By Tunde Oyedele
A closer look at Nigeria Coach, Stephen Keshi shows a man who looks older than his age.
Keshi, who is just 51 years old, is not only dealing with the enormous task of leading the Super Eagles to the Brazil 2014 World Cup, the former national captain goes through the ‘eye of the needle’ to put smiles on the faces of football loving Nigerians. Despite the backlog of unpaid salaries, coupled with pressures from the hard-to-please football crazy Nigerians, Keshi is working his ass out to ensure that his compatriots are happy.
Understandably, Keshi’s role as Chief Coach of the Eagles is to raise a winning squad that has technical, tactical and instinctive play pattern. The Nigerian football community would attest to the fact that he has delivered on that assignment, but Keshi is on the hot seat once again when he leads the Eagles against the Wayla Antelopes of Ethiopia in their final qualifying match at the U.J Esuene stadium in Calabar on Saturday, 16 November, 2013.
After guiding the Malian national team to an enviable status for two years, Keshi took over the Eagles, and has led the team to win a handful of trophies, including the 2013 African Cup of Nations title; the country’s first continental cup 19 years after his former boss, Clemense Westerhof did same at Tunisia 94 AFCON.
Despite having a total of 24 players under his tutorship in Calabar, what the football tactician is facing to give the country something to cheer is mind blowing.
Eyeonthesports.com gathered through a recent research carried out on the Eagles’ Performance Psychology’, that Keshi is under real pressure, feeling the heat more than anyone in the squad.
“Even when the players perform poorly during crucial games, Keshi gets the blame for whatever happens on and off the pitch. He gets crucified for every a goal conceded, a bad pass and of course, a wrong move by the goalkeeper”, a very articulate member of the Technical Department of Nigeria Football Federation, NFF told eyeonthesports.com.
Just as the storm is gathering ahead of this weekend’s encounter, eyeonthesports.com’s findings revealed that every match played by the Eagles under Keshi, had with it an immediate emotional reaction and a set of thoughts targeted at influencing his next action.
It was also established that his employers capitalise on any poor result to tell him which player to invite to the national team, but Keshi is not under duress to do that this weekend, because his team are going into this crucial tie with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg; courtesy of Emmanuel Emenike’s brace in Addis Ababa last month.
Although, Keshi denied being under pressure when he spoke to eyeonthesports.com recently, but our findings revealed that the ‘Big Boss’ hardly sleeps due to the huge task of tinkering Nigeria’s senior national team.
“It gives me a great pleasure to coach a top team like the Super Eagles, and the fact that the team are doing well give me fulfilment. Having said that, I want to say that I’m not under any pressure because this is the job I chose to do for my country. I have done this job for other countries and there is nothing special in it other than to ensure that the Eagles play well to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians”, Keshi, who spoke through the Eagles’ Media Officer, Ben Alaiya said.
However, Keshi, who was robust, handsome and bubbling with life when he mounted the front seat of the Eagles’ technical crew towards the end 2011, has emaciated considerably. This is owing to the fact that he has passed through high hurdles in the course of his duties.
A major headache that Keshi has to deal with right from the beginning was the inadequacies of his assistant coaches, to really comb the nooks and crannies of the country and rest of the world to fish out the best players for national assignments.
There have been occasions when his assistants tell him some players (Their allegedly preferred choices) are good for the national team, only for him to discover they are below standard.
Another area that Keshi has struggled to break even is his ability to deal with issue of discipline in the Eagles. He has tried to harness the talents in the team, with a few rebellious players fighting for different causes.
Investigations revealed that his personal contact with key players has been cordial, but he still feel some pressure from parents and ‘god fathers’ of some top players who want things done their own ways; not minding the country’s camp rules.
A typical example of indiscipline in the Eagles just occurred in Calabar this week, where a few key players breezed into the camp about three days to Nigeria’s must win World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia.
Keshi, who knew he needed the players badly to get the desired results on Saturday, overlooked the dotted lines of the camp rules, but the fact remains that the said players would have to struggle to blend with rest of the team when the match gets underway in Calabar.
Such avoidable situations give the coach and his team feelings and thoughts of unfulfilled training programme and shaky dreams of rising to the occasion, to give the positive performance during their matches.
After surviving the aforementioned challenges, Keshi, in company of his crew and other backroom staff, take to the pitch, to prepare the team for their assignment.
At this stage, according to a Medical Expert, the pressure begins to rise. “The blood pressure of the coaches tends to rise from the moment they set out to train, and it is bound to increase if the right atmosphere is not created”.
The right atmosphere, according to the expert include; poor or delayed attendance of players at training venue, injury worries, very bad playing turf, players’ welfare (winning bonus and other entitlements), the burden of knowing everything about a seemingly rugged opponents and other logistics, which are major concerns during Nigeria’s camping for international competitions.
These are a few of what Keshi have to cope with at a time like this; when it’s about two days to a crucial game. It is noteworthy that the environment in camp is calm, going by the team’s 2-1 advantage from the first leg, but Eagles’ camp is charged up with visits of all class of people, including the politicians, who want to be ‘part of the winning team’.
It was established that Keshi even receive telephone calls from these people till few minutes to a match of this magnitude, this would further mount pressure on him and his squad.
Keshi, who claimed he is not pressured to do his job, has the fans to contend with many a time, especially from the notorious ones who yell at him with stern warning to be prepared for the beating of his life if the team lose a crucial match.
This happens at the stadium often, while his pitiable situation as a coach gets worse inside the playing arena, where his attention is divided. While he tries to watch out for the tactics of their opponents, he is also helping his own players to surge on to do the magic when the going gets tough on the field.
Former Flying Eagles Chief Coach, Tunde Disu, OFR, has however jettisoned any fear that the Nigerian team may not be part of the final 32 countries whose flags would be hoisted in Brazil after Saturday’s encounter with Ethiopia.
Disu, who is currently the Technical Director of Lagos Junior League, LJL, said Keshi has the team to deliver the World Cup ticket, having won the first leg 2-1 in Addis Ababa.
“Keshi can’t be under any pressure at this moment because he has been in this coaching business for years. He has seen it all as a player, where he led the Nigerian senior team to win the Nations Cup at Tunisia ‘94, and he won the Nations Cup in South Africa as a coach in January this year.
“I think all the team need to do now is to finish up the good job they started against Ethiopia, that does not mean they would be complacent. I know Keshi will play to win”, Disu said while expressing optimism about the potential of the Keshi-led Eagles to scale the hurdle of the Antelopes in Calabar.
Despite the hassles of steering the Nigerian team to the promise land, Keshi has enjoyed the support of one or two Nigerians, who have special concern for him.
One of such dignitaries is the Chairman of Globacom, Chief Mike Adenuga Jnr, who donated brand two new cars to the Eagles coach when his employers, NFF failed to meet up with their responsibilities.
Keshi is also lucky to be in charge of the team at the moment when President Goodluck Jonathan is hell bent in ensuring that sports, especially football are developed to the highest level in the country.
It would be recalled that Jonathan, who has rewarded excellence in Nigerian sports, is a regular face at the Eagles training, and has been one of those supporting Keshi, who has a tall dream of leading the nation to next year’s World Cup finals.
In other words, this piece would not be concluded without a due mention of the mental, financial and emotional strains and burdens that Keshi has to carry along with his tough task of leading the Eagles to the promise land.