In a piece titled: ‘SA 2013: Now That We’ve Qualified…’ which was published last month, I took time out to appeal to football officials as regards their utterances, especially in the wake of the Super Eagles qualification for the Nations Cup finals in South Africa next January.
However, it is clear from recent happenings over the past few days that they (officials) are not ready to heed this advice and are keeping to true to type making statements that often leave them with mud on their faces.
What I’m alluding too are the recent statements attributed to none other than Super Eagles head coach, Stephen Keshi as regards one of the nation’s most senior players, Osaze Odemwingie.
Late last week the nation’s longest serving national team captain dropped a bombshell of sorts when he announced to the world that the West Brom striker had turned his back on the Super Eagles.
These are some of the things Keshi said: “I spoke to Osaze before the Liberia game and he told me that he had decided not to play for Nigeria anymore.”
Keshi, who was speaking with supersports.com, further said: “Osaze told me that he has no problems with me as a person and that he took his decision even before I assumed position as national team coach.
“He said he was unhappy at how he was treated in the past in the national team. He explained that prior to Nigeria’s participation at the 2010 FIFA World Cup; he played in all the qualifying games but was dropped at the finals.”
“He said he was angry at the treatment meted out to him but did not discuss it with anyone. I told him that was not the best way to handle issues and that if he had already decided not to play for the national team, he should have opened up to me when I invited him to play,” Keshi said.
Keshi went further to say: “I told him that if the (Nigeria) coach (at the 2010 World Cup) benched him, he must have a reason for doing so and that things should have been handled differently.
“I told him that he should have spoken up and let me know. The coach has a reason and you can’t play in every game,” he said.
“Deciding that you don’t want to play for Nigeria because of what happened in the past is not the best.
“I understand his feelings. I think he might change his mind but I really don’t know. The ball is in his court,” Keshi said.
However, a few days later, on Monday to be precise, the story had changed.
Speaking at the Bolton White Apartment camp of the national team, Keshi said that his thoughts may have been misinterpreted, as the Beijing 2008 silver medallist had merely told him, he was frustrated at the manner he had been treated in the past and fears a repeat, which he assured him will not arise.
“What he told me was that after fighting so hard to qualify Nigeria for the South Africa 2010 World Cup, he was dumped on the bench when the tournament proper started and that he fears a repeat following the manner he was substituted in the qualifier against Rwanda in Kigali, which was under me.
“Well, I told him that if I had my way all the players who featured in that match should have been substituted but I had only three substitutions to make because we played poorly in the encounter. He told me he understands my position and that he is now ready to return to the national team fold. We actually spoke for over one hour on Sunday (November 4), so there is actually nothing amiss about Osaze. He has said he will join others to come and fight for a shirt and that is the new rule in the national team,” Keshi said.
Its not clear if the ‘Big Boss’ was trying damage control when he uttered these worlds on Monday because the player in question had already spoken to another website publication clearly contradicting Keshi’s earlier position.
“If the coach decides to call me, I’m still available to play for my country. When I decide that I want to stop playing, I will come out and say so myself,” Osaze told kickoffnigeria.com.
My take is that Keshi should not have gone public with his ‘Osaze quit’ comments. I believe that he should have adopted the famous ‘silence is golden’ quote in dealing with the matter.
We all know how difficult the Uzbek-born player can be especially once he falls out of favour with a coach. When Shaibu Amodu was in charge he had Osaze’s full backing but once he was spending more time on the bench the former Lokomotiv Moscow player became an advocate of a foreign coach!
In South Africa during the World Cup he also had harsh worlds for Lars Lars Lagerback as soon as he again failed to command a regular first team shirt!
Of course we also know what transpired between him and the last Eagles coach, Samson Siasia.
However, like I’ve repeatedly pointed out the prerogative of whether Osaze wears an Eagles shirt or not rests squarely with Keshi – he is the man in charge and can pick and chose the players he believes will deliver the goods for him.
Even if Osaze is banging in goals by the bucketful, if Keshi believes he does not need him so be it! And as long as the coach is delivering his job will be safe.
The irony of a coaching job is that even if he fields the goals’ machine and he still fails to produce the results – his job will be up for grabs; because at the end of the day a coach is only as good as his last result(s).
Aime Jacquet defied intense pressure to recall two of the best footballers to come out of France – Eric Cantona and David Ginola (they were blamed for Les Blues failure to qualify for USA’94) while he was in charge and left as a hero when he guided them to World Cup victory in 1998.
Only God knows what would have happened had he failed to win France’98 without the duo in his team!
So I feel Keshi did wrong by publically announcing Osaze’s (now) premature departure from the national team. He should go about building a formidable team for the country and allow the results of the team his builds speak for him.
South Africa 2013 is just around the corner and no one will remember who was not in the team if Keshi’s Eagles fly all the way to the trophy.