On June 8,2016, Nigerians woke up to the shocking passing away of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, former coach of the country’s senior national team, the Super Eagles. Following his demise, condolences and tributes have been pouring in from Nigerians and foreigners alike, all attesting to his superb playing skills and as a coach. We also are joining others in sharing this moment of grief, even as we commiserate with his family and the sports community at large over this great loss. There is no denying the fact that Nigeria has lost a great sport gem. Born on January 23,1962, in Azare, Bauchi State, Keshi attended St. Finbarr’s College, Akoka, Lagos which is famous for its many successes in the Principal Cup competition among Lagos based secondary schools.
After leaving secondary school, Keshi joined the then African Continental Bank (ACB) FC, Lagos and later New Nigerian Bank FC, Benin City. After a short stint with those clubs, he left for Cote D’Ivore in the mid eighties to play for Stade D’Abidjan and later Africa Sports. Always desirous of living out his dream in the big league, Keshi headed for Belgium, where he played first for Lokeren and the country’s top club side, Anderlecht. Later, he later moved to France to play for RC Strasbourg. Famously called the ‘Big Boss’, the former national coach was in the team that played for Nigeria at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
He also appeared in five African Cup of Nations championships for Nigeria and was part of the team that won the 1994 African Cup of Nations.
On retirement from Nigeria’s national football team, Keshi was appointed coach of the Togo national team in 2004. In 2006, he helped bring that country’s team to their first World cup tournament. With his Togo assignment over, he was appointed coach of the Mali national team from 2008-2010. By 2011, he was invited by the Nigeria Football Federation(NFF) to head the country’s national coaching team.
To prove his mettle, Keshi in 2013 propelled the Super Eagles to the African Cup of Nations title, therefore becoming only the second man to win it both as a player and coach.
Ever aiming for the sky,Keshi’s coaching skills came on display when he helped the Super Eagles reach the round of 16 for the first time at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. He remains the only African coach to have helped two nations qualify for the tournament and the only black African to coach in the knockout phase of a World Cup. For all that was said of him, no one could deny that Stephen Keshi brought élan, depth and unmatched professionalism to the game of football on the African continent.
He was a talker, a brawler and a politician and had the thickest hide and deepest laugh of anybody at any Africa Cup of Nations over the past two decades. While we mourn this great loss, we are consoled by the fact that Keshi lived a humble and dutifully life to his country and compatriots alike.
No tribute captured this essence than that by the South African Football Association President, Danny Jordaan; “At 54, Keshi was one of the bright young coaches coming out of Africa and having been a captain and solid player during his playing days, you can’t find a better individual whose life was wholly dedicated to the game of football”. We need not say more. Adieu.