Keshi's Huge Challenges


Coach of Nigeria, Stephen Keshi, may have succeeded in qualifying the team for the South Africa 2013 Nations Cup but there is no doubt that the  former Anderlecht of Belgium player is faced with a lot of challenges.

The Nations Cup to Keshi is a familiar terrain having won the tournament as a player with the Eagles at the Tunisia 1994 edition. As an important player for Nigeria, Keshi was captain of Nigeria to the 1994 FIFA World Cup and played in five different Africa Cup of  Nations tournaments.

Between 2004 and 2006 Keshi coached the Togo national football team, unexpectedly 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 tournament stage in 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

After leaving his post as coach of the Hawks of Togo, he pitched tent with Mali’s national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal, he was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The former Lokeren of Belgium player will in South Africa embark on a redemption mission to correct mistakes that he made with Mali and Togo.

The Eagles are expected to camp in Zimbabwe few weeks before the tourney kicks off on 19 January and the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Technical Committee chairman, Christopher Green, has disclosed that the team would open camp in Zimbabwe from 7 December .

It is the usual attitude of the NFF to make empty promises and at the end of the day change their mind, hence the need for Keshi to have a Plan B if he must surmount the challenge confronting him.

The NFF may have decided to pick Zimbabwe as camping site for the Eagles, but the question is: did they carry Keshi along in arriving at the conclusion.

Another daunting challenge standing in the way of Keshi, as the kick off date of the Nations Cup draws nearer, would partly be replicating the Tunisia ’94 feat, when the Eagles conquered Africa; and how can he do that?

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When Keshi took up the mantle of leadership from his predecessor and former teammate in the national team, Samson Siasia, he showed some signs by believing in the ability of homegrown footballers to help prosecute some crucial games but he has since backpedaled, with just two making the final cut against the a hapless Lone Star of Liberia on the final day of the qualifiers.

Nigeria inflicted a 6-1 humiliation on the Liberians but the performance of the entire team on the day calls for serious concern, especially with Keshi preferring to field just two footballers as against the entire seven that were featured.

Football aficionados are of the view that among hurdles that Keshi must scale if he must succeed in South Africa is to be in charge of team selection and not allow football administrators impose players on him.

Having emerged winners of the coveted trophy on two occasions: 1980 and 1994 Keshi knows he must either win the trophy for Nigeria or risk losing his job.

In selecting players, Keshi should be careful to base his invitation on current form, and not on where they ply their trade, because if players are not selected based on merit, the players may scuttle the plans he has for the tournament proper.

It is also pertinent to note that Keshi should be ready to wield the big stick whenever the need arises, as failure to do so may work against his ambition to be the first Nigerian player and coach to win the Nations Cup.

Another challenge confronting Keshi is his quest to return the Eagles to world football. Shortly after the Eagles won the Tunisia ’94 Nations Cup, she was ranked fifth in the world and if Keshi can replicate this his name would be written in gold.

Can Keshi return the Eagles to the zenith of football? The South Africa 2013 Nations Cup would be an avenue for him to answer that.

—Alawode Adebobola

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