Former Super Eagles player and coach, Austin Eguavoen, has described the late Stephen Keshi as the only coach to get anywhere near the achievements of Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof in Nigerian football.
Eguavoen who is also a member of Westerhof’s 1994 Golden Generation that won the Africa Cup of Nations as well as qualified Nigeria for the World Cup for the first time at USA’94, told THISDAY on Tuesday in Lagos that Keshi surpassed all the other indigenous coaches on the Eagles job.
Speaking at the unveiling of Jay Jay Okocha Foundation in Lagos during the week, Eguavoen said the Big Boss only come second to Westerhof in terms of managerial success of the national team.
“One of the most successful managers this country had had was Westerhof, after which Keshi comes next. Of all the local coaches, Keshi remains the most successful. All of us that passed through Westerhof tried to emulate his style of management.
“Under him we had five captains in the national team – the head captain and four assistant captains and in all the clubs that I’ve coached I used this style.
Unfortunately, this was what some people interpreted to mean a mafia group existed in the national team.
On the allegation that some players like Jonathan Akpoborie and Chidi Nwanu were shut out of the national team by the mafia, the former Super Eagles captain reacted thus: “I had very little time with Jonathan in the national team. My first game for Nigeria was on July 4, 1986 and Jonathan was in the Under-20 team at that time.
As a matter of fact, I was his captain in the U-20 team but because I was a little above the age limit I did not go to Chile (for the 1987 World Youth Championship). I left for Genk in Belgium.
Eguavoen said he did not return to the team to meet Akpoborie in the team.
“I did not come back to meet Jonathan until 1997 prior to 1998 World Cup in France and Philippe Troussier was the coach. So, if you say he was shut out of the national team and the Super Eagles was not coached by a local coach, I still cannot fathom that,” stressed the former Eagles coach.
He continued: “Troussier qualified the country to the 1998 World Cup but it was Bora Milutinović that took the team to the Mundial and I was playing as a professional in Belgium, so I don’t understand where Jonathan was coming from.”
As for Chidi Nwanu, Cerezo, as Eguavoen was called by his admirers said the former captain of the defunct ACB of Lagos should be grateful that he ever played for the country at the highest level.
“He should be happy that he ever had the chance to play for Nigeria in the first place. No doubt he was one of the finest defenders this country had produced. But how many qualifying games did he play for Nigeria? But when he had the chance at the World Cup proper he took his chance and played.
“Keshi was injured just before the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia and that was why he was not having regular playing time and at that point Uche Okafor was drafted to take over from him. But by the time we arrived at the USA for the World Cup Westerhof found out that Nwanu was a better player than Okafor and he played him. That was why I said Chidi should be happy he ever played for Nigeria,” Eguavoen stressed.
Continuing, the former Julius Berger of Lagos defender said, “Okocha was an asset when he came to the national team and when you see an asset you have little choice than to protect him and that was what we did for Okocha. So if Nwanu was ahead of the other players too we would have protected him as well.”
Asked if the present crop of players have the kind of bond and mental toughness his set exhibited to scale through the tough 1994 World Cup qualifiers, Eguavoen said: “Things have changed, maybe because there is too much money in football today. But if we have to get it right and start winning laurels for the country again, the players must have the country at heart, which is a difficult thing to do I must admit. Because today, we still see some of our colleagues (of the 1994 era) still struggling to make ends meet.
“Unlike in the advanced world, where there is a system in place that takes care of ex-internationals. But such platform is not here where a player’s future is guaranteed as a sportsman. So, when any Nigerian sportsman is not giving his best, I don’t blame him because when you gets injured you are on your own,” Eguavoen said candidly.
On the tough Group B Eagles found themselves in the Russia 2018 qualifiers, Eguavoen observed that it is a tough one to qualify from but Super Eagles still have a chance.
“If we start well we could qualify but otherwise we won’t qualify. Starting well means getting a point in the first game against Zambia, it does not necessary mean getting the three points. A point in Lusaka would go a long way in taking away a lot of pressure from the team in our next home game. However, if we bungled the first game we would be under tremendous pressure and I don’t see this crop of present players having the capacity to cope with such pressure,” Eguavoen noted.
Cerezo however hailed Okocha for his initiative to use the Jay Jay Okocha Foundation to better the life of not only the kids in the streets but also ex-internationals.
“He has transformed his vision from the field of play to the society,” Eguavoen said.
The highlight of the unveiling was the signing of the contract between Jay Jay Okocha foundation and I-Naira.com, the official auctioning partner that would be responsible for auctioning some of Okocha’s football memorabilia.