By George Aluo
FIVE days after the death of boxing legend, Muhammed Ali, on June 3, another dark cloud has covered the sporting world with the demise of former Super Eagles Coach, Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi, who died at 54.
Keshi passed on in Benin, Edo State in the early hours of yesterday even before getting to hospital where doctors could probably have saved his life.
The “Big Boss,” as he was fondly called by admirers, was said to have complained of pains in his leg. Family members were said to have called a physiotherapist to massage the leg. Outside the problem with his leg, he was also said to have had breathing problem, a more serious health challenge for which he was being rushed to the hospital before he gave up.
Keshi may have lost the battle to live, but in his lifetime his other middle name apart from Okechukwu could pass for Success. As a player, Keshi was a big time success, a track record he carried into his coaching career. As a family man, he was also a happily married man. Just last year, he lost his wife of 35 years, Kate, to cancer.
Born on June 23, 1962, Keshi according to reports, was scheduled to return to the United States on today before he passed on. Family members had affirmed that his death was considered as sudden because he did not show any sign of illness prior to the time he passed on.
Keshi, a product of St. Finbarr’s College, Akoka, Lagos, started his playing career at a very young age at ACB Football Club, and later played for New Nigeria Bank, Stade d’Abidjan, Africa Sports, Lokeren, Anderlecht, RC Strasbourg, and a host of other clubs. He represented Nigeria from 1982, at age 20, till 1994, most of the time captaining the Super Eagles and scoring vital goals from his position as a central defender.
After a playing career mostly with Belgian clubs, Keshi went to the United States to be educated in coaching. In 1996, he was joined by Augustine Eguavoen, who once coached the Nigerian national team. They played together in California as the backbone of the defence for the short-lived Sacramento Scorpions.
Keshi is the only Nigerian to have won the Africa Cup of Nations both as a player and a coach. In fact, he and Egyptian soccer legend, Mahmoud El-Gohary, are the only two Africans to have achieved the feat.
Between 2004 and 2006, Keshi coached the Togo national football team, The Hawks, surprisingly bringing them to their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006. Having secured Togo’s unlikely qualification, he was promptly replaced by German coach Otto Pfister prior to the World Cup finals, after Togo showed a dismal performance and failed to advance to the knockout stage in 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.
Keshi became coach of the Super Eagles in 2011. He led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. The following day, Keshi handed in his resignation, only to reverse his decision the day after. Keshi led Nigeria to the 2013 Confederations Cup, defeated Tahiti 6–1, and lost 1–2 to Uruguay in the second game, and also lost 0–3 to World Cup winners, Spain in their final group game.
On November 18, 2013, Stephen Keshi set a record in African football by being the first African coach to successfully qualify two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) to the World Cup Finals. On June 25, 2014, Keshi led the Eagles to the knockout stage of the Brazil 2014 World Cup. The Eagles started the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Iran, followed by a controversial 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They lost the final group stage match 2-3 against Argentina, but progressed to the knockout stage, courtesy of a 3-1 win by Bosnia and Herzegovina over Iran.
On June 30, 2014, the Super Eagles lost to France in a 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match. After the match, Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach, but later reversed the decision after the Nigerian Football Federation renewed his contract.
On October 14, 2014, his team failed to win a single game in Morocco 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifying series and he announced he would move to another job if pressure continues to mount because of certain people, who he refused to name, were trying to “sabotage” him. However, he stated that he will continue to coach the Super Eagles because he loved the team and his country.
In July 2015, following Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup, Keshi’s contract with the Nigerian Football Federation expired and was not renewed.