Stephen Keshi was sacked from his role as Nigeria coach on Thursday, bringing an end to his three year reign despite his side’s 3-1 win over Sudan a few hours before. In his place, Amodu Shaibu, a former national team trainer, has been handed the job of leading the Super Eagles to their remaining 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers next month before a replacement is found. Keshi was told to go after the African champions could only muster four points from four matches in the qualifiers, thereby putting in jeopardy the nation’s quest to defend the title won last year in South Africa.
The 52-year-old, who also took Nigeria to the second round of the World Cup in Brazil, was kicked out alongside his assistants Daniel Amokachi and Ike Shorunmu. One of the factors that led to the sack of Keshi was his desire to exert his authority as the head coach of the Eagles without due recourse to other peoples’ opinion. It was the sole factor former coach Samson Siasia failed as boss when he considered himself to be above the board and thus took decisions unilaterally without consideration. It was on this premise that Siasia was asked to go and that a more humane manager would be found. The one that would know how to manage the ego of his players without necessarily clashing with them.
Keshi was the supposed messiah and he started work as such when he invited almost all the Eagles’ players to the national team in order to measure how good they were and judge who would fit-in with his strategy. Nigerians praised this bold move and he even endeared himself more to those that gave him the job when he said he would raise a formidable home-based team and that these players would fight for shirts on level terms with those abroad. He later digressed and, just like those before him, the foreign-based players had their ways into his heart while leaving the domestic ones in the lurch. There were also concerns in the NFF that Keshi would not listen to advice from the technical committee on who to call up and what tactics to play since he won the Afcon in South Africa. This was only going to end one way for the coach.
Another sin of Keshi was handing call ups to players that were of no relevance to the national team. His sticking to these players proved to be a worthy venture in some cases, but this ensured there was a lack of competition for places in the team. Keshi picked avoidable quarrels with some of his best performers and called up those that were not up to scratch as their replacements. This ensured that he kept fielding Emmanuel Emenike, who last scored for Nigeria in October 2013, while ignoring more in-form strikers like Ikechukwu Uche and Obafemi Martins ahead of the World Cup. There were also questionable call ups for Shola Ameobi, Reuben Gabriel and Michael Uchebo going to the World Cup.
Former Super Eagles player Garba Lawal recently made this known succinctly in an interview with Goal: “Keshi has allowed sentiments to becloud his judgment and because of this he should be allowed to go. The Eagles deserve their best legs but it would be difficult for the Big Boss to offer this with the way he is handling the team presently.” Public anger against Keshi reached unprecedented heights after Saturday’s defeat in Khartoum to Sudan. Fans saw a team that lacked the zeal to win and took it out on the coaching crew that was seen as lacking in technical depth. When the team returned from Sudan, they were booed at the Abuja airport and almost attacked physically but for security agents.
There were also protests by fans at the stadium on Tuesday, with many carrying placards asking “Keshi Out”. The NFF saw this as their coup de grace to finally edge out the coach who had fallen out of favour in many circles. It was obvious that the NFF was not interested in keeping Keshi on the job after the World Cup, as they held off renewing his contract which expired in June. And his sack was only delayed due to the internal problems within the federation which ensured that a new board was not in place until the end of September. It was the first big task for the new board led by Amaju Pinnick, who is publicly not a fan of Keshi. Hence, Thursday’s sack was long in coming. The main backers of Keshi could no longer keep him safe and he had to go.
Keshi led the Eagles to the Afcon title in 2013 in South Africa and he was in charge of the team for the 2013 Confederation Cup and the 2014 World Cup both in Brazil. He also supervised the Eagles to a bronze medal in their maiden appearance in the 2014 African Nations Championship. It was a competition meant for players who ply their trade in their domestic leagues. He led the CHAN Eagles to qualify for the competition also after the country had failed to pick a ticket for the past two editions. The 52-year-old also secured the Eagles’ first victory at the World Cup since France 1998 and it was during his reign that Nigeria secured a place in the second round of the 2014 World Cup.
The NFF has taken the best decision possible based on the prevalent situation to ask Keshi and his assistants to go while giving room to another set with different sense of approach to tinker the team for the next two matches. Nigerians won’t forgive the present board of the NFF if the Eagles are unable to defend the trophy won last year at Morocco 2015 and all efforts must be geared towards ensuring that Nigeria defeat Congo in Brazzaville and also beat South Africa comfortably in Uyo next month to ensure that a ticket to Morocco is assured.