BY KUNLE SOLAJA
It is four years today since Nigerian football legend, Stephen Keshi died in Benin.
The former Super Eagles’ skipper who was also one of the pioneers of the Under-21 side when it was called ‘Greater Tomorrow’ was Nigeria’s national team manager for 1,342 days, leading the side to win the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 and also leading them to both the FIFA Confederations Cup that same year and the World Cup the following year.
When he qualified Nigeria for the 2014 World Cup on 16 November 2013, he became the first African to qualify two different teams to the World Cup having in 2005 qualified Togo for the 2006 World Cup.
In 2013 when Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time, Keshi became the second person to win the premier African football title as a player and as a coach, following the path of Egypt’s Mahmoud El Gohary.
Along with Amodu Shuaibu who sadly also died three after Keshi, the late skipper/coach qualified Nigeria for the 2002 World Cup, even though both were later relieved of their posts.
He could have been a holder of three Africa Cup of Nations’ gold medal, but he narrowly missed the cut when the final selection of the 1980 Green Eagles’ squad was made.
But he eventually made the team in succession to retired skipper and central defender, Christian Chukwu when he made his debut with the national team in a July 18 friendly match with Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta).
Before then, Keshi had featured for the Flying Eagles that failed to qualify for the 1981 World Youth Tournament (now U-20 World Cup).
By then, his skills had attracted interests from Lagos ACB, the offspring of Zik Athletics Club of the 1940s and 1950s. Keshi had commanding stature right from his days at ACB and later he joined New Nigerian Bank, Benin when Willy Bazuaye was the coach.
He led the Benin outfit to WAFU Cup victories in 1983 and 1984. He later moved to Cote d’Ivoire after he was sanctioned along with other Benin based players who reported late to the national camp.
From Cote d’Ivoire, he moved to Belgium, sparking off what later became the Belgian trek.