This is not alarmist. The likelihood is that except the Super Eagles play very well and cross the first round, except they survive the second round, except they get to the quarter-finals and cross it, except they get to the semi-finals, or something extra-ordinary happens massive enough in its impact to justify why the team could not get to the semi-finals during the championship, tradition tells me that Keshi’s job as the most successful manager in the history of Nigerian football would be on the line in the aftermath of Brazil 2014!
Don’t get me wrong.
Look at the facts. Look at the history of Nigeria at the World Cup. Not even the historic, absolutely brilliant performance of the Eagles at Nigeria’s best World Cup yet, USA 1994, could save Clemens Westerhof’s job. He left the team straight from the USA!
4 years later, Bora (I can never remember his second name) a man with the enviable credential of being the only man in history to have led 4 different countries to the World Cup, and who stepped in at the last minute to lead Nigeria (and increase his tally to 5) to France ’98, did not survive. His case was bad. He had spent most his short stay with the Super Eagles enjoying the money, sights and sounds of Nigeria and had not even settled into the job before the World Cup came with its mixed bag of some great and some very poor performances. After the failure at France ’98 he did not even bother to return to Nigeria to pick up his few belongings.
In 2002 Nigeria experimented for the first time with a Nigerian in charge of its World Cup assignment. It was a last-minute emergency manager, Festus Adegboyega Onigbinde, with a consortium of other Nigerian coaches that took the team to Japan. They were a disaster.
Presenting, in my humble opinion, one of the weakest national teams since Nigeria’s Independence, the Eagles performed so poorly that I don’t recall the manner of Chief Onigbinde’s ouster as manager. Any way which way, he did not return from Japan to the national team.
Of course, 2006 was even worse. Nigeria did not qualify with Berti Vogts, the German World Cup football hero, in charge of the Eagles. He did not survive the heat of the city of Kano that scorched the life out of the Super Eagles when they played Angola in their last qualifying match!
2010 was going to be a significant year. Africa’s first World Cup could be Nigeria’s opportunity to win the championship. The country hired the Swede, Legerbeck. He came and, intoxicated with the effect of the cheap money he collected, led the Eagles to a crisis-laden World Cup in South Africa, failed woefully and did not return to Nigeria.
That has been the tragedy of all Nigeria’s coaches to the World Cup. The common threads that run through all of them are the reckless promises, the relative failures (except 1994) and then, the resultant end to the romance with the coaches.
As 2014 approaches, the question is: would it be different this time around? Would Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, the most successful coach in Nigeria’s football history, survive the aftermath of the Brazil 2014 World Cup?
To start with his contract expires with the end of the World Cup. What would it take for it to be renewed?
Can the Eagles win the World Cup? Can they get to the semi-finals of the championship? Okay, lets even go down a little lower. Can the Eagles get to the quarter-finals and equal the existing African record? The responses to these questions provide us with a window into the answers.
If the answer to any one of the above happens to be ‘yes’ even his legion of ‘enemies’ in the NFF will join all Nigerians in begging Keshi to return. The only question that would be asked then would be how much more money he wants that would tempt him to renew the contract.
Now, lets look at what may happen.
I do not know of anyone who thinks the present Super Eagles team has the ability to win the World Cup in Brazil.
Even the NFF has backed away from setting that as a target for Keshi. It may be a reflection that even they do not think or expect that the Eagles will get to that far.
No one has set even any minimum target.
So, without a barometer to measure expectations against reality what are we left with but the perfect stage for Keshi’s inevitable ‘sack’ no matter what happens?
So, I had been wondering how Keshi is preparing for it even as he also prepares to list his team for the World Cup sitting on a time bomb laid for him by tradition and by those around him that hate his guts and character.
I was with fellow ex-captains and legends of the Eagles – Henry Nwosu and Augustine Eguavoen – at the media parley this past week where the ‘Big Boss’ was drilled by journalists.
It was an excellent opportunity to look into Keshi’s eyes, watch his body language and try to pry into his mind to guess what’s going on there.
Keshi shocked and dazzled me.
I was expecting to see a man that is jittery and tense, instead I found a man brimming with confidence and self-assurance.
I do not know how he does it. I mean, how he has sustained this cool demeanor.
As I listened to him meandering through the heavily-loaded questions hauled at him by editors, I had to lean across at a point and whispered to him how much of a politician I thought he had become.
He whispered back to me that he was merely following in my footsteps!
He answered questions without committing himself to anything, not giving out anything and not offending anyone. Of course, all the papers the following day were filled with Keshi’s guided responses to the questions hauled at him. Yet, the more I looked at his responses the more I am left without any clear answers.
Having said that, I also do not think I need to know more than I do already. What is important is that the man knows what he is doing.
I will not be surprised at all if the team goes far in the championship. I will not also be surprised if the team crashes out early.
So, I am going to Brazil 2014 without stressing myself with my usual reckless optimism that the Super Eagles will win the World Cup. I am going to be like Keshi, be confident and take the matches one at a time, after all, no matter, what he does short of winning the cup, he will almost certainly be a candidate for ‘sack’!!