12 February 2013

Zimbabwe/Nigeria: Chunga Hails Stephen Keshi

Johannesburg — ZIMBABWE football legend, Moses Chunga, has hailed the Super Eagles' triumph in the 2013 Nations Cup final as a landmark development that will restore respect to African coaches and force the game's leaders on the continent to look at them in a different light.

Nigeria ended a 19-year wait to lift the Nations Cup trophy when they beat Burkina Faso 1-0 at the National Stadium here on Sunday night in a tight, tactical and tough final that brought an end to three weeks of drama on South Africa's football fields.

Steve Keshi, who became only the second man to win the Nations Cup both as a player and a coach after Egyptian legend El Gohary, also became the first Nigerian coach to lead the Super Eagles to the Promised Land as their first two trophies had been won under foreign coaches.

Brazilian coach, Otto Gloria, guided the Super Eagles to their first Nations Cup triumph on home soil in 1980 with a 3-0 victory over Algeria, with Wole Odegbami, the hero with his double strike before 85 000 fans at the Sulurele Stadium in Lagos.

Dutchman Clemens Westerhof also inspired the Super Eagles to success at the '94 Nations Cup in Tunisia after a 2-1 victory over Zambia in the final, with Keshi providing the captaincy at a time when he was clubless.

On Sunday night, as fireworks exploded over the National Stadium and Africa took a bow to its latest football champions, Keshi became the first black African coach to win the Nations Cup in more than 20 years, the first local coach to guide the Super Eagles home and only the second man, in the history of the tournament, to win it both as a player and coach.

For a country that has had 18 foreign coaches, with the first one coming way back in 1949 when Englishman John Finch was appointed Super Eagles' coach, the national team's success story under a local coach was a stunning tale.

Keshi has been hailed around the globe for his charismatic leadership, which has helped bring the best out of a Super Eagles' side long on talent but short on ambition, closing the cracks that used to divide a dressing room that always battled the demons of egos and, crucially, turning them into a team instead of a loose coalition of stars.

Even without his leading goal-scorer, Emmanuel Emenike, who missed the final because of injury but had already done enough to be crowned the Golden Boot winner, Keshi still played his cards right and while this wasn't a game where one team dominated the other, the Nigerians appeared to have the edge when it mattered most.

For a coach who was butchered by his home media, for daring to invest his trust in some locally-based players and closing the door on Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie, Keshi found his salvation under the lights of the National Stadium here on Sunday in a lively but certainly not a classic Nations Cup final.

The defining moment for seasoned observors, who have followed the Super Eagles for some time, must have come at the end of the match when Nwanko Kanu, a hero from an era that has just been closed, joined the celebrations on the field, clad in a green-and-white tracksuit, and then took midfielder John Obi Mikel to the crowd to salute the fans.

That picture alone was enough proof that the age of highly-inflated egos, which used to characterise and also divide the Super Eagles, was gone and from those ashes, a young and vibrant team powered by a tactical and good coach, had emerged to conquer the continent again.

"It's not for me alone. I hope more African coaches will get to this position and make their country proud," Keshi told journalists shortly after the match as he soaked his golden moment.

"As an African person coaching the team, you do not have time. They (fans) want you to have the job today, tomorrow build a wonderful team, the next day win the Soccer World Cup. It's difficult.

"If only we can understand how these things work, then we can grow better in Africa. Most of the coaches are not given freedom to work, and express themselves. They hold back a little bit.

"Winning this tournament is mainly for my nation. I want to dedicate this to all Nigerian coaches."

A Zimbabwean coach, who dreams of one day also leading his national team to glory, was watching from the eastern part of the National Stadium on Sunday night as the Nigerians touched the heavens and Keshi turned himself into a legend.

Chunga, who was assistant coach of the Warriors under Charles Mhlauri before an unceremonious exit after publicly criticising the state of Zifa's finances on national television and how this was affecting their programmes, said Keshi's success story was a triumph for all ambitious African coaches.

The Dynamos legend refused to apologise, after being dangled a carrot to keep his job, saying he was better off keeping his principles, which had led him to get the courage to attack the national association on national television, than be a 'Yes-Man' in the Warriors' technical set-up.

This season Chunga will be coaching in Division One, at Hippo Valley, and that is certainly as far away from the national team as one can ever get.

But nothing can be taken for granted in Zimbabwean football and Chunga claims that his chance will come one good day, and is giving himself a 10-year window period to wait for his moment, and he believes then, when he is past the 55-year-mark, he will turn his focus full-time to his nation's flagship team's duties.

Keshi did it earlier and was 51 when he won the Nations Cup on Sunday night.

Chunga remembers Keshi very well, they shared the same classroom when they went to Holland for a coaching programme organised by the Dutch Football authorities, and said he isn't surprised that his classmate has become so successful.

"There were about seven coaches from Nigeria in our class in Holland and I was the only one from Zimbabwe and I think that just about shows why we are different and why others end up being successful while we will be watching from the stands," said Chunga.

"The Nigerians have been investing in their coaches for some time now and if you don't have Keshi, you have Samson Saisia, you have Daniel Amokachi who is being groomed and you have Emmanuel Emunike, who scored their two goals when they beat Zambia in the final in Tunisia, he is also coaching and coming up the ladder.

"But I'm very happy that Keshi won the trophy because that is very good news for all the African coaches who have ambitions of coaching their national teams and being treated with respect by their national football leaders.

"It's a big statement that was made in Johannesburg and it will be felt across the entire African continent and noone, from now onwards, will look at us as second-class coaches who don't have the capacity to lead their national teams.

"If one of us can withstand the pressure of leading a team like Nigeria, with more than 150 million people behind it, and succeed the way Keshi did, then it means we all have a chance if we are given our chance and we get the right support.

"It's a good day for African coaches." Chunga said he never backed Burkina Faso because if the Stallions had won it would have prolonged the argument that European coaches were better.

"I found it interesting that Burkina Faso had a lot of fans but then underdogs always have supporters but I never wanted them to win because their coach, who is Belgian, wasn't a man who would help our cause as African coaches," said Chunga.

"It's easy to forget right now that Ghana also had a local coach, Kwesi Appiah, and only a penalty shootout defeat prevented them from getting to the final.

"This was a very good tournament for African coaches and that is why we are all saluting Boss Keshi and celebrating his victory because it means a lot to us."

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