The Nigerian soccer circle recently lost one of African football’s best-known figures and former Chief Coach of the Super Eagles, Stephen Keshi. He died of cardiac arrest in Benin City, the Edo State capital in the early hours of Wednesday, June 8 at the age of 54.
Keshi who hailed from Illah in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State was fondly referred to as the ‘Big Boss’ because of the way he was revered by his team mates in the Super Eagles when he served as the captain of the national team in the 1980s. He is in the record books of CAF as one of two persons, alongside Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to win the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and manager, as well as the only African to have secured qualification for two African Nations (Nigeria and Togo) to the World Cup. He made 64 appearances for Nigeria and scored nine goals.
He started his professional soccer career at the defunct ACB Lagos in 1979 and then moved to New Nigeria Bank (NNB) Benin City (1980-1984) before pioneering international football in Nigeria by departing to Stade d’Abidjan (1986) and African Sports (1986-1987), both in Cote d’Ivoire.
He moved to Belgium and France where he played out most of his international career, joining Lokeren (1986-1987), Anderlecht (1987-1991), RC Strasbourg (1991-1993) and Racing White Daring Molenbeek (RWDM) (1993-1994).
After the World Cup in USA in 1994, he moved to California and signed for Central California Valley Hydra where he made 20 appearances. He joined Sacramento Scorpions in 1996 alongside long time team mate in the Nigerian league and Super Eagles, defensive midfielder, Augustine Eguavoen and then Perlis FA of Malaysia (1997-1998), where he retired as a player.
Keshi returned to the United States thereafter and started his certification as a coach. He started his coaching career with the then Nigerian Football Association (NFA) and took charge of the Junior Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship, but failed to qualify the team for the 2011 FIFA World Youth Championship.
Between 2004 and 2006, Keshi coached the Togolese National soccer team, surprisingly qualifying them to their first FIFA World Cup tournament in Germany in 2006. He left them briefly and returned in 2007.
In 2008, he signed a two-year deal to coach the Malian national soccer team. He was fired in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi was hired by Nigeria to coach the national team in 2011 and led his country to win the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013, defeating Burkina Faso 1-0 in the final. He resigned the next day only to reverse his decision the day after.
Again on June 30, 2014 Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach but later reversed the decision after the Nigerian Football Federation renewed his contract.
In July 2015, following Nigeria’s exit from the World Cup, Keshi’s contract with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) expired and was not renewed. A statement by the NFF Executive Committee said the decision was made, 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 inaction of Keshi, in the performance of his duties as Super Eagles’ Head Coach, which NFF found to lack the required commitment to achieve its objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract.
The ex- international lost his wife, Nkem Kate Keshi only last December. They had been married for 33 years. She died after a prolonged battle with cancer. Emmanuel Ado, Keshi’s brother and aide who announced his demise, said that since the death of his wife, Keshi has been in mourning and had planned to fly back to the United State before he suffered a cardiac arrest. Keshi is survived by four children and his mother.