The remains of former Super Eagles captain and head coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi (Big Boss) was Stephen Keshi has been laid to rest at his home town, Illah, Delta State, on Friday.
A novelty match graced by his former teammates was played at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, shortly after a requiem mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Benin City on Thursday.
In the hours of Friday, his remains was taken to the Ogbelani Palace for traditional rites as a palace chief, as lying-in-state followed at his home in Ukpologwu quarters, Illah.
Not too long, a requiem mass was held at St. John, The Evangelist Catholic Church before his interment.
The legendary soccer star, who picked up 64 caps and nine goals for Nigeria, captained the Eagles to win the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations as well as their first appearance at the World Cup in the USA.
After a brief stint in charge of Togo and Mali national teams, he led the country to success at AFCON 2013 where they won after 19 years, and also reached the Second Round of the 2014 Fifa World Cup, Brazil.
His side failed to qualify for the 2015 AFCON, which led to his third and final disengagement by the Nigeria Football Federation after a long and fractious relationship.
‘The Big Boss’ was the only Nigerian coach to have won the Africa Cup of Nations and second African to win the trophy both as a player and a coach.
Keshi died of cardiac arrest on June 8 at the age of 54, months after the demise of his wife Kate.
Tears, Eulogies, Lamentations Trail Funeral
Personalities from various walks of life gathered Thursday and Friday in Benin City, Edo State and Asaba, Delta State to pay their last respects at the burial of late former Super Eagles captain and head coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
The final rites began Thursday with an hour’s church service at Saint Paul’s Catholic Church, off Airport Road, before lying-in-state at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, where Keshi played many matches during his heyday with New Nigeria Bank FC.
A novelty match between ex-internationals and All-Stars at the same venue, in honour of the former libero, ended 1-1, after which the body was taken to Asaba, the capital of his home state, Delta.
In Asaba, the remains of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winning coach laid in state inside the Indoor Hall of Keshi Stadium, named after the legend by former Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan.
On Friday, another church service held at his ancestral town, Illah in Delta State, before internment, which was followed by a reception at Omorka Primary School.
During Thursday’s church service, the officiating priest, Very Rev. Fr. Richard Ofere said Keshi lived a very exemplary live as a member of the parish, where he said the late coach contributed selflessly to the development of football.
While stressing the need to believe in resurrection, Ofere noted that death was not the end of the life of a true Christian and the priest added that righteousness with true worship of God were prerequisites for people who desire to see God.
After the funeral mass, Keshi’s body was moved to Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium for lying in state, which coincided with the match between ex-internationals and some prominent football stars.
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, Melvin Amaju Pinnick, who led a delegation to the mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, paid glowing tribute to the late Keshi, describing him as a super hero and promised that the soccer governing body will honour the late icon.
“I have always described him as a super hero because he was a super hero. He did not do things that were regular he did things that were extraordinary. That (honour) is definitely going to be done,” Pinnick said.
One of the late coach’s in-laws, Richard Aburimen said memories of ‘The Big Boss’ will remain in the hearts of his family members and loved ones at home and abroad.
Aburimen said: “Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was, quintessentially a good man, a man of peace. He was a giver; he never held back and that why he was as big as he was.”
Similarly, an array of former Eagles stars, including Uche Okechukwu, Austin Eguavoen, Victor Ikpeba and Peter Rufai, were among the players who played in a novelty match when the remains of Keshi laid in state at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.
Some of the players who eulogised the late coach and player, appealed to management of the country’s football to set personal interest aside for the growth of the game.
Ikpeba particularly noted that Keshi sacrificed a lot for the growth of football in Nigeria and ‘The Prince of Monaco’ recalled that personal interest was not the case during days of ‘The Big Boss,’ but is now stalling soccer growth in the country.
“Keshi had done a lot for the progress and the level the game is in Nigeria. He was a great impact in Nigeria football and promoted the sport to its highest level in the country.
“The void left by Keshi will be difficult to fill and I appeal to those managing football in Nigeria to set aside personal interests for the game to grow,” said Ikpeba.
On his part, Okechukwu (Gentle Giant) said he was still in shock with the demise of Keshi and equally disclosed that he was not happy with development in the game in Nigeria and called for concerted efforts for the country to rediscover its glory.
Rufai described Keshi, who died in Benin City on June 8, as a disciplinarian who will be missed by the fans.