The freshly deceased Nigerian great was many things to many people, but he’d definitely be remembered for these five key traits
Love or loathe him, there are tons of reasons for which Nigeria legend Stephen Keshi, who passed away rather suddenly last Wednesday aged just 54, wouldn’t be forgotten by posterity. More than anything else, though, he’d be recalled for possessing these five:
So gutsy was Keshi that, were he even feminine, he’d probably still have had some of the biggest balls around. Keshi certainly took several decisions that not many of his peers could have mustered the courage for, and one of such, perhaps more than any other, encapsulates the entire catalogue. He daringly under-used the domineering Emmanuel Adebayor, unarguably Togo’s grandest star ever, at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations just to prove the point that none at his disposal was bigger than the collective. Restricting Adebayor likely explained why Togo failed to win a single game at the tournament, with Keshi ultimately paying for it with a dismissal from his post and, by extension, a loss of his ticket to the Fifa World Cup he’d earlier qualified Les Eperviers for. Just don’t think that broke Keshi’s heart, though; he hardly batted an eyelid.
That, of course, didn’t mean Keshi was all stoic and frigid. He knew how to have a good laugh when the occasion permitted it — and in a career lit by so many highs, there was no shortage of such cheerful moments. Little wonder ace football writer Jonathan Wilson, in a tribute to the great man yesterday for The Guardian’s website, described Keshi as having the “deepest laugh of anybody at any Africa Cup of Nations over the past two decades.”
Keshi was talented and a winner both as a football player and coach. The last time Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations was in 2013 with Keshi as gaffer; the West Africans’ title before that, in 1994, was hoisted by Keshi the captain. He led the Super Eagles again as skipper to their maiden Mundial appearance later that year and, in Brazil two decades afterwards, Keshi became the only African coach to reach the showpiece’s knockout rounds. Oh, and don’t forget, too, the heights he took lowly Togo to! Beneath all those, it’s easy, really, to forget just how brilliant a centre-back he had been in his time.
Keshi loved money but, to his credit, he had feet and brains to feed that desire. Even as a footballer he was involved in transfer business (it’s how the Bauchi-born became Ghanaian prodigy Nii Odartey Lamptey’s ‘dad’) and, when he entered the realms of coaching, he never hesitated heading where the money was good. But, then again, who loves being broke?
Keshi was as straight as they came in football’s murky waters. He strove to be guided by the principles he found himself bound by; where there were none, he established his own and made sure those subject to him lived by those. It was why, even in the hours after Nigeria’s Afcon 2013 triumph, Keshi resigned for a brief while when it emerged that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) had entertained thoughts of replacing him with Frenchman Herve Renard, prompting a quick U-turn from his employers. It wasn’t just a show of bravado or sheer brinkmanship; that was principled Keshi at work. The ‘Big Boss’ wasn’t perfect — having been involved in some controversies — but he sure knew how to get things done right. You’d be wrong to count him among the sport’s shady characters.