Big moment for Big Boss Keshi

Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi might well be humming a little ditty under his breath each time he meets his NFF paymasters.

It may well go something like the eighties English pop song sung by Boy George “I know you’ll miss me blind.”

Keshi is the man tasked with the impossible job in African football. Keeping 160 million people happy by putting Nigeria back on top, a place many think is almost a divine right.

The trouble is, in Nigeria even success can meet with the axe.

During his first stint on the coaching staff of the Super Eagles, Keshi had a brush with the sports authorities on the suspicion that he was encouraging indiscipline among national team players.
 
It was a problem that came to head at the 2002 African Cup of Nations tournament in Mali where players threatened not to file out for Nigeria's semi final match against Senegal until their World Cup qualifying bonus was paid.
 
Keshi was assistant to Shuabu Amodu and the duo had rescued a faltering World Cup qualification campaign and they came third in Mali behind Cameroon and Senegal, the two outstanding African teams of the time.

The perceived failure and unrest cost the duo their jobs.

Indeed, his subsequent jobs with the Togo and Mali teams have also been dogged by controversies.

For instance, despite qualifying the Togolese Hawks for the 2006 World Cup, Keshi, who earned the sobriquet 'Big Boss' for his leadership qualities as captain of the Super Eagles, was relieved of his duty as Head Coach after falling out with the Togo Football Federation.

Still when you’re known as Big Boss as Keshi was during his playing career you’re bound to have a reputation for doing things your way.

That’s what is happening now as the Big Boss is making headlines because he says he may leave his post after the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, even though he has backtracked from those comments.

“It doesn’t really matter what people think about what Stephen Keshi is doing. The most important thing is what I am doing here and passing on to my team. If back home in my country, they don’t appreciate what I am doing with the team, so be it,” Keshi explained.

It was widely reported that Keshi fell out with top officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) following the Super Eagles’ 1-1 draw against Burkina Faso in their opening game of the competition with the former national team captain threatening to walk out on the team.

Keshi also hinted in a thinly-veiled remark that there is no love lost with the NFF officials.

“You can’t force somebody to love you. You can’t force somebody to accept you. It has to come from within,” he stated.

“We are all professionals. If God grants me (the Afcon title with Nigeria today), the very next day, I might pack my things and leave for another country.

“It is the same thing with (Jose) Mourinho and all the other top coaches in the world. I could stay on and I could leave. It depends on the situation.

“I am a professional and we will see how it goes.

“This is where my heart is, I captained the Super Eagles for 14 years. I have been here as assistant coach. I am here for now but after the tournament, we will see if there is any (offer) out there,” he concluded.

Keshi is targeting becoming only the second man to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and coach.

The only previous coach to achieve the feat is Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary, who won the title in 1959 as a player and in 1998 as Pharaohs boss.

Keshi captained Nigeria to the title in 1994 and steered them to the final in South Africa with a 4-1 victory over Mali.

"It will be a great achievement. [But] I prefer to take it one game at a time, because no one gave us a chance to be here in the first place.

"Every professional wants to have his name written in gold and I would love that, but we must work hard at every step to achieve that.

"My players are playing for the country, not Stephen Keshi, but if they go one step [further] by fulfilling that record, then I will be very happy to be in such an exclusive club."

Keshi played in five Nations Cup tournaments with the Super Eagles and is now appearing at the tournament for the third time as a coach.

The best years of his playing career were spent in Belgium and France where he was one of the first Nigerian exports to really make a name for himself in Europe.

The ruthless determination to make it as a player has helped in this campaign.

Even the best local pundits did not believe Keshi, would get this far. He left names such as Osaze Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi, Danny Shittu, Obinna Nsofor and Taye Taiwo out.
 
He always had confidence in his selected Eagles.

“I have the frame of the team I want and I believe that the squad we have selected for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is good enough. What we need is chemistry. Once we have that, we’ll be okay going forward and all the way,” he said on the eve of the competition.

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