by Japheth Omojuwa
If Stephen Keshi were a white man, he would not be owed several months’ salaries by the country’s football federation. They’d not even dare that. If he were a white man, comparisons with Clemens Westerhof, Nigeria’s legendary coach from 1989 to 1994 would have started already.
Nigeria won the African Nations’ Cup for the first time in 19 years last February and only for the 2nd time away from home. South Africa 2013 was not your usual African Nations’ Cup where most Nigerians expected the Super Eagles to win. For once, Nigerians were modest in their expectations from the Super Eagles. The reason is not farfetched; the team had just failed to qualify for the last African Nations’ Cup as Guinea accounted for Nigeria’s elimination. It marked the nadir for the Super Eagles. They had become a thing of shame for Nigeria. Then something happened.
Stephen Keshi, the captain of the Nigerian team that won the country’s first Nations’ Cup away from home in Tunisia circa 1994, the leader of the team that qualified Nigeria for her first FIFA world cup in the same year, became the team’s coach in November of 2011. Despite coming to the job with a good enough CV, he qualified little Togo (football wise) for the World Cup, managed Mali and had worked with other national team managers, few gave him a chance, most were not even interested. The Super Eagles were down, out and abandoned by the nation. Keshi started his work earnestly and silently, looking to build a strong team with an unusual mix of home based players and the usual exotic touch of foreign based ones. Two years down the line, Nigeria conquered Africa in South Africa without having to play extra-time, let alone penalties and had to go through Africa’s strongest team – at least on paper – with some of the world’s most revered players including Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba, Gervinho and the likes but not only did Keshi’s Super Eagles beat them, it outplayed them. The Ivorians were stunned. That 2 – 1 win for the Super Eagles essentially marked the arrival of the team. At that point, many Nigerians only wondered about who’d suffer in the hands of the Super Eagles at the finals. The rest is history and Burkina Faso managed to concede only one goal. The Super Eagles are Champions again. It took Keshi about 15 months to achieve that. It took Clemens Westerhof about 6 years!
That same man has since qualified Nigeria for the 2014 FIFA World Cup without conceding a single defeat home or away and with one of the continent’s meanest defences to boot. Nigeria will be playing at its 5th World Cup in Brazil and ironically, Nigerians who had no expectations from the Super Eagles at the African Nations’ Cup this year are, just like English football fans, talking up the team’s chances of a dream World Cup win.
If Stephen Keshi were a white man, he would not be owed several months’ salaries by the country’s football federation. They’d not even dare that. If he were a white man, comparisons with Clemens Westerhof, Nigeria’s legendary coach from 1989 to 1994 would have started already. If Stephen Keshi were a white man, the Nigerian football hierarchy would be worshipping him. If he were a white man, he’d be revered and completely trusted to do his job. But Stephen Keshi is not a white man. Nigerians are obsessed with the foreign; foreign accent, foreign shoes, I-bought-it-in-London, daddy-got-it-for-in-Miami, her-parents-live-abroad and so Stephen Keshi is not one of those foreign things we like to worship. Too bad for you oga Keshi L.
But it is never too late for Coach Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, if he wins the World Cup, Nigerians may not remember his skin colour. Even in our country, you have to do better than the foreigner to get anything close to what you deserve. You can’t pretend this is not the case, pretend until the truth comes home to visit you.
For those who only care about competence and results, coach Stephen Keshi deserves our support.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.