By Ehi Ekhator, Naija Center News
A former Nigerian football coach got more than what he bargained for after he was fired on July 4, 2015 by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) over what it termed as “lack of commitment to achieve the Federation’s objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract.”
Stephen Keshi was once rated as a messiah when he took over the National team, Super Eagles in November 2, 2011. He signed three years contract with the Nigeria Football Federation after taking over from the former coach, Samson Siasia
His songs of praises finally came to a halt when the NFF announced his termination two months after he signed another two years contract in 2015.
Keshi secured his high place in Nigeria football history after he led the team that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa by defeating Burkina Faso by 1-0; for the first time in 19 years.
Gradually, Keshi ‘s pride started taking over, he locked horns with the NFF who gave him the contract, and his relationship with his top players like Osaze Odemwingie went sour. The NFF described the Big Boss as he is fondly called, as a very stubborn and uncontrollable individual.
24 hours after he returned from AFCON in 2013, praises flowing in from different parts of the countries to congratulate his effort and for making history, Keshi announced his resignation on a South African Radio blaming the NFF disrespect for his action. It took the intervention of the former Senate President David Mark to persuade him to change his mind. He also announced he had numerous contracts in queue for him
The ex-Super Eagle coach continued to enjoy the treatment of a coach as an official of the NFF who didn’t want his name mentioned said he was enjoying the closeness of the Presidency and some top government officials which led to the reason the NFF could not push him aside.
A sport Analyst and a journalist with African Independent Television, Jide Ogunleye described the incident between Keshi and NFF as unfortunate. He said “He (coach Keshi) knew the new board of NFF didn’t like him as he was enjoying the influence of the former President Goodluck Jonathan”.
“The Football Federation had refused signing him again but the President influenced the decision to fire him and made sure he was retained”.
On August 23 2013, Keshi had a fallout with Belgian Tom Saintfelt. He accused coach Keshi of being a racist over a statement he made on United Kingdom-based African TV show, Vox Africa’s Sports360 in which he said “He (Saintfiet) is not an African person, he is a white dude, and he should go back to Belgium”.
The fallout came after the team defeated Tahiti 6-1 at the Fifa Confederation Cup at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, and was defeated by Uruguay 1-2 inside the arena Fonte Nova in Salvador in Brazil.
November 16, Keshi took the Super Eagles to the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil for a fifth appearance after defeating Ethiopia 2-0 in Calabar and Junauary 9, the Big Boss got the reward of his several winnings by clicking the Africa Coach of the year.
The more Keshi showed his coaching strength, the more he crossed lines and accumulated enemies. Adding to his previous fallout with the NFF, the Big Boss rejected the suggestion of a foreign assistant coach and requested for his assistants, Sylvanus Okpala.
Just like the coach, indiscipline crawled into the team. The Senate President was shocked in Brazil when the players demanded for 25 percent of the money the federation was expecting from the FIFA for the first round matches.
The players threatened not to play the match against Iran which eventually ended in 0-0 unless the requested percentage reached them.
Though Keshi apologized to Mark, who is one of his backbone and a pillar behind the reason the NFF were soft with him. The apology was not taken seriously by the Federal Government delegation and the NFF who described the move by the team, headed by Keshi as a national disgrace, according to an official who didn’t want to be named.
The same money fight was reported from the USA camp as they had put NFF on notice over money before they boarded the flight to Brazil. A year before that, the Super Eagles team had embarked on a strike in Namibia over match bonus during FIFA Confederations Cup
Both Nigerians and NFF as a body believed that the poor performance by the players was as a result of the money fight, hence blamed Keshi for his inability to control his team.
After Nigeria loss to France in the World cup second round in June 2014, Keshi announced his resignation as the Nigeria head coach for the second time but hang around as requested by the NFF, since there was no new appointed coach to take over from him
In October 2014, according to Supersport report, the embattled coach was fired along with his assistance. 14 days later, he was reinstated after the NFF decision was again overruled by the President, Goodluck Jonathan.
After the Presidential election in March, it was obvious that Keshi would lose his position. Many believed that he should have left when he had the chance but he didn’t think the former President will lose to the former Nigeria dictator, Muhammadu Buhari.
After Jonathan handover to the new President, Keshi was finally fired on July 4, 2015 after he signed a new contract in May, for lack of commitment to achieve the Federation’s objectives as set out in the Coach’s employment contract.
Justifying the NFF’s action, the Sport analyst, Jide said “He breached his contract; no employer would take what he did applying for another job while you are still on existing one. It was published by the Ivorian Daily Paper, a full list of coaches that applied for the post of the Ivorian National Coach. If Keshi denied applying then who forwarded his credentials and CV for application?”
Effort to make the Secretary General of NFF, Mr. Sunusi talk on the issue proved abortive as he said he will not talk on the Federation former employee.