Big Boss Stephen Keshi(1962-2016); the road to stardom – Ena Ofugara

Stephen-KeshiWhen my wife, an American asked me who was Keshi, my heart skipped a beat as something told me a very sad thing had happened. OH MY GOD!!! This piece will celebrate the life and times of Stephen Okechukwu BIG BOSS Keshi, perhaps the singular most influential sports figure in Nigeria ever. My father is a football and boxing fan. (I am yet to write on Mohammed Ali. Maybe because of so much material on him already) My earliest memories of football was Espana 82, where without google I will tell you of Paolo Rossi, of Italy, Boniek of Poland (the original Lewandowski) and that brave Algerian and Cameroun teams that had Rabah Madjah and Thomas Nkono respectively, teams that squared up well with the Finalists Germany and Italy. But my real first memory was 1984 Nations Cup final between Nigeria and Cameroun. I was to later learn the Super Eagles was coached by Onigbinde. The Captain was a young boy called Stephen Keshi who had missed the 1980 edition by whiskers. But even before then, he Keshi was OUR nuber 4 Jersey for my original team NEW NIGERIAN BANK OF BENIN. That team had 7 regulars in the Green Eagles, later remamed Super Eagles. The team had Henry Nwosu, who was the youngest in the 1980 Gloria Otto all conquering team; It had the most aggressive pairing of Bright Omokaro and Eboigbe. These guys can murder a striker who dares try to dribble them in central defense. It had The late Agbonavbare as goalie. There was also Austin Popo and Samson Ozogula. Keshi led them to two WAFU Cups back to back, once against a Malian team ( something something of Bamako). I remember Keshi hitting a shot from outside the 18 and going right through the goalie of the West African team. NG-[C:G.Comp,B:Hp,Wk:2316,Dim:336X280]:Laptops Keshi as Nigeria's Captain (he was to become the longest serving captain of Nigeria ever) was not the most docile nor disciplined. Keshi and all NNB players of the National team were to be banned from playing for indiscipline. That was when Keshi left for Cote D'Ivoire where he was a colosus. He moved from there to Anderlecht of Belgium where his long throws and smooth defensive midfield play and ability to move to central defense, while scoring crucial goals made him Nigeria's first star professional footballer. He was so successful that Keshi has a plane waiting for him in Maroc 88 and only played two games against Cameroun in group stage and final as the planes fly him away after every game. Okay, Thomson Usiyen and Peter Owobokiri had gone abroad earlier but somehow Keshi was more celebrated because not only did he travel, he opened the way for others. Some people may be wondering why Siasia and Eguavoen defer to Keshi. Keshi was instrumental to their traveling and becoming pros. Many stayed in his house when they first traveled. Keshi even helps other Africans including the celebrated case of Odartey Lamptey who Keshi is said to have helped get Nigerian passport and who joined Anderlecht. Keshi was to lead Nigeria to her first World Cup ever, thus Lording it over Chairman Chukwu who could not. Keshi it was who actually did the inside coaching. I remember Moses Kpakor saying "Keshi say make I mark Mbough Mbough. Say na him be engine room of Cameroun". That was when we beat Cameroun 2-0 at Ibadan though we were to lose 1-0 to Oman Biyiks header and Cameroun was to go on and beat defending Champions Argentina with Maradona and Carmegia playing. So when we drew 1-1 with Algeria in 1993 and so qualified for 1994. Keshi broke down and cried. He cried like a baby. But a baby, Keshi was not. He was the BIG BOSS. Sport Minister Akinyele quarelled with him. The minister was fired by Aikhomu and Babangida straight! Andrew Aikhomogbe of Golden Eaglets says when Keshi visits eaglet camp, everybody must dress their bed and clean their rooms. Keshi was respected by all like that... except of course Etim Esin. That is a story for another day. And yes Keshi ensured Okocha replaced Esin as our number ten. Erim Esin says so himself. Keshi's first coaching job was a disaster. He flopped with the flying Eagles. Then he qualified Togo for World Cup. Coached Mali and won the Nations cup with Nigeria as well as qualify her for World cup and second round, equaling Westerhof's record in less years in charge. Ernest Okonkwo, the greatest sports caster in Nigeria's history said of Keshi in his playing days "the way he takes the ball from you, it is like he has glue in his legs. Yes Keshi became old and slower. Chidi Nwanu even took his Jersey. However, in his prime, no defensive midfielder compared to Keshi. None of Oliseh or Mikel could transform to central defense as Lothar Matheus, Mathias Sammer and other greats defensive midfielders do as they age. Two time Best coach in Africa, Keshi has suffered personal loss. Like Victor Ikpeba, he buried his wife. Unlike Victor Ikpeba, the Big Boss could not take it. While Ikpeba could not kick football anymore when Tinuke died, Keshi's heart just got tired of beating. Six months later, my Childhood hero collapses in the very town of Benin where he made hiss name. Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. My very first email, I could not think of a password. The first name that came to my mind was Stephen Keshi. I followed you and supported you all through my life. Today, as you pass to the great beyond, I weep. I weep. Handsome man. Charismatic man. My fellow Deltan. NNB great. My Captain. My coach. Oh Keshi. Rest in peace.
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