It is a day of sober reflection for Nigerian football as this day in the game marks the third anniversary that Stephen Keshi, the former Super Eagles defender and coach who won the Africa Cup of Nations as player and coach sadly passed away.
The native of Benin City in Edo State, was 54 years old when he suffered a heart attack on this day in 2016 and died as he was being rushed to receive medical treatment at a hospital, Faith Mediplex, according to his brother-in-law, Richard Aburime.
According to Aburime, Keshi had endured a history of leg pains managed by massages to the affected area on a regular basis, and he had just been given a massage on the night of his death when his health deteriorated drastically and prompted the family to rush him to the hospital located 20 minutes away from his home at the Giwa Amu vicinity of Government Reserved Area (GRA) in Benin City.
The death of Keshi came just six months after the passing away of his wife, Kate, who succumbed to cancer in December 2015. His demise in June 2016 sent a shockwave throughout the football world as it came just three years and some months after he guided the Super Eagles to a largely unexpected AFCON title in South Africa.
Keshi was appointed by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) as Super Eagles coach in 2011 and he got to making a great impact as he got the Nigeria national team back to AFCON in 2013 after it had failed to qualify for the 2012 edition which was co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and won by Zambia after the Chipolopolo shocked Ivory Coast to claim the title for the first time.
The former Mali and Togo head coach had made the bold decision of including as many as 17 debutants in the 23-man Super Eagles squad to AFCON 2013, a decision which had left fans of the team doubtful of their chances to challenge for the title which led to Keshi imploring on Nigerians at the time to believe in the team.
“We have done everything that we need to do and the boys are rearing to go and make a name for themselves,” Keshi said at the time on a Channels TV sports show, Sports Tonight.
He added: “We are going to take every game as it comes. Anybody can make predictions, but every game will be approached on its merit. We have played our last friendly and Nigerians should just remain steadfast and have faith that this team will do well.”
At the tournament, Keshi led the Super Eagles to qualify from a group including eventual final opponent, Burkina Faso, east African side, Ethiopia, who finished bottom of the group, and defending champions, Zambia, who failed to qualify from Group C after playing out draws in all their matches.
Keshi then guided the Super Eagles to victories over pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast (2-1) in the last eight, Mali (4-1) in the semi-final and Burkina Faso through a Sunday Mba goal just before half-time in the final.
The enigmatic late coach went on to help the Super Eagles become the first team on the continent to win the AFCON title and FIFA World Cup qualification in a single year, both in 2013, with Nigeria subsequently qualifying for the round of 16 with Argentina before losing 2-0 to France.
Two times, Keshi resigned as coach of the Super Eagles – after the 2013 AFCON win and after the 2014 World Cup campaign. However, he reversed the decision to resign on both occasions, citing love for the country before eventually getting relieved from the role in 2015.
Before his coaching career, which saw him help Togo qualify for a first World Cup in 2006 (he was sacked before the competition hosted by Germany started, though) and take Mali to the 2010 AFCON, Keshi starred for the Super Eagles between 1981 and 1995, making 64 appearances in that time and helping the team to the 1994 AFCON title.
Keshi will be long remembered for his AFCON winning exploits for the Super Eagles, with the 2013 triumph making him just the second person to win the competition as a player and a coach after Egypt’s Mahmoud El Gohary who won the title as a player in the 1959 edition (where he was top scorer) and as a coach in the 1998 edition.
Not many people can boast of Keshi’s achievements on the continent as he also ranks among an elite group of coaches who have helped two countries qualify for the World Cup.
How did you rate Keshi’s impact on the Super Eagles particularly and African football in general? Share your views with us in the comments section.