Nigeria has a new coach – Stephen Okechukwu Keshi

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Stephen Okechukwu Keshi

Stephen Okechukwu Keshi

Nigeria has a new coach in Stephen Okechukwu Keshi who has called on the Super Eagles to adopt a new attitude and be forward looking in order to re bounce from their slump, writes Olawale Ajimotokan

It will be difficult for Nigerians to stop dwelling on the failure of the Super Eagles to advance to the African Cup of Nations which holds in January next year in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and focus on other possibilities in the future.

Indeed the Nations Cup blues is a setback that warranted the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to press the panic bottoms, look for scapegoats, ultimately leading to the sack of the charismatic coach Samson Siasia.

His subsequent replacement with Stephen Keshi was one of the consequences of inability of Nigeria to advance to the Nations Cup from an innocuously looking African qualifying pool.

Upon appraising the enormity of the task ahead, Keshi called on all hands to be placed on the reset button and make a passionate appeal to the players who should display the right attitude and work ethics at all times.

The “big boss” noted that the players should work hard as such is the panacea through which Nigeria’s current problem can be addressed.

The Eagles gave Keshi a baptism of fire when they met Botswana yesterday in Benin in what was Nigeria’s first international match since Guinea bundled them out of the Nations Cup.

And on Wednesday, they will hope to maximize the FIFA window when they host familiar foes, the Chipolopo of Zambia in Kaduna.

Though Nigeria will not be going to the Nations Cup, the two fixtures against the teams that are bound for the continent’s biggest football fiesta will assist Keshi in evaluating the strength and weakness of the structure he inherited from Siasia.

However, the real test for him will come in early next year when the Eagles file out against Rwanda over two legs in the preliminary phase of South Africa 2013,before gradually warming up for the race to Brazil 2014 in June in qualifying Group F.

The last time the Eagles had to go through the harrowing route of pre-qualifying into the main qualifying stage Nations Cup was against Senegal in 1999, as they had lost substantial rating following their ban from the 1998 Nations Cup following the ill advised decision of Gen Sani Abachi to withdraw Nigeria from the 1996 finals in South Africa.

But afterwards, CAF named Nigeria and Ghana as the joint hosts of the 2000, prompting automatic qualification to the tournament.

With regular appearances in the main finals of the tournament since 2000, Nigeria had always been exempted from the rigours of preliminary qualification as it had rather negotiated its route at later stages.

Keshi is aware of his term of reference which is to take Nigeria to the “usual” semi final stage of the Nations Cup and as a primary task try to secure qualification for Brazil 2014.

As he must find out from Siasia, it is the fulfilment of the first of those terms that would determine his durability or otherwise as the national football gaffer.

“I want us to go forward and the only way we can do that is by bringing the positive attitude back to the team. Being here is an honour and I will want Nigerians to realize that with hard work, we can get to our right place in world football”, Keshi told reporters a day before his unveiling.

This same line of expectation was stressed by the president of the board of the NFF, Aminu Maigari, who said during the contract signing ceremony that Keshi’s should be fixated on how to get the results and bring Nigeria out of the international football obscurity.

“Nigerians want the Eagles to rise quickly from current lowly position and get to the top. We want to believe he (Keshi) understands the level of job to be done and efforts that have to be put in place. He is occupying the hottest seat in football”, Maigari admonished.

It was as a follow up to Maigari’s remarks that prompted the Chairman of the House Committee on Sports, Hon Godfrey Gaiya, to offer “congratulation and sympathy” to Keshi because the role he occupies carries a huge weight of expectation.

Keshi was the captain of the national team when in the late 1993, the Eagles soared beyond their own imagination to their highest peak ever in world ranking, when FIFA rated them the fifth best side in the world.

But 18 years later, as the new coach, he has inherited a team that is not only shorn of confidence having failed to reach their first Nations Cup finals since 1986, but is rated 44th in the world.

To take Nigeria back to the apogee of international football is not easy task as it demands hard work, the right team ethics and of course, patience.

“Fans should have patience with the team as we are trying to revive ourselves from what happened in the last game. The fans should bear with us. If they are patient, we will definitely come through” Keshi pleaded.

Under Siasia, the Eagles were severely unsettled by a number of off the field implosions between the players and officials.

It was when the concentration of the tension, especially with key players such as Osaze Odemwengie, Vincent Enyeama and later, John Mikel Obi, that partly led to the disunity and resulted in the players not giving their all in the heat of the moment.

Keshi’s, initial response to how he intended to clip the wings of the so called “big boys” in the team was to wave it aside as a non issue which should not be part of the last technical crew.

But when he signed his contract and upon pressed by the media, he warned that he would not hesitate to cut to size any players that breach the rules as “Nigeria is greater than anybody”


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