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The Sacking Of Stephen Keshi

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) recently terminated the appointment of Stephen Keshi as Head Coach of Nigeria’s Senior National Football Team, the Super Eagles. The NFF has since nominated former Super Eagles captain Sunday Oliseh to take over Keshi’s position as the Super Eagles’ helmsman. The selfsame Keshi had only quite recently been re-appointed to the selfsame post by the selfsame NFF. The NFF Executive Committee justified the sacking of Keshi in a statement thus: “Having thoroughly reviewed the reports/findings of the NFF Disciplinary Committee and NFF Technical and Development Committee, as well as having reviewed the actions and inactions of Mr. Stephen Keshi, in the performance of his duties as Super Eagles’ Head Coach, which we found to lack the required commitment to achieve the Federation’s objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract; to this end and pursuant to the provisions of Clause 4.3 of the Employment Contract between Mr. Stephen Keshi and the NFF (The Contract) and the various clauses therein, the Nigeria Football Federation has decided to exercise its option to summarily terminate the employment contract of Mr. Stephen Keshi with the Federation with immediate effect.

NFF 1st Vice President, Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi revealed that “in the interim, the Super Eagles’ team affairs would be jointly managed by Assistant Coach, Salisu Yusuf and the Technical Directorate of the NFF headed by Coach Shuaibu Amodu, until the Federation names in due course a new Head Coach, who, along with the NFF will chart a new direction for the Super Eagles to ensure credible participation in international competitions and assist in building a sustainable football culture for the country.” It was not long after that the NFF stated that it had begun negotiations to hire Sunday Oliseh as Keshi’s replacement. However, the National Sports Commission (NSC) has since faulted the NFF for not following due process in the employment of Oliseh.

Nothing advertises the mess that parades itself as football administration in Nigeria like the protracted dilly-dallying in the sacking of Stephen Keshi and the controversial hiring of Sunday Oliseh. Nigeria sorely needs to be liberated from shabby football administration.

It needs to be recalled that Amaju Pinnick was elected President of the NFF on August 30, 2014, and 15 days later he presided over a meeting by the Federation approving the non-renewal of the contract of Stephen Keshi. Pinnick and his NFF board were made to eat their words as the decision was rescinded. Keshi was recalled, leaving the NFF and millions of Nigerian soccer lovers stunned. The NFF had to find a dodge following the dramatic recall of Keshi in the plea that Amodu Shaibu, the man appointed to replace Keshi, had pleaded for Keshi’s return.

Of course it is very obvious that Keshi’s recall back then had nothing to do with Amodu, the NFF’s technical committee or Pinnick. The then President Goodluck Jonathan had met with the NFF hours before Keshi’s recall and he, according to reports, specifically requested that Keshi be handed the reins of the national team again.

Then serving as a caretaker coach without a contract, Keshi failed to qualify the Super Eagles for the Cup of Nations hosted by Gabon. The contract signing lingered until Coach Keshi had to eat the humble pie by tendering apologies to the NFF and soccer-loving Nigerians.

There is no escaping the issue that solving Nigeria’s interminable football problems are beyond the hiring or firing of Coach Keshi. Football needs to be better administered in Nigeria before any coach can succeed with the Nigerian national team. No foreign coach worth his weight can agree to function within the ambit of the poor administration here. Many Nigerians do have their reservations with Keshi, but we do admit the man has a measure of pedigree in the beautiful game.

As a player, Keshi was captain of the squad for the 1994 FIFA World Cup and played in five different African Nations Cup tournaments, helping to win the 1994 African Nations Cup. After his playing career, Keshi went to the United States to be schooled in the art and craft of coaching.

Between 2004 and 2006, Keshi coached the Togo national football team, unexpectedly qualifying them to their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006. Having secured Togo’s unlikely qualification, he was unceremoniously replaced by German coach Otto Pfister prior to the World Cup finals, after Togo showed a dismal performance and failed to advance to the tournament stage in the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt. In any case, Pfister did not last beyond a controversial World Cup campaign that nearly resulted in a player’s strike over pay, and Togo remained without a manager until February 2007 when they re-engaged Keshi.

Keshi worked as manager of the Mali national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal. Keshi was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Keshi’s coaching credits as Nigerian manager were capped with winning the 2013 African Cup of Nations in South Africa and reaching the 2nd Round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Then his contract lapsed and was followed by the protracted contract re-signing mess and the final sacking. It has to be stressed that the trouble with Nigerian football cannot be solved by a mere change of coaches. The problem is systemic. The organization of football by the NFF is woeful. Until wellgroomed administrators are brought in to administer football in Nigeria we are afraid that the woes may continue. To that extent, Sunday Oliseh as Keshi’s replacement has merely received a poisoned chalice through his appointment as the coach of the Super Eagles. There ought to be comprehensive changes in the management cadre of football in Nigeria for the beautiful game to be brought back from the brink.

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