Exactly seven years after the death of the late Super Eagles captain and coach, Stephen Keshi, two members of the team’s 2013 AFCON-winning squad, Ike Shorunmu and Azubuike Egwuekwe, have eulogised the two-time AFCON medallist.
Keshi, the second man to win the AFCON as player and coach (1994 and 2013), died June 7, 2016 in Benin City, the Edo State capital, after a brief illness at 54.
Shorunmu, who served as goalkeeping coach under Keshi, said Keshi was a great leader on-and-off the pitch.
“Everybody in Nigeria who knows football knows Stephen Keshi, he was a leader, brother and friend that always made me happy when he was around. Today, when I woke up, I remembered him and offered a prayer to his soul.
“In 2011, when he got the Super Eagles job, he called me that evening to tell me that we were going to work together and the way we worked then, he gave you the liberty and power to control your department and we enjoyed our time working together. It is a pity that we lost him at a young age because he was a very good man,” Shorunmu told The PUNCH on Wednesday.
Against the odds, Keshi went to the 2013 AFCON with a sizeable number of young and relatively untested local players, ditching some hitherto overseas-based stars, amid media criticisms.
But the fallen coach weaved the magic, leading the side to a third continental triumph, to the awe of all, including baffled Nigeria Football Federation officials, who had written him off.
For this, Egwuekwe, one of the players in the 2013 squad, is forever grateful to the ‘Big Boss’, as Keshi was fondly called.
“He was a father figure to me, he gave a lot to those of us that were home-based players, he is like a second god to some of us. I have a lot of good memories with him when we won the Nations Cup, and also against Morocco in CHAN, when we were losing 3-0 in the first half, and we went back and won the game, so there are a lot of memories with him.
“As a player and a coach, he had a huge impact on football then, they called him the Big Boss already as a player, and when he became a coach, due to his usage of players in the Nigerian league, everyone started respecting the local league. He took us to the World Cup and also the AFCON, which is no longer done. He had a great impact on the game in Nigeria,” Egwuekwe told The PUNCH.
The Nigeria Football Federation on their Twitter page also honoured Keshi with some pictures of his memorable moments and cited a quote the gaffer once used, “People don’t have to believe in you for you to succeed. Just work hard, when you succeed, they will believe. Every game is very difficult, no game is easy #WeRememberKeshi.”
Retired footballer and Keshi’s former teammate, Austin Popo, who organises an annual tournament in the late coach’s honour, added, “The memories are always there, we played together at New Nigeria Bank in the 80s, and very early, he demonstrated leadership qualities; he was a very committed individual.
“As close as we were, I did not really know his value until he died and that was when we took on the responsibility to start the tournament honouring him each year after his passing.”
TV Presenter Charles Anazodo, who was in South Africa during the Eagles 2013 AFCON triumph, stated, “We all clearly remember how he opened the doors for Nigerian players to play abroad, how he helped Nigeria qualify for the first-ever World Cup in 1994, how he helped Nigeria win the AFCON both as a player and especially as a coach, when no one expected them to win in 2013, but he surprised everyone and won it.”