By - Victor Kekereekun
Former Nigeria International and Head Coach of the Nigerian National team Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, born on January 23, 1962 in Bauchi State, Nigeria, is the fifth member of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ of Nigerian footballers who took the world of football by storm in 1994 to die after Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini and Wilfred Agbonavbare. Keshi reportedly died of cardiac arrest.
Composed at the back-line, tactical at the dug out, late Stephen Keshi is one of two Africans to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and as coach of a national team. He was the captain of the Super Eagles winning team in 1994 and the coach of the 2013 winning team in South Africa
His footballing career began as a football player between 1979 and 1998. It also continued as a coach from 2001 till he died on Wednesday, June 8, 2016.
Stephen Keshi started playing professional football in 1979 in Lagos before he moved to Abidjan in 1985 to play in their premier league. It was from there he got his big break in 1986. He was spotted and signed by Belgian football club Sporting Lokeren in 1986 – and finally had a chance to ply his trade in Europe.
Just after a year stint with Lokeren, Keshi was signed by Belgian premier league side Anderlecht in 1987 where he won the Belgian Cup in 1988 and 1989 and then the Jupiler league in 1991. He appeared 99 times for the club scoring 18 goals till he left for French side Strasbourg in 1991.
In 1995, the defender continued his clubside football career at California in the United States of America and played for CCV Hydra and Sacramento Scorpions. At the same time, he used that opportunity to train as a coach in 1996.
At International level, Stephen Keshi appeared 64 times for the Nigerian national team, scoring 9 goals as a central defender. He won the Africa Cup of Nations as captain of the team in 1994. During this time, Nigeria reached number 5 on the FIFA world ranking, highest for an African team – an unprecedented feat.
However, winning the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria was still the highlight of his international playing days.
Keshi drew the curtain on his active footballing career as a player in 1998 after representing Malaysian side Perlis in 1997.
After his coaching training in 1996 in the USA, Stephen Keshi got the opportunity to lead Nigeria’s Junior Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship.
He, however, started his major coaching career with Togo in 2004 helping them qualify for their first ever World Cup appearance in Germany in 2006. Keshi would then coach Mali in 2008.
Fondly called the ‘Big Boss’, Keshi finally got the opportunity to coach his National Team at the senior level in 2011, helping Nigeria qualify for the AFCON in 2013 which they eventually won. Following Nigeria’s laudable efforts en route their AFCON 2013 triumph, the ‘Big Boss’ was then awarded Africa Coach of the Year 2013 by CAF.
Nigeria also qualified for the 2014 World Cup under his management. The Super Eagles progressed to the Round of 16 before France dumped them out.
In 2015, Keshi was sacked as Super Eagles coach following a series of underwhelming results which led to the team’s failure as defending champions to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, while there were also revelations that he applied to manage Ivory Coast while under a valid contract with Nigeria.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is never short of pulling stunts. The Nigerian football governing body is notorious for it incosistency in keeping promises and paying wages to players, coaches likewise.
Stephen Keshi temporarily quit in the aftermath of the Super Eagles’ Africa Cup of Nations victory in 2013 following a highly publicised dispute with the Nigerian football authority over unpaid wages and poor treatment.
He, however, reversed his decision and took the team to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup but as caretaker coach, Keshi endured a turbulent 2014, in which he was sacked by the NFF and reinstalled only after intervention from then-Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan.
His contract was not renewed after the 2014 World Cup but he later returned on a match-by-match deal, which ended in November the same year after failure to reach the 2015 Nations Cup.
In a shocking twist, Keshi was reluctantly handed a new two-year deal in April 2015 by the NFF but was shown the exit door after less than three months in charge.
Stephen Keshi was a young and famous footballer when he opted to settle down with a woman. It was the right choice for him, who could have as well chose to live a lecherous life with girls swarming around him.
The ‘Big Boss’ met Kate (née Aburime) and knew instantly that he wanted to be with that woman forever. Something he did not hesitate to tell her right away. Together, they raised four children and were married for 30 years till December, 2015 when Kate died after a three-year-long battle with cancer.
It, however, seems Kate and Stephen took the saying ‘till death do us part’ to heart when the former Nigeria head coach died of cardiac arrest in June 2016, less than seven months after he lost his wife. Also, notably, his death came only days after he was strongly linked with South African giants Orlando Pirates.
Nigerian footballing icon – Stephen Keshi will forever be remembered as the first African coach to successfully qualify two African countries – Nigeria and Togo, to the World Cup finals. Deceased, yet, he still remains the only African to win the Confederation of African Football’s Coach of the year twice – in 2005 with Togo and 2013 with Nigeria.
Committed and loyal, Stephen Keshi earned his status as one of the finest players to ever don the Nigerian green & white jersey – and even as a coach, he was never short of greatness.
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