Late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi is mostly remembered for his exploits as a coach especially with the Nigerian national team but he was equally outstanding during his playing days.
The former Togolese, Malian, and Nigerian national teams’ coach who died at the age of 54 on June 7 2016, started his professional football career with now defunct Nigerian side, ACB of Lagos and New Nigeria Bank of Benin City, his hometown club. Popularly known as the ‘Big Boss,’ Keshi was one of the few first set of African footballers to ply their trade in Europe in the 1980s. Belgian outfit, Lokeren FC, was his first port of call, a side that would go on to accommodate other African players like Victor Ikpeba, and Sunday Oliseh (both Nigerians) and Ghanaian Nii Lamptey.
Keshi’s glory days in club football came during his time with Belgian giants, Anderlecht, a side he spent four years with and also captained. Keshi won the Belgian Cup with Anderlecht in 1998 and 1999, prior to helping them clinch the league title in 1991. The Big Boss would go on to feature for French side RC Strasbourg, and later clubs like Molenbeek, Jaguar Bay, San Jose and Sacramento Scorpions, before ending his playing career with Malaysian club, Perlis in 2005.
For the Nigerian national team, Keshi earned over 60 caps, and was part of the most formidable Super Eagles team of all time (1994 Eagles), who won the 1994 Nations Cup though an injury prevented him from featuring in the final game of the competition against the Chipolopolo of Zambia. He was equally an integral part of the 1994 Nigeria World Cup squad that crashed out of the competition in the dying minutes of their second-round encounter against Italy.
The Togolese national team marked his first professional job as a coach and to the surprise of many, he qualified the West African team for their first FIFA World Cup appearance in 2006 ahead of the Senegalese and Zambian national teams. After a disappointing performance at the 2006 Nations Cup, Keshi was sacked and replaced by Otto Pfister. Re-hired by the Togolese federation in 2007, Keshi would not experience much success as his first term and moved on to handle the Malian nation team, qualifying the country for the 2008 Nations Cup in Angola, but failing to lead them past the group stage. In 2011, Keshi got his dream job and was appointed coach of the Nigerian national team.
Owing to experiences gained during his playing days and his familiarity with the Nigerian football terrain, Keshi did not fail enthusiasts who believed he would succeed with the African giants. With the Nigerian team, he won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations which meant Nigeria’s automatic qualification as Africa’s representative in the FIFA Confederations Cup. The gaffer led the Eagles past the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil but failed to triumph over the French national team in the second round of the competition.
Keshi’s victory with the Eagles at the 2013 Nations Cup made him the only Nigerian footballer to win the tournament as player and coach, and is only the second African to win the tournament as player and coach.
After much controversy surrounding his application to coach the Ivorian national team while still in charge of the Nigerian team, Keshi’s stint with Nigeria ended after he was sacked in July, 2015. His death a year later made him the fifth member of the 1994 Golden Generation of Nigerian footballers to die after Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini, and Wilfred Agbonavbare.
Keshi is unarguably one of the most successful African sportspersons of all time.
Featured Images source: Nigeria24-7News