'When you talk about qualification for the Super Eagles' job, both Keshi and Siasia are qualified. But sentiments apart, none of them is capable of handling the star-studded Nigerian team considering the pressure on the job,' Akpoborie affirmed.
He noted that each time a Nigerian is employed to manage the Eagles, the coach always fumbled, leaving the team worse than he met it. He stated that the job of rebuilding Eagles after Nigeria's poor outing at the last World Cup in South Africa has remained a huge one, hence the need to hire an experienced foreign coach, who would command the respect of the players.
However, two of Keshi's contemporaries at both club and national teams, Henry Nwosu and Bright Omokaro, believe that the newly appointed Super Eagles' coach has what it takes, not only to command the respect of the players, but also to reposition the senior national team for better results.
But for former Green Eagles' prolific left-winger, Felix Owolabi, popularly known as Owoblow, commanding the respect of the players would not be enough. What the Nigerian team needs, according to the former Shooting Stars quick-footed attacker, would not just be a coach, but a tactician, who would compliment the physical strength and individual brilliance of the players, especially when competitions get to crucial stages.
Many believe that Mali had the best squad to the last Nations Cup in Angola. With players that feature regularly in top European sides such as Barcelona of Spain, Juventus of Italy, Olympic Marseilles of France and Sevilla of Spain to mention but a few, the Mali Eagles were expected to soar under Keshi, but the team failed to impress. It would be recalled that Keshi had guided the Malian team to the Nations Cup in Ghana, meaning that he had worked with the team for two years ahead of last year's Nations Cup in Angola, hence his team was tipped to win the tournament.
Interestingly, the Big Boss has promised to turn the Super Eagles into a fighting side, stressing that every Nigerian player would be given a fair chance to prove his mettle in the national team whether he plies his trade in the domestic league or abroad.
Nigerians want to see their darling team soar again after series of disappointments and failed dreams. Will the Big Boss deliver? Only time will tell.