Coach Stephen Keshi (R) celebrating his stunning victory over Mali
By Tunde Sulaiman
Perhaps it is only in Nigeria that rather than milking to the fullest the celebration of a 19-year wait for glory, tensions simmering beneath the surface of the “beautiful game” finally bubbles over and takes the shine off what should have been at least a week of merriment!
After all, it is no easy feat being crowned African champions not by “chance” but actually deservedly and by upstaging the doubters – of which there were many.
But that is exactly what the Eagles did in six matches over 21 days in South Africa beating overwhelming favourites Cote d’Ivoire in convincing style to show that the triumph was no fluke.
However, the decision of Stephen Keshi to go public with his plan of walking away (which he has since rescinded) put a huge dampener on the Eagles’ triumph and immediately raised once again focused attention on how football is run in the country.
Of course, if one asks the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for their side of the saga they will have what they will say, but a lengthy telephone interview with a family member close to the “Big Boss” during the week brought a rare insight into what actually has been going on behind the scenes, which ultimately played a big part in the Big Boss’s decision to throw in the towel.
First the family member, who spoke with me, strived hard to point out that Keshi took the action not because he wanted more money but because he knew that with the AFCON 2013 victory he had just achieved, he finally had the clout to tackle the issues head on.
The source also confirmed what I wrote in my column last week that had the Eagles not won all the officials now claiming glory would have quickly shifted the blame away from themselves and onto the coaching crew.
“Look let me tell you, do you know that while in South Africa there were NFF officials who were all the while pushing for a foreign coach even though the Eagles were yet to lose a match!
“They never had faith in the coaching crew and were constantly trying to sway other board members to come on board. They even took their fight to the sports minister (Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi) telling him that the Eagles were technically deficient and would only improve if there was a foreign coach in charge.”
I was told that to the minister’s credit, rather than acting based on the observation of the NFF members, he summoned the parties to a meeting in his hotel in an effort to thrash out the issue.
“But TS can you believe this, when he called them, the NFF members (I am deliberately withholding their names because the family member did mention them) suddenly lost their voices! They could say anything prompting an angry minister to tongue lash them that they were unable to say publically what they had been complaining to him about privately.”
Another area where Keshi was clearly bitter from what the family member told me was the fact that his employees clearly had no faith in him by opting to buy return tickets even before the quarter-final game with Cote d’Ivoire.
“What else do you need to know that your employees do not have any faith in you than that? They could have at least waited for the outcome of the game before taking whatever action they wanted if the Eagles had lost. But God shamed them and they not only beat the Elephants but went on to win the competition.
“Like I’ve said earlier, Stephen isn’t fighting for himself but for coaches generally he wants to use this victory to push for changes – all for the good of the game in the country.
“Under these kinds of conditions no coach will be able to do well. So it’s better he thrashes the issues out now once and for all rather than sweeping them under the carpet only for them to still crop up again later!”
The family member said it is quit painful to see the way Keshi is being treated by his own federation while receiving much better treatment outside the country.
“He (Keshi) received better treatment in Mali and Togo. Imagine here in Nigeria more than a year after being appointed national coach he is yet to be given accommodation or an official car. He has to beg me or a member of his coaching crew to drive him around in Abuja. Whereas in both Mali and Togo he had both as soon as he was appointed coach.”
I was also made to understand that making the issue of non-payment of salary public was taken by family members and not Keshi.
“He (Keshi) was not ready to say anything, but we (family) wondered why he should keep quite after four months without being paid any salary. We were the ones, who engineered making it a public issue. Of course, we know how they (NFF) responded – they denied it!
“It was only after the public disclosure that they (NFF) came up with three months salary out of the four they owing him. Even as I’m speaking with you now he and his coaching crew are yet to be paid their January salaries.”
I was also made to understand in very clear terms that Keshi had actually resigned and was only made to withdraw it by three people – President Goodluck Jonathan, Senate President David Mark and Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah.
“The Senate President and Aviation Minister have been very nice to him. He cannot but listen to them, while the President is of course the President.
“I’m sure you might not know that but for the intervention of Senator Mark the Venezuela game would not have held because the NFF was unable to get visas. Imagine they have a protocol department and yet were still unable to get visas. When everything appeared dead, Stephen had to personally get in touch with Senator Mark to intimate him of the situation and it was his (Mark’s) intervention, which eventually saved the day.”
The family member then rounded up by letting out a secret.
“I’m going to tell you something that only very few of us know. Do you know that but for Stephen’s wife, he possible would not have coached Nigeria?
“After working in both Mali and Togo he was considering taking up the offer with another African country, but the wife called him and said: ‘look Stephen, you have made a name for yourself in other countries you now need to make a name for yourself in your own country!’
“He tried to explain to her why he was reluctant, pointing out how football is run and so on. But she was insistent that he must still give it a try. And to God be the Glory see what has happened.”
Like I wrote earlier NFF will have their own side and I will strive to get in touch with one of the officials specifically mentioned for his possible response, which I will publish later.
Expect More Slip Ups as FA Cup Returns
Once again the Premier League takes a back seat this weekend as the attention switches to the knock-out competition, the FA Cup with eight games spread over three days.
The pick of the fixtures, for me, which takes place Sunday at Stamford Bridge, were deposed European champions, Chelsea as they try to get the better of League One side, Brentford, which was only minutes away from adding further misery on the Blues but for a late equaliser.
Now the Premier League side has the chance to finally show the lower league side that there is actually a gulf between them and go on to book a place into Round Five.
Some other games to watch involve Premier League sides Arsenal, which is home to Blackburn Rovers, Everton will be wary of a banana peel at Oldham, while Manchester City hosts Leeds United and Manchester United host struggling EPL side, Reading.
FA Cup fixtures
Luton Town v Millwall
Arsenal v Blackburn
Milton Keynes Dons v Barnsley
Oldham Athletic v Everton
Chelsea v Brentford
Manchester City v Leeds United
Huddersfield Town v Wigan Athletic
Manchester United v Reading