The Nigerian football community, nay, the entire global sporting world, was left in morning early Wednesday, June 8, 2016, following startling reports about the death of former Super Eagles captain and head coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. In this special package of BIG STORY, SportsDay Editor, SAM O’FEMI OLUSETIRE serves highlights of the life and time of the one fondly called ‘The Big Boss,’ with a compendium of eulogies that visited news of his early morning demise in Benin City…
Tears Flow At Midnight…
It was tears at midnight in the household of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, as the family was gripped in the agony and shock of the passing on of their patriarch.
Coming just five months after the burial of his wife, whose grave lies right in front of the family home in Benin City, it was just too much to bear.
Too much to bear for the family, equally agonising for all Nigerian football lovers, nay the entire country, Africa and the world, as the entire globe sank in solemn melancholy to mourn the death of a legend.
Yes, tell it on the mountain top, shout it in the depths of the sea, take it to the valley, ‘The Big Boss’ is now more. Relate the tale of choler to the lords in Abuja, the president must hear this, how art the mighty fallen. Keshi is no more!
Even those who loved to hate him are mourning, those who sacked him from the lofty position of Super Eagles coach, those who felt he had nothing else to offer after winning the Cup of Nations in 2013.
He became the second man to achieve that feat as player and coach for the same nation, the first Nigerian to win the trophy for the country, and he soon became the first indigenous gaffer to take the Eagles to the second round of the World Cup.
This is tuff heroes are made of, talk about legends, this surely ranks among the best. Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, a name cast in gold, a tag now for stories that can only be told, to be emulated only by the bold, as he joins God’s divine fold.
Yes, we mourn, tears fill our eyes, sobs rock our bodies, sobbing sears through our soul, but we take consolation from the words of William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” That is the creed for Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, a prince among princes, the best among the brightest. Rest In Perfect Peace.
Tale Of The Big Boss
Nicknamed Big Boss, the flamboyant Keshi captained Nigeria between 1983 and 1994, during which he won the Africa Cup of Nations gold, silver and bronze, and led the country to qualify for its first FIFA World Cup finals.
He led the Eagles at that first FIFA World Cup in USA in 1994, months after also leading the team to win the Africa Cup of Nations for Nigeria for the first time on away soil (Tunisia).
A colourful playing career took Keshi to ACB FC of Lagos and NNB of Benin (Nigeria), Stade Abidjan and Africa Sports (Cote d’Ivoire), Lokeren, Anderlecht and Molenbeek (Belgium), Strasbourg (France), Jaguar Bay, San Jose and Sacramento Scorpions (USA) and Perlis of Malaysia.
He represented Nigeria at both junior and senior levels, winning 64 senior caps. His first match for the senior team was against Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) on July 18, 1981 and his last was the FIFA World Cup clash with Greece in the USA on June 30, 1994.
He will be remembered for, among other things, giving home –based players ample opportunity to compete for shirts in the Super Eagles.
He was rewarded for this when Sunday Mba scored two crucial goals as Nigeria won the Cup of Nations in South Africa, including the only goal of the final match against Burkina Faso.
In his 44 months in charge of the Super Eagles, Keshi won the Africa Cup of Nations, qualified the team for the FIFA World Cup finals, led the team at the FIFA Confederations Cup and steered the team to the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup.
Before that, he had received global applause after leading tiny Togo to reach their first FIFA World Cup, in 2006. He also coached the senior team of Mali.
Keshi was also an assistant to Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere as the Super Eagles finished as runners-up in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000, and then became the first Nigerian to lead the Eagles to Cup of Nations glory at the 2013 finals in South Africa.
The late Keshi is survived by four children.
Full name – Stephen Okechukwu Keshi
Nickname – Big Boss
Date of birth – 31 January 1961
Place of birth – Azare, Bauchi State
Height – 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Playing position – Midfielder/Defender
1979 – ACB Lagos 10 (1 goal)
1980–1984 – New Nigeria Bank, Benin 42 (4 goals)
1985 – Stade d’Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire 13 (2)
1986 – Africa Sports, Cote d’Ivoire 22 (2)
1986–1987 – Lokeren, Belgium 28 matches (6)
1987–1991 – Anderlecht, Belgium 99 (18 goals)
1991–1993 – Strasbourg , France 62 matches (9)
1993–1994 – RWD Molenbeek, Belgium 40 (1)
1995 – CCV Hydra, United States 20 (1)
1996 – Sacramento Scorpions 16 (3 goals)
1997–1998 – Perlis FA 34 appearances (4 goals)
Total – 386 club games played (51 goals)
New Nigeria Bank – West Africa Union Cup: 1983, 1984
Stade d’Abidjan – Coupe Houphoet Boigny: 1985, 1986
Africa Sports – Côte d’Ivoire Premier Division: 1986
Africa Sports – Côte d’Ivoire FA Coupe: 1986
RSC Anderlecht – Belgian FA Cup: 1988, 1989
RSC Anderlecht – Belgian Jupiler League: 1991
2004–2006 – Togo
2007–2008 – Togo
2008–2010 – Mali
2011 – Togo
2011–2014 – Nigeria
National Team Honours
Africa Cup Of Nations – 1994 (as captain), 2013 (as coach)
Player To Gaffer
After a playing career, which traversed clubs in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Belgium and France, Stephen Keshi went to the United States to be educated in coaching.
In 1996 he was joined by Augustine Eguavoen and they played together in California as the backbone of the defence for the short-lived Sacramento Scorpions.
Keshi soon returned home to handle the under-20 national team, Flying Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship (AYC) in Ethiopia, but ended his maiden campaign without success.
Between 2004 and 2006 Keshi coached the Togo national football team, surprisingly bringing them to their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006.
Though he secured Togo’s unlikely qualification, he was replaced by German coach Otto Pfister prior to the World Cup finals, after Togo showed a dismal performance and failed to advance to the knock-out stage in 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.
However, 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 in time for a friendly against Cameroon.
He worked as manager of the Mali national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal, but Keshi was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi became coach of the Nigerian National Team in 2011 and led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final.
The following day Keshi handed in his resignation, only to reverse his decision the day after. Keshi led Nigeria to the 2013 Confederations Cup, defeated Tahiti 6–1, and lost 1–2 to Uruguay in the second game, and also lost 0–3 to World Cup winners, Spain in their final group game.
On 16 November 2013, Keshi’s Nigeria secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup by beating Ethiopia 4–1 on aggregate in a play-off.
On 18 November 2013, Stephen Keshi set a record in African football by being the first African coach to successfully qualify two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) to the World Cup Finals.
He also helped Nigeria become the first country to achieve an African Cup of Nations trophy and World Cup qualification, both in 2013.
On 25 June 2014, Keshi’s Nigeria progressed to the knockout stage of 2014 World Cup, after starting the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Iran, followed by a controversial 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
They lost the final group stage match 2-3 against Argentina, but progressed to the knockout stage, courtesy of a 3-1 win by Bosnia and Herzegovina over Iran.
On 30 June 2014, the Super Eagles lost to France in a 2014 World Cup Round of 16 match. After the match, Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach but later reversed the decision after the Nigerian Football Federation renewed his contract.
On 14 October 2014, his team failed to win a single game in the 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifying series and failed to qualify, but Keshi said he would continue to coach the Super Eagles because he loves the team and he loves his country.
The rest is history…
*With Additional Information From Wikipedia
Condolence Messages Roll In
*Confederation of African Football (CAF) president, Issa Hayatou stated: “Even if Stephen Keshi left us too early, he achieved an incredible career, both as a player and as a coach, being one of only two people in African football history, along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player, in Tunisia in 1994, and as a coach, in South Africa in 2013.”
*President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Melvin Amaju Pinnick lamented: “This is devastating. We have lost a superhero. The NFF Board will meet and decide on the best way to honour Stephen Keshi.”
*The coach that made Keshi captain of Nigeria in 1983, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde declared: “This is too much of a shock. May his soul rest in peace.”
*Former secretary-general of then Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Alhaji Sani Ahmed Toro reacted thus: “This is a big loss to Nigeria football. Please accept my condolences.”
*Current general-secretary of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Dr. Mohammed Sanusi said: “There are no praise words too big to describe Stephen Keshi. I still cannot bring myself to speak about him in the past tense.”
*President of Tanzania Football Federation, Jamal Malinzi wrote: “I am truly sorry to hear of the loss of Nigeria and Africa’s football legend Stephen Keshi. Though he is gone, his service to football has not lasted with his passing as he will always have an everlasting legacy in the game of football.”
*Football Association of Zambia president, Andrew Kamanga wrote: “It is with deep sense of sorrow to learn of the passing on of your former coach of Nigeria, Mr. Steven Keshi. We wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the Nigeria football family and indeed Mr. Keshi’s family on the passing on of our beloved colleague.”
* Ace broadcaster, Bimbo Adeola wrote on his Facebook page: “Oh no, big boss! You called me ‘Bimbus’ and now you’re gone with no one to called me ‘Bimbus’ again! So long my hero. Sleep well, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. The Lord rest your soul, sir.”
*Youth football promoter, Yomi Kuku also stated on Facebook: “Monsieur Keshi! You have conquered! You played your part, though to the generation filled with hate, you did nothing! The hemisphere you sojourned never had living heroes, they always never wanted one, their “heroes” are always preferred gone in the wind.”
*Super Eagles defender, Kenneth Omeruo stated: “You weren’t just a coach to me. You were a father. You believed I had what it took to play for the country even when I had doubts myself. Even when people said Cut him, you kept me and encouraged me. I have always prayed to work with you again.. Guess that won’t happen.”
*Zambian soccer legend, Kalusha Bwalya commented: “Woke up to the sad news of the passing of my brother Stephen Keshi. I can’t believe it. I am in shock . Football legend. RIP.”
*Chelsea of England declared in a statement posted on Twitter : “All at CFC are saddened to hear of former Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi’s death. He worked with Mikel & Victor Moses.”