UNLIKE the buzz and expectation which welcomed Samson Siasia into the position of Nigeria’s national football coach a few months back, the arrival of Stephen Keshi carried the air of fatalistic acceptance by the football community in Nigeria.
The Siasia denouement took the wind out of the sails for many Nigerians who rooted for his appointment, including this reporter. Siasia’s man-management deficiencies were pitifully exposed during his very short tenure, as it became clear that there was a gulf of difference between coaching age-group teams and the national team.
Frankly, I could not understand why Samson had a preference for certain players, sourced from obscure leagues, in his team, while those we saw regularly, playing in the best leagues around the world, never got a look in. Then the absurd fights with his players which finally did him in. It was clear, that Siasia just was not mature enough for the position he won by national acclaim.
That is without prejudice to the incredible rot in the administration of the game. Amos Adamu instituted a system which was lucrative for him and cronies, but is incredibly corrupt and has systematically ruined the game in our country. As for Keshi, let me confess that I admired his service to our country as a footballer, despite the controversy about “mafia” which dogged his leadership of the national team. He captained the Eagles through its most successful phase.
But I have been ambiguous about him as a coach. I remember that he succeeded in qualifying Togo for the World Cup, which was no mean achievement, before a disastrous run at the African Nations Cup led to his sack. He did not make an impact in Mali and was sacked also; while at home, he failed with an Under-20 team; was part of a crew led by Shuaibu Amodu which rescued our 2002 World Cup campaign, after Johannes Bonfrere lost the plot.
But somehow, Keshi has not fully convinced me he is the man for the job. I’ve listened to him speak with a labored American accent, attempting to analyse the game on television, but even that has been unconvincingly flat with me each time. So I do not expect much from Keshi as national coach, but I will give him critical support.