“That’s the way the game is. When you lose, you learn from it, you grow from it.” – Stephen Okechukwu Keshi

It was with heavy hearts and sadness that Nigerians received the news of Stephen Keshi’s demise. Nigerian football had never been played as well as he did and coached also as well. The Big Boss (as he was fondly called)  who died from a suspected cardiac arrest in the early hours of Wednesday, was — is — the most influential figure in the history of Nigerian football. He was a leader in every sense of the word. Not only did he revolutionise Nigerian football during his short stint as head coach of the National team, he also inspired a new generation of Nigerian footballers on and off the pitch. He also, on many occasions, exuded the Premier Spirit, by being one of the coolest and inspiring coaches his colleagues ever played with and his players ever played under.

We’ve decided to collate the many times he inspired us as a nation and as football loving fans.

Check them out;

Early Days

While playing for New Nigerian Bank (NNB) of Benin, he broke the law. Ahead of crucial international matches, the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) sanctioned him from playing for club and country for six months for reporting late to camp. Bu this ban didn’t deter him as he left the Nigerian shores to Stade d’Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, where he was immediately appointed captain, even though he was yet to speak a word of French.

Early days as a Super Eagle

As a player, Keshi made his international debut for Nigeria at a very young age in July 1981 against Upper Volta, now known as Burkina Faso, in a 1-0 win. He was 19. His last appearance for the country was in June 1994 when Nigeria beat Greece 2-0 at the World Cup in the US. He played 64 times and scored 10 goals for the Super Eagles.

The Pioneer

Shortly after his stint with Stade d’Abidjan, Lokeren of Belgium picked him up. That pioneered a new era for Nigerian football. Having displayed enormous talent and commitment, Keshi soon became the poster boy of Nigerian football in Europe, and scouts began to look lustfully in the direction of Nigeria. He was helping many Nigerian players, and African players, to cross over to Europe. Not only was he selfless, he was an inspiration to a whole generation.

The Team Player

Asides his giant strides off the pitch, on the pitch, Keshi shouldered responsibilities. Several times, he stepped out from his position as a central defender to score vital, match-winning goals. He saved Nigeria at least twice in the 1990 World Cup Africa qualifying series; his goal gave the Eagles victory in the tragic match against Angola in Lagos. He indeed played with heart.

The Leader

His return to the Nigerian national team in 2011 was triumphant as he led the team to win the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa, becoming the first Nigerian coach to do so. The icing that decorated the cake was that he became one of only the two people to win the cup both as a player and a coach after which he resigned. Persuaded to stay on through the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan, Keshi would later take the team to the 2014 World Cup, the first Nigerian coach to be saddled with such a responsibility. Though he recorded only one victory in four matches, he still succeeded in getting Nigeria to the second round for the first time in 16 years.

The Inspiration

Upon winning the Nations cup in 2013, he became a reference source of inspiration all over Nigeria. Chants like “Be a Keshi” or “That man is a Keshi” were resounded in most corners. He inspired a new crop of Nigerians who were foreign-based and thinking of playing for their resident nations to play once more. Players like Victor Moses, Shola Ameobi and Onazi Ogenyi can be said to be protégés of the Big Boss. These players, who now have permanent shirts in the national team. Monumental!

Indeed we have lost a gem, a rare one. Having lost his wife to cancer 5 months ago, one can say he has gone to join her in eternity. But on earth, in the sands of time, Stephen Keshi is never to be forgotten.

 

Rest in Peace, Big Boss.

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