The ‘Big Boss’ sounds like the nickname given to the head of a cartel, or a kingpin, or the title of the head of a syndicate. Well, whatever comes to your mind when you hear the phrase ‘the Big Boss’, you can as well replace that with Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. A boss in every sense; a Captain, a Coach, a Commander on and off the field, a Champion.
Born on the 23rd of January 1962, in Azare, Bauchi State. Keshi was a native of Illah in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State. He was of the Igbo descent thus, informing the name, ‘Okechukwu’. Keshi had his early education at Saint Paul’s Catholic Nursery and Primary School, Apapa Road, Lagos State. He proceeded to Saint Finbarrs’ College, Akoka, Lagos, in 1976. He subsequently received his high school certificate at Saint Gregory’s College.
Stephen Keshi grew to become more than just a gifted player or talented coach; he evolved into a treasure for Nigeria and a source of pride to as well. The defender and eventually, football manager won trophies as both. As a player, Keshi was capped 60 times for the Nigeria National Team, (making him the nation’s second most capped player as at the time of this writing).
Stephen ‘the Big Boss’ Okechukwu Keshi
The nickname the ‘Big Boss’ was given to him with respect to his footballing career. He was not only a good player of the game, but also had some good ‘fortune’ as a coach. As a player, he represented Nigeria at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, captaining the Super Eagles to victory in the latter. He also played club football in five countries, most notably Belgium, where he won the Belgian league championship with R.S.C. Anderlecht in 1991. He had a brief stint at the short-lived Sacramento Scorpions in California, the United States alongside is fellow eagles team mate, Augustine Eguavoen.
Keshi after his retirement from active playing, he took some studies along the coaching lines before eventually venturing into coaching. He was a part of the coaching staff for the Nigerian national team, most notably as head coach for the Junior Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship which also served as qualification for the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship, howbeit, without success. He served as a coach/ manager of the National teams of three countries namely, Togo, Mali and Nigeria; an achievement only synonymous to him amongst Nigerian coaches. As a manager, Keshi was successful to a good extent. For example, he qualified the National Team of Togo for the only FIFA World Cup appearance in its history in 2006. He however, left the position prior to the tournament and was replaced by Otto Pfister. He was employed as the manager of the Malian National Football team on a two year deal, though he was sacked about 18months into the appointment, because of Mali’s inability to qualify for the second round of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations
It was while he coached Nigeria that he became a more pronounced name amongst sport lovers. Logically so, because he won the African Nations cup in 2013 with the team after a long time. This feat was historic to him; because he became one of only two people, along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach.
The Legend, the Legacy and the Death of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi
The ‘Big Boss’ attained legendary status not only by winning the African Nations Cup as a player and as a coach, but by also becoming the first African coach in African football to qualify two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) for the World Cup Finals. He also helped Nigeria become the first country to achieve an African Cup of Nations trophy and World Cup qualification, both in 2013.
As a player, he won trophies such as West African Club Championship (1983, 1984), Coupe Houphoet Boigny (1985, 1986), Côte d’Ivoire Premier Division (1986), Côte d’Ivoire Coupe (1986), Belgian Cup (1988, 1989), Jupiler League (1991) and the African Cup of Nations (1994). He played for the following teams: ACB Lagos, New Nigeria Bank, Stade d’Abidjan, Africa Sports, Lokeren, Anderlecht, RC Strasbourg, RWDM, CCV Hydra, Sacramento Scorpions and Perlis FA
Besides winning the Africa Cup of Nations as a coach in 2013, he was also given the African Coach of the Year Award in the same year by the confederation of African Football.
Keshi had a heart attack and died en route to hospital on 7 June 2016 in Benin City, aged 54. Posthumously, the Tech Giant Google honoured him with a doodle on what was supposed to be his 56th birthday.
Featured image source: The Guardian Nigeria