Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
The stock of coach Stephen Keshi, centre, would have risen considerably after he guided Nigeria to the Cup of Nations semi-finals. Armando Franca / AP Photo
The stock of coach Stephen Keshi, centre, would have risen considerably after he guided Nigeria to the Cup of Nations semi-finals. Armando Franca / AP Photo

African Cup of Nations: Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi continues to fly high

The Super Eagles coach is proving to be as competitive as he was as Nigeria player and captain, writes Ian Hawkey.

Stephen Keshi, the Nigeria coach, arrived at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium in a playful mood.

Nigeria is the continent's most populous nation, but Keshi's young squad would be the first Super Eagles side in 13 years to reach an African Cup of Nations final, and just before he put them through final practice drills, he indulged journalists a little speculation on his future.

Keshi was asked if he would still be in charge of Nigeria if the team failed to win tomorrow or in the final on Sunday in Soweto. "I could stay," he said, "or I could leave. We'll see. Nigeria is where my heart is, but if there's anyone out there, they should know this coach is ready."

Just to make sure everybody understood the hint that Keshi will listen to alternative job offers, he repeated his last comment in French, in which he is fluent.

Keshi knows his stock has risen as a strategist, man manager and tactician in the course of this African Cup. He also knows the tenure of coaches in Africa tends to be short.

Those who touch success do, however, tend to be employed again somewhere else in Africa. Keshi, who has coached Togo and Mali at African Cups in the past, knows that from personal experience.

What he also knows is that on the managerial circuit of Africa specialists, he is rare for being an African coach who is regularly headhunted.

Keshi has firm views on the tendency among African federations and clubs to prefer foreign managers, mostly from Europe. If he and Ghana's Kwesi Appiah win through to the final, it would be the first time in 15 years that two African managers would be on the touchline for an African Cup championship match.

When asked if such a development would show a growing respect for native expertise, he gave a blunt response.

"I am not against white coaches in Africa," he said. "What I am against is African teams employing mediocre coaches from Europe, 'carpenter' coaches, while we have quality African former players, who can do the same thing, but they don't give them the opportunity because they're just black dudes."

It does not take much to prise out the uncompromising Keshi. As a player he was a muscular, intelligent central defender.

As a captain of the Super Eagles - he wore the armband when they last won an African Cup, in 1994 - he was renowned as tough, and a resourceful negotiator off the field. He knew how to intimidate, too.

One former South Africa player tells a story about the preambles to a World Cup qualifying match in Nigeria, when Keshi encountered one of the South Africans, a diminutive striker named Bennett Masinga, in the lift of a Lagos hotel. "Hey," growled Keshi, with a studied put-down. "Are you one of the ballboys?" Later, Nigeria walloped their opponents 4-0.

Even then, Keshi was nicknamed "Big Boss". As a manager, he would soon show a combative streak.

When in charge of Togo, he had a very public, physical fight with the star player Emmanuel Adebayor after dropping Adebayor at the 2006 African Cup, where Togo eliminated at the group phase.

He left the Togo post soon afterwards, having surprisingly guided them to a place at a World Cup, a brief adventure they fulfilled without him at the helm. His stint with Mali lasted two years, and he is keen to remind his former charges that his familiarity with their football may be helpful.

"I know 85 per cent of their team very well," Keshi said, "and, after the game, I will be asking them how they and their families are.

"But until then, much as I love Mali the country - and it is a great football country - I will be a professional." A professional who with Mali achieved only a group-phase finish at the 2010 African Cup. The country have made it to two semi-finals since.

But Keshi now has broken his own glass ceiling as an African Cup manager. Beating Ivory Coast, as Nigeria did in the quarter-finals, is a feather in his cap, a vindication of some scrutinised decisions he made last month in selecting his personnel.

He opted for youth at the expense of experience in many cases. So far, it has paid off and he is happily playing the ambassador for all the "dudes" who want to show Africans can make good coaches as well as fine players.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Al Rayyan's Yakubu Ayegbeni, left, tries to escape the attention of Jazira's Khamis Ismail. Karim Jaafar / AFP Photo

Late strike puts Al Jazira on verge of qualifying for the last 16 of Asian Champions League

All to play for across East Asia during final round of group phase.

 Manchester City's Vincent Kompany reacts after being sent off by referee Lee Mason during their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, northern England March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Man City’s Manuel Pellegrini says Vincent Kompany is an important player

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini defends team captain and talks about team's injuries ahead of clash with Sunderland at home on Wednesday night.

 Supporters of China during the Asian Cup Qualifier match between Iraq vs China at Sharjah football stadium in Sharjah. Iraq won the match by 3-1. Pawan Singh / The National

Asian Cup expanding to 24 football teams in 2019

As part of a regional shake-up, the 2019 Asian Cup will climb to 24 teams but next month’s Challenge Cup in the Maldives will be the last, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced.

 Latifa Ali Al Shamsi of UAE fights compatriot Boshra Ghanem Al Zadjali in their 38.5kg match at the Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Christopher Pike / The National

Competitors at Abu Dhabi Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship target world domination

All of Wednesday’s winners at the tournament, being held in the UAE capital, are ambitious enough to target a black belt and reach the pinnacle of the sport, Amith Passela reports.

 Jacques Kallis top-scored with 72 for Kolkata Knight Riders against Mumbai Indians at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Kallis kicks off IPL 7 with fifty as Kolkata thrash Mumbai

South African legend shows class is permanent as Knight Riders beat defending champions by 41 runs. Osman Samiuddin reports from Abu Dhabi.

 Amir Khan, during a workout at the Gloves Community Centre on March 24, 2014 in Bolton, England, says his fight will be the real main event in Las Vegas on May 3. Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Amir Khan says bout with Luis Collazo ‘will steal the show’ in Las Vegas on May 3

British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan says his fight with Luis Collazo will be the main attraction on same fight card led by Floyd Mayweather Jr and Marcos Maidana, writes Omar Al Raisi.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National