Why Keshi and the NFF must not be allowed to scuttle Nigeria's chances in Brazil

Stephen Keshi

African champions, Nigeria's Super Eagles have been drawn in the same World Cup group as Argentina, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

For coach Stephen Keshi, this will be the second time he has qualified an African country for the global showpiece as a head coach. The last time with Togo, he was let go by the officials of that country's football federation, just months before the 2006 World Cup in Germany. 

Interestingly, it seems Keshi still hasn't learned a valuable lesson from the same mistakes that led to his unceremonious ouster in 2006, as he has again chosen a path of confrontation (albeit a bit more subtle this time) with both the Nigerian FA and experienced overseas players in the Super Eagles.

At the last AFCON 2013 in South Africa, Keshi took a highly inexperienced team to the African soccer showpiece and the team struggled right out of the gates. It was only a hard-fought two-nil victory over Ethiopia coupled with Zambia's draw in its game against Burkina Faso that ensured Nigeria barely scraped through the group stages.

Their next game was against favorites, Ivory Coast and there was so much despair about the team from both Nigerians and football officials that the return plane tickets for the team had been bought before the game was even played. 

Now, while Nigeria won that game and subsequently went on to win the competition, thus giving the nation its third continental title since it last won it all in 1994, the problems in terms of the make up, skill level and character of the team, continued to rear its ugly head all through the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil and the World Cup African zone qualifiers.

Nigeria put up a dismal performance at the Confederations Cup and huffed and puffed through a World Cup qualifying group that included minnows like Malawi, Namibia and Kenya.

Now, as Brazil 2014 approaches, Keshi has insisted on using the same untested and unproven players on the biggest stage in football, although it would now seem the NFF has insisted he change course with the invitation of some tested players plying their trade in European leagues (who are actually active and not bench warmers).

Since Keshi became Nigeria's head coach, he has feuded with John Mikel Obi, Victor Anichebe, Osaze Odemwingie, Joseph Yobo, Ikechukwu Uche and Kalu Uche (brother to the former), just to name a few.

One thing that these afore-mentioned players all have in common is that they have served Nigeria gloriously over the years and with the exception of maybe Osaze (just lately though as he was always very dutiful in the past in his service to Nigeria), Nigeria's previous coaches have always managed the ego and other peculiarities of these and other players.

Credible sources have informed CC that Keshi has an arrangement with the agents of the non-established players (the local and fringe European based ones in particular) that nets him a generous percentage of the players winning bonuses and signing bonuses (for the local players who sign with 'overseas' teams).

There are also credible sources that one or more of the assistant coaches are known to hawk expensive wrist watches, among other luxury items to the players at exorbitant prices, with those who do not 'play ball', ostensibly in the black book of the coaches.

These assertions should not come as a surprise as Keshi himself was extremely undisciplined as a player and in-fact started the 'mafia set-up' in the Super Eagles in his day. 

In the early 1990s, Stephen Keshi, the team’s former captain, was so powerful that Clemens Westerhof, the technical adviser at the time, sought his approval on team selection. They had, before then quarreled many times over team selection. To gain the upper hand during these disagreements, the former captain exploited his close relationship with Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, the country’s second-in-command, who is from the same state (old Bendel) with him. Aikhomu was in charge of the sport ministry. Though Westerhof was hired by Aikhomu, Keshi had easier access to him and this ensured he had his way with many decisions in the team then.
At a point, Westerhof had a disagreement with the Nigerian Football Federation, NFA, and he sought Keshi’s help in appealing to the former number two man in Nigeria for intervention. Keshi’s role in assisting the coach facilitated his emergence as a formidable force during Westerhof’s days as coach of the team. The former technical adviser and the ex-captain became allies afterwards to the extent that they both jointly took crucial decisions without consulting the members of the coaching crew.
The NFF has only helped in strengthening Keshi's stranglehold on team selection (a decision usually made in consonance with the FA's technical committee) by owing him so much in salary arrears. He (Keshi) obviously has to live on something, but there are credible sources intimating CC that the issue of the salary arrears is in fact a smokescreen for something even more sinister going on between the NFF and Keshi's corrupt coaching crew.
That Keshi would brand Ikechukwu Uche as undisciplined (no Nigerian coach has ever called Uche such including foreign technical advisers hired by the Nigerian FA) is rather hypocritical considering his (Keshi's) aversion to such name-calling in his own response to being called same in his playing days (see his quote in 2012 below).
"I don't really understand what people mean when they talk about indiscipline in the Super Eagles. We speak much grammar in Nigeria instead of adopting the option of action, which football requires for results to come.
Interestingly, I have spent little time with some of those players we tagged undisciplined ones, and in fairness to them, I can tell Nigerians that I did not see or hear any negative thing about those boys. In fact, I was pleased that I have to tell the boys that I could not understand the basis Nigerians tagged them undisciplined players.
When I was the captain of the national team, they called me all sorts of names. I was called Mafia, a stubborn and arrogant player. They said that I was snobby among other negative names I could not find in the dictionary, but that impression was not the true picture of me. The players may have one or two faults as human beings, but we must listen to them and treat them like human beings, who have their own rights and opinions. None of my player is going to be a prisoner. I cannot treat them like kids because I know that some of them are already parents, who deserve respect in their own right. 
But are we tagging the players undisciplined because they asked for their entitlements and rights?" 
Even more hypocritical about Keshi was the story making the rounds of his aversion to the Code of Conduct the NFF wanted to institute for the national team. Here (below) was Keshi's response in 2012, showing he was actually in favor of it.
"I lived in the United State of America, a country where nobody is above the law of the land, including the president and every other government official. There, the law rules. I believe in the principle of rule of law. If any player thinks that he cannot obey the code of conduct guiding the set up, he would not have a place in the national team. To avoid talking about it all the time, we talk to ourselves like adults. We started that during the two friendly matches we played against Botswana and Zambia. We monitor ourselves both the players and the management crew because we reached an agreement to stick to the code guiding our conducts.
There would be problems if we don't have code of conduct. Even in our home, we have standing rules that guide members of the family, without that, the children could do whatever they like." 
There is no questioning Keshi's coaching credentials, although his ability to effectively read a game and provide requisite technical input to his players in the course of a game, still remains a point of contention. He must however live by his own credo and learn to work with his players, the same way coaches worked with him in the past and even made him captain of one of the most celebrated national teams in world soccer.

Nigeria can't afford another ego-play from Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. He must stop fighting his players, his bosses, the press and get out of his own way, for once.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.