SA 2013: Crunch Time for Stephen Keshi

19 Jan 2013

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Stephen Keshi’s Eagles needs the ‘rub of the green’ in South Africa

By Tunde Sulaiman

After month’s of preparations (dating back from when he was appointed just over a year ago), the next few weeks will go a long way in determining the fate of Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi as the 19th edition of the African Cup of Nations gets underway today in South Africa.

Although the Super Eagles do not taste action until Monday with a tricky opening Group C game against West African foes, Burkina Faso, Keshi and his coaching crew will be on tenterhooks wondering if all they have planned for all these months’ gels in South Africa.

Of course like every coach knows (perhaps except Arsene Wenger) he is only as good as the results he delivers. Forget the issue of having a contract – after all we all know that contracts are just a piece of paper that can be torn up at any given time (as Jo Bonfrere and Philippe Troussier painfully learnt)!

But then while it is very easy for us on the outside (by this I mean writers like me, football fans and general public) to easily criticise coaches for team selection, tactics and so on; the reality is that coaching is a very difficult job.

Like we love to say about football not being mathematics, so also is coaching not an exact science. Coaching is not 1+1=2 or H2 + O = H20 (water)!

No far from it; a lot of it boils down to ‘mother luck’ and unknown variables not playing pranks.

Yes good preparations, a decent background in coaching, a sound tactical acumen and so on can help one achieve the right results; but at the end of the day there are too many unknown variables for one to contend with which makes coaching a very slippery and thankless job.

A very good example to buttress my point about ‘unknown variables’ is what happened to Arsenal last Sunday, when defender Laurent Koscielny for reasons only he can explain opted to leave footballing and become a rugby player, which saw him taking a very early shower.

That singularly act immediately tore up all of Arsene Wenger’s careful pre-match plans and eventually cost the Gunners three points against Manchester City. Can any coach legislate for such? Of course the answer is no.

Incidentally the same incident might have happened to Keshi in the match against Cape Verde had the referee followed the law to the letter Victor Moses would have been sent off and instead of the game ending all square we might have been upstaged by the ‘minnows’.

Another example of an ‘unknown variable’ in football is the recent FA Cup 3rd  Round match where Liverpool’s Luis Suarez got away with a blatant handball to deny non-league side, Mansfield a famous draw (and possible replay) against their more illustrious foes.

However, while I’m not making a case for Keshi, what I’m trying to say is that we should remember that such things do go a long way in determining the outcome of matches.

On the other hand, where I have some concern with the former national team skipper is his decision to place his faith in 17 newcomers for a tournament of such a magnitude.

While it is commendable that he should look beyond SA 2013 to Brazil 2014, he should not lose site of the fact that he has to first successfully negotiate the former to have any chance of being in charge for the latter.

We all saw what happened when AVB (Andre Villas-Boas) tried to make changes too fast at Chelsea last season – the team floundered and he was shown the exit door.

His replacement, Roberto Di Matteo wisely (on hindsight) reverted to the old and tested players and was rewarded with the club’s first ever Champions League trophy.

I feel that Keshi should have taken more of the ‘experienced’ players to SA 2013 and then weaned them out after the tournament. After all if he wins with old man who will give a hoot.

I also believe that perhaps Osaze Odemwingie should have been in the team (maybe I’m being biased here but I remember he was the one that played a major part in our going to SA 2010 and does give 100 percent).

Again we all know that players have issues but if the player is good and adds value to the team it is then left for the manger to know how to manage him.

Many managers would have kicked out Carlos Tevez (after what he did in the Champions League last season) and Mario Balotteli (for his repeated acts of petulance) but Roberto Mancini has stuck by them and was rewarded with the Argentine international helping Manchester City to their first Premier League trophy last season.

Even the ‘great man’ himself, Alex Ferguson has had some ‘wayward’ stars under his wing, players like Eric Cantona and David Beckham but still got them to do a job for him before letting them go on his own terms.

Cristiano Ronaldo was another one who gave Ferguson difficulties especially after Germany 2006 when the British media descended on the Portuguese star for what they perceived was his role in getting Wayne Rooney sent off. But the Scotsman pampered him and ensured he helped United win a second Champions League in 2008, which incidentally was Ronaldo’s most productive season when he scored a stunning 42 goals, before shipping him off to Real Madrid for a world record fee of ₤80 million.

But then this is my personal view and with 160 million Nigerians all being coaches we will most likely have 160 million opinions!

Keshi has also not done himself any favours in my opinion by saying his team can surpass the impressive class of ’94! So far on the balance of what we have seen they are no where near that squad.

Perhaps he is just trying to build them up psychologically for the task at hand, but what he has just done is to put more pressure on himself to get the team to be like the one that won Nigeria’s last Nations Cup title (they also qualified the nation for our first ever World Cup outing).

All said and done though, at the end of the day we have decided to put our trust in the former Anderlecht of Belgium star and we can only support him with our prayers and hope that he and his team get the rub of the green in South Africa. Because at the end of the day, we are all in it together whether we accept it or not.

If the team does well at SA 2013 there will be merriment across the land and if they do otherwise there will be sadness and the inevitable call for the heads of those who gave us heartbreak.

While I wish Keshi and his 23 warriors all the very best of luck I’m also eagerly hoping to see three weeks of top flight African football. May the best team win!

Tags: Sports, Nigeria, SA 2013, KESHI, Super Eagles

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