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Keshi is the best Nigerian coach

Following the recent match between South Africa and Nigeria for the Mandela Challenge Cup in South Africa, I have to write about Stephen Keshi again.

Predictably, Nigeria won.

Nigeria is currently Africa’s only major football superpower in 2013. No other country has shown such depth, talent and strength as the Super Eagles in the past year under Stephen Keshi.

Nigeria’s most celebrated footballer, Kanu Nwankwo, described Keshi as the best Nigerian Coach in the country’s history.

For three years, during the twilight of my own career, I played with and against Keshi. I watched him captain the national team for nine years after I stopped playing. So, I know him very well from close-up.

He was not nicknamed ‘The Big Boss’ for nothing. Keshi was a born leader as a player. He almost always took responsibility on the field of play to secure victory for his team, even at high cost to his person and career. At a point he was banned from the national team for leading a player’s revolt.

I also watched him as he left Nigeria under dark clouds that threatened to terminate his career and migrated to Ivory Coast, then to Belgium and finally to France.

After he retired from the game, Keshi became one of the African players best armed to stop the dependence of African teams on white foreign coaches. Keshi, with all his football experience at all levels of the game, coupled with a good coaching course foundation, would become as good and as qualified as any foreign coach in the world.

Stephen Keshi has fulfilled all requirements and expectations. He has led his generation well and, today, many players of his generation have become successful coaches and are in the trenches of African football fighting for respect and recognition in order to hold their own.

Therefore, let no one question the reasons for Keshi’s phenomenal growth through the coaching ranks. He has earned every respect accorded him.

I continue watching him closely in his second coming to the helm of Nigerian coaching. This time around he has shown that he now better understands Nigerian football and the psychology of Nigerian players.

He believes in the capacity of the Nigerian player to transform quickly from ordinary to class with a little bit of international exposure. Keshi is taking risks that no one else before him ever did. He is working confidently with home-based players and navigating through political landmines.

His team will be the dread of the rest of the world in 2014. Mark my words.

So, I team up with Kanu Nwankwo and declare that Stephen Keshi is the most qualified and the best Nigerian coach to have handled the national team in our history.

There are a few things to point out that might stand in Keshi’s way while preparing for 2014.

The first is technical. Keshi would need a little support - someone with the knowledge and experience in football to compare notes with on tactics.

Secondly, Keshi has to introduce a bit of humility into his disposition and demeanour. Many people regard him as arrogant and rather aloof. Those of us who know him better, know he is neither. In Nigerian football it is always a good strategy to stoop in order to conquer.

Otherwise, Stephen Keshi stands now as the best Nigerian coach to have ever handled the national team.

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