Immediate past president of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, honouring the former Super Eagles Coach and Defender, the late Coach Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
Questions that occupy my mind right now is: How many of you still remember this man, Stephen Keishi? Have memories of him suddenly slid away from your mind? Can you still recall some of those moments you fixed your eyes to the screen just to watch this man perform with style? It is over 500 days now that he kissed mother earth. In this edition, we will be remembering the life of Stephen Keshi, a continental football legend. We hope you enjoy this piece written by Mozie Chisom and me.
Growing up as an ardent football lover, I heard people talk of legendary footballers of Nigerian descent like Segun “Mathematical” Odegbami; Henry Nwosu; Rashidi Yekini; Thunder Balogun and Christian “Chairman” Chukwu; but one man stood out: Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi, fondly called the Big Boss, a sobriquet he earned from legendary commentator of days of yore, Ernest Okonkwo, because of the way he marshalled the then Green Eagles' defensive line.
Stephen Okechuku Keshi, no doubt made his mark in the annals of Nigeria's football. Born to Delta Igbo parents of Ila extraction in the present day Delta State on January 23, 1962, the story of a career which journeyed over four continents started at St. Finbarr's College, Akoka, Lagos.
As a young man, he was already a mainstay of St Finbarr's College Football Team of 1977 that started the revolution of secondary school soccer. This team wowed the whole country as they marched on to lift the 1977 Edition of the Principal's Cup with the likes of Goalkeeper Muri Sanni and Stephen 'Terry' Keshi, a name he earned from playing the same style as the retired England full back, Terry Cooper.
Other members of that all-conquering team of 1977 include Jones Nseyo, Amechi Nwogu, Aronu Ogugua, Nath Ogedengbe, Emeka James, Henry Nwosu, Wakilu Oyenuga, Samuel Owoh and Paul Okoku.
On the Back of his sterling performance for St Finbarr's College, young Stephen Keshi was later called up to the junior national team, the Flying Eagles, which set the tone for a successful career in Africa, Europe and America.
In preparation for the 1980 African Cup of Nations, Stephen Keshi and some of his teammates were invited to the screening camp but it was only Henry Nwosu who made the final 22-man squad. Keshi's talent, however, still stood tall. With so much grit, he took the disappointment of not being selected for the tournament in his stride and subsequently became a mainstay of the national team for years to come, and by the time he left the shores of Nigeria, he had already counted Wema Bank FC, ACB Football Club, and New Nigeria Bank FC, with whom he won WAFU Cup twice, as the clubs he represented.
In 1981, he made his official debut against Uganda in a final preparatory match for the world cup qualifiers of 1982 and with the failure of the country to reach the second round of the Nations Cup in 1982, the then Green Eagles were disbanded and Chief Adegboye Onigbinde was tasked with rebuilding a new-look Eagles, hence the big stage arrived for a man who won the Nations Cup both as a player and later, a coach.
Stephen Keshi was chosen as the captain of the new-look Eagles because of his leadership qualities and charisma. He was so much loved and cherished by his teammates. A subsequent row with the powers that be at the Football House led to his sojourn to Cote d'ivoire where he turned out for ASEC Mimosa and Stella Club of Abidjan.
His performances caught the attention of Belgian scouts who took him to Belgium where he announced his arrival to the big stage by turning out for FC Lokeren and RSC Anderlecht and subsequently, he won many titles, with the highlight of his career being his European Winners' Cup final outing against Juventus of Italy in 1990.
Later on, he played for Strasbourg of France with which he earned promotion to the Ligue 1. After so much pressure, he was back to the Super Eagles and led them to the 1992 and 1994 Nations Cups; the latter where the Eagles claimed their second African title. By the turn of the year, he was already a non-playing captain at the USA 1994 World Cup from which he retired and went back to the United States to prepare himself for the big task ahead: coaching.
Stephen Keshi celebrates after winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
His first step in coaching came with Togo in 2004 when he took over a side that had only reached the African Nations Cup five times. He became the magical one as he made it possible for the tiny African nation to qualify for the 2006 World Cup billed for Germany in the summer of 2006. His leaving out star player, Emmanuel Adebayor, from the starting line-up, led to a brawl which subsequently resulted in his sacking.
He was later to be appointed by Football Association du Mali to take over the realm of affairs in the national team. At Mali he coached her and Mali qualified for the 2010 Nations Cup where in their first match against the Host nation Angola in Luanda, the match which was tagged 'The Battle of Luanda' as his team came from three nil down to equalize three-three. By the time Samson Siasia and Eguavoen left the Super Eagles, the Stage was set for the big man…The Big Boss…
His era was not devoid of controversy despite going on to lift the African title as a coach after he won the trophy as a player. The 2014 World Cup marked the end of an era. The Nations Cup winning team had in their ranks, the young Kenneth Omeruo of then Ado Den Hag; Ogenyi Onazi of SS Lazio; Godfery Oboabona of Sunshine Stars; Ejike Uzoenyi of Rangers; Juwon Oshaniwa of Sharks, Gabriel Reuben of Kano Pillars; Obiora Nwankwo of Academica Club Coimbra, as well as Nosakhare Igiebor.
By the time we got a call on the early morning of 7th June, 2017 that the man Big Boss was gone, we knew that the man of many parts, the man who played and coached with the exceptional style of a boss, had gone. People poured out their hearts but there was no going back. The Big Boss had gone to rest. He came, he played and he conquered, despite the murky waters of Nigeria's football politics.
It's been over five hundred days since he left but true football lovers still have him and his achievements in their hearts.
Adieu Big Boss...Adieu Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi. We miss you big boss!
This is the chronicle of Keshi the Player, the Coach, who gave his life for the country.