The Nigerian football fraternity was thrown into confusion on Monday night while expecting the return of victorious Super Eagles from South Africa following their victory in the 2013 AFCON tournament. The news was that coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi has quit his job. This was barely less than 24 hours after he guided the team to their first African title in 19 years. In this report, Salifu Usman examines the intrigues and issues surrounding the purported resignation of the chief coach.
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi's future as Super Eagles head coach had been a subject of speculation throughout the tournament. It was alleged that the board members of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) had actually sacked the coach prior to his team quarterfinal clash with pre-tournament favourites, Cote d'Ivoire. This was because the NFF board never believed in the coach and his boys and never gave them any chance of overcoming the Ivorian team.
The board members were not happy with the lackluster 1-1 draws with Burkina Faso and Zambia in their first two group stage matches and the crucial make or mar final group match with Ethiopia that took almost 80 minutes before two goals from the spot kick by Victor Moses salvaged the situation.
Immediately, the NFF realised after the team's 2-0 win against Ethiopia that they will face Cote D'Ivoire in the quarterfinal for finishing second in their group behind surprised leaders, Burkina Faso, they had booked a plane to fly them back to Nigeria immediately after the match. Fortunately for Keshi and his team things turned out in their favour. They beat the Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure led Ivorian squad 2-1 to advance to the semi final.
The team improved from strength to strength then and all doubters and the Aminu Maigari led NFF executive committee fell out with the coach. Some of the board members and even the minister of sports and chairman National Sports Commission (NSC), Bolaji Abdullahi were alleged to have started discussion with a potential foreign coach which happened to be Zambia coach, Herve Renard to take over as Super Eagles coach.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND Sports gathered from a reliable source that two top NFF board members stormed the dressing room before the famous quarterfinal game against Cote d'Ivoire and told Keshi they have been discussing with Renard to take over from him. The development which Keshi at few post-match news conferences, admitted said he told the NFF officials that he was prepared to throw in the towel instead at the end of the competition.
Keshi told a close confidant that it took the maturity in him to stop what would have been a national embarrassment for his country as he was moved to hit the said officials. He wondered why the NFF board members would continue to see themselves as owners of football in the country when none of them contributed one quarter of what he gave to the country.
"How can this rubbish continue? Imagine some of them who call themselves NFF board members coming to threaten me with the appointment of Zambia coach at the thick of the championship. It's unfortunate," Keshi was quoted to have told a close friend of his.
Keshi was also said to have attempted to resign because of the undue interference and a lack of faith in him by officials of the Nigerian Football Federation. He also reasoned that since none of the promises made to him by the NFF board have been met including owing him backlog of unpaid salaries not less than five months as well as has been denied an official car and accommodation promised him meant that the NFF board had laid a slip-up trap awaiting him to fail so that they would kick him out.
The Super Eagles victory at the 2013 AFCON tournament is not a reflection of the administration of football in the country and Keshi's move to quit has become an incisive ploy by him to call the bluff off the NFF and to attract government's attention to his plight. Keshi being a good student of Clemence Westerhof knows that leading Nigeria to AFCON victory after 19 years would give him direct access to the highest level of power in Nigeria and that is exactly will get from now.