Keshi: An icon of African football

By Aisha John-Mark

Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was one of the most iconic captains of the Nigerian national football team, the Super Eagles, and former coach of the same team.
Keshi passed away at the age of 54 and will be remembered for his outstanding contribution to African football.
Keshi will be best remembered as a coach but he also had a successful career as a player at club and international level.
Winning the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria was the height of his international playing days.
As a player he had stints in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Belgium, France and United States of America.
Keshi began his professional career with now-defunct Nigerian side ACB of Lagos and his hometown club New Nigeria Bank of Benin City.
His first move abroad was not to Europe but to Ivory Coast where he won the domestic cup with Stade Abidjan in 1985 and 1986, before moving to their local rivals Africa Sports.
He became known as the “Big Boss” during his playing days as he was one of the first Africans to move to the European leagues in the 1980’s.
Belgium was his first port of call when he joined Lokeren, which in later years became a popular destination for other African players.
Keshi’s compatriots Victor Ikpeba and Sunday Oliseh as well as Ghana’s Nii Lamptey also played for Lokeren.
It was at another Belgian side where Keshi really thrived, spending four years at Anderlecht a side that he also captained.
While at Anderlecht he won the Belgian Cup in 1988 and 1989 before helping them to the league title in 1991.
The following season saw Keshi and Strasbourg finish in eighth place – their highest ever finish in the top division.
He eventually ended his playing career in Malaysia with Perlis in 1995.
Keshi earned more than 60 caps for Nigeria and won the 1994 Nations Cup with Super Eagles, although injury prevented him from playing in the final against Zambia.
He made two appearances, including as captain for their semi-final win over Ivory Coast on penalties.
After a playing career mostly with Belgian clubs, Keshi went to the United States to be educated in coaching.
In 1996 he was joined by Augustine Eguavoen, who once coached the Nigerian national team. They played together in California as the backbone of the defence for the short-lived Sacramento Scorpions. Keshi has been a part of the coaching staff for the Nigerian national team, most notably as head coach for the Junior Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship which also served as qualification for the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship, without success.
Between 2004 and 2006 Keshi coached the Togo national football team, surprisingly bringing them to their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006. Having secured Togo’s unlikely qualification, he was promptly replaced by German coach Otto Pfister prior to the World Cup finals, after Togo showed a dismal performance and failed to advance to the knock-out stage in2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.
However, Pfister did not last beyond a controversial World Cup campaign that nearly resulted in a player’s strike over pay and Togo remained without a manager until February 2007 when they re-engaged Keshi in time for a friendly against Cameroon.
He worked as manager of the Mali national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal. Keshi was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi became coach of the Nigerian National Team in 2011. He led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. The following day Keshi handed in his resignation, only to reverse his decision the day after. Keshi led Nigeria to the 2013 Confederations Cup, defeated Tahiti6–1, and lost 1–2 to Uruguay in the second game, and also lost 0–3 to World Cup winners, Spain in their final group game.
On 16 November 2013, Nigeria secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup by beating Ethiopia 4–1 on aggregate in a play-off.
On 18 November 2013, Stephen keshi set a record in African football by being the first African coach to successfully qualify two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) to the World Cup Finals. He also helped Nigeria become the first country to achieve an African Cup of Nations trophy and World Cup qualification, both in 2013.
On 25 June 2014, Keshi’s Nigeria progressed to the knockout stage of 2014 World Cup. They started the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Iran, followed by a controversial 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They lost the final group stage match 2-3 against Argentina, but progressed to the knockout stage, courtesy of a 3-1 win by Bosnia and Herzegovina over Iran.
On 30 June 2014, the Super Eagles lost to France in a 2014 World Cup Round of 16 matches. After the match, Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach but later reversed the decision after the Nigerian Football Federation renewed his contract.[11]
On 14 October 2014, his team failed to win a single game in the ongoing Morocco 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifying series and he announced he would move to another job if pressure continues to mount because of certain people, whom he refused to name, were trying to “sabotage” him. However, he stated that he will continue to coach the Super Eagles because he loves the team and he loves his country.
In July 2015, following Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup, Keshi’s contract with the Nigerian Football Federation expired and was not renewed.[12] A statement by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Executive Committee said the decision was made, having thoroughly reviewed the reports/findings of the NFF Disciplinary Committee and NFF Technical and Development Committee, as well as having reviewed the actions and inaction of Stephen Keshi, in the performance of his duties as Super Eagle.
He was one of only two people, along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach.