Though I am not exactly a huge fan of ‘Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi’s ‘I am the boss’ management style, it is impossible to escape the enormity of his achievement in guiding the Super Eagles to only their third African Nations Cup title.
His place in African football folklore is assured as he also captained Nigeria to the 1994 continental title. He thus joins Egypt’s Mahmood El Gohary in an elite club to have won both as a player and manager.
The SA 2013 success is particularly sweet as Keshi courted controversy by advocating for African managers to be at the helm of their sides, instead of foreigners.
That he did not allow the controversy to distract him is in itself a tribute. Great football sides are built around a particular philosophy. Teams that rely on systems enjoy temporary success.
If a team is to enjoy sustained decades-long success, it must graduate from merely using systems to developing methods.
Thus, the world’s premier football team, Barcelona, has a pass and move – tiki taka philosophy that is embedded into La Masia de Can Planes academy pupils from childhood. The same can be said of Keshi. He went into the SA finals determined to win the title using a high tempo, high pressure, quick passing game.
For the philosophy to work, he needed young, mobile, hungry players. So out went Yakubu Aiyegbeni, John Utaka, Peter Odemingwe, Obafemi Martins and other like-minded been there, done that kind of stars.
In came battlers for the cause like Emmanuel Emenike (he reminded me of Emma Amunike, the flying winger of 1994), Ideye Brown, Sunday Mba, Ogenyi Onazi and most importantly Victor Moses.
Giving six Nigeria Premier League stars led by Warri Wolves midfield terrier Mba and Sunshine Stars’ centre-back Godfrey Ogboabona a chance, was a masterstroke. Matter of fact, the Mba-Obi Mikel-Onazi triumvirate was the best at the tournament, providing the bedrock for the team’s success with their brilliant tempering of the game.
If Keshi can keep the team together, they could go on to cause a splash at next year’s World Cup in Brazil. Spare a thought for the Burkinabe Stallions. I think they were outduelled in the final due to the residual tiredness they carried from extra time victories in the quarters and semis. They were also unlucky to lose talismanic playmaker Alain Traore, who until his injury, had been the outstanding player of the event.
Coach Paul Put, a survivor of a major betting scandal back home in Belgium, got his redemption, and should develop a continent beating side as he is blessed to have single-minded sluggers like Charles Kabore, Saidou Panandetiguiri, Prejuce Nakoulma, Aristide Bance and the inimitable Jonathan Pitroipa.
Team of the tournament: Vincent Enyeama, Efe Ambrose, Elderson Echiejile, Saidou Panandetiguiri, Sunday Mba, Obi Mikel, Charles Kabore, Seydou Keita, Jonathan Pitroipa, Alain Traore, Emmanuel Emenike. (3-4-3)