The Keshi Interview: I hate attacks on my family

Last week, we published the first part of our interview with Stephen Keshi after Nigeria’s ouster from Brazil 2014 World Cup. In this concluding part, he speaks on his experience coaching the Super Eagles.


TheCable: What is the difference between being at the World Cup as player and as a coach?

Stephen Keshi: There is a world of difference. The footballer’s only or major interest is to listen to the coach, attend training sessions, get feedback from the coaches and team mates ─ if he is inclined that way ─ and get ready for the match. The player stays in his room and looks after himself really. The coach on the other hand is totally responsible for everything. He must organise the training sessions so that the players are not bored, must organise the tactics that he and his assistants believe will help them win matches, check on the fitness of his players and make sure they are ready to play. He has 23 players with different personalities and he has to make sure they have oneness of purpose. Also, in the case of Nigeria I must relate with the federation and other government officials who come to the tournament. The coach is held responsible for every final decision made on the pitch. Decision-making becomes extremely crucial. Very tough but I enjoyed every bit of it. Really did.


Do you watch videos of training sessions?

Sometimes. We sit back with my assistants and we watch the drills we have put out and use it to make decisions. What we watch most times are our past matches to see where we had gone wrong and what needs to be improved for subsequent matches.

AFCON, Confederations Cup, CHAN and now the FIFA World Cup. What were the differences in these tournaments you have gone with the Nigerian team?


AFCON was a big experience because of the risk I took in terms of the players I took to the tournament – taking 17 debutants to a tournament. We were teaching ourselves and learning as the tournament progressed but we thank God we came out on top and the risk paid off. CHAN was totally different. We did not have time to train; perhaps only 10 days sincerely to prepare. Then it was also in the close Nigerian season so the players were not in the physical shape to play top level football. Some of the players who had played the qualifiers had left the country and therefore ineligible to play in the tournament so I had to call up new players. In the end they did well and we came third. Confederations Cup was a learning curve for us in our preparation for the World Cup as we did not actually expect to win it. It allowed me to chat with some of the other senior coaches and they were very good at sharing their experiences with me. I have used most of the things I believe I learned from that tournament and from my interaction with those coaches here.

Would you say your experience as a player who started playing for Nigeria as schoolboy has helped you handle young players in your team?

Yes. A lot. I was fortunate to have had coaches who believed in me as a boy. I started being called into the national teams at 17-and-a-half years old and these coaches believed simply that I was just good enough and my age was not an issue. So now when I see a young player who has it in him I have no second thoughts about playing him. I have been lucky also to have noticed at the clubs I played for coaches who trust youth so I use their methods to match up with what I have.

What kind of books do you read?


I read a lot of books that I get from sports shops. I also read a lot of sports psychology books. A lot of the coaching these days involves a lot of psychology to get the best out of the players for one is not teaching them on how to control a ball anymore at national team level. I do not watch many tapes. I prefer to go to the stadium to watch matches so I can see the whole set-up of teams and players and observe the tactical changes managers make during matches.

For one who seemed to open the doors for Nigerian players to go play abroad, do you think that players are going abroad too soon and the inherent Nigerian technique and skills are being lost to European football coaching?

The problem now is that these players do not have the places to play unconventional football anymore. What we have now is stereotyped football where they go right or go left as they are told. They are not playing street football anymore, where you develop the instinct and feel for the ball and the game as we did. So without these grounding, when our players go abroad they only do what they are taught, no intuitive playing anymore. This is worse for players of not excellent talent levels who will just have to get by doing what they are told to do. So, yes, there is an effect on how early players go abroad.

What matches stand out for you during your tenure as the Super Eagles coach?


All the matches stand out for me. However, the two matches against Kenya were very important. If we had lost one of the ties it would have been more difficult to make the World Cup. The first in Calabar was not helped by the surroundings of the celebrations of the AFCON win, but we got a draw in the end. For the second leg the weather was tough but the boys fought, played good football and then got the win before we went to Namibia. Another really tough match was a match in Liberia. We had gone there initially with a home-based side and won comfortably 2-0 in the presence of their President. We gathered that she was very unhappy that we had beaten them with only home-based players and made it known to her football federation people. So, when we drew them again in an AFCON qualifier I knew it was going to be tough. When we arrived the stadium the whole place was a sea of red and black and I told the players this was going to be war. I told them to be ready. My players thought I was exaggerating but after half time they regrouped and managed to get a 2-2 draw. And of course following the draw there were calls that “this Keshi does not know what he is doing o…”

How does a coach stand back from the criticisms and concentrate on the job?


Very easy. Just compare the life of Jesus Christ and the life of Judas who sold him. People will always criticise, it is bound to happen. Even siblings can disagree and not like each other and they are from one family so expecting everybody in the country to like you is not clever. I only draw a line when it is extended to my family.

How do you make sure these criticisms do not get to the players especially like after the Iran match?


Very important to remain calm. For when the players feel their coach is under pressure they will not perform well. I make sure I do not tell them anything and be positive all the time to them. Whatever is bad I find the positive thing to take out of it and project that to the boys. I tell them that tomorrow is going to be better. When the players were mentioning how they were getting criticised after that Iran match I made sure I played it down. I told them “make una nor mind them, una know our country people, just let us play well and win the next game make we go on”. So, they did and we won the next match.

The AFCON threw up a surprise for most of us in Sunday Mba who many did not know but he ended up being one of the heroes. This World Cup seems to have brought on another unknown in Michael Babatunde. What is it you look for in getting or choosing these unknown players?


There are many like them in Nigeria. We have talents all over the country. Depending on positions we look for different things. I had seen him at the Confederations Cup but he did not get enough playing time. He got injured soon after and so could not get called up for some of our qualifiers. This time I said let me see him again and in training he showed he was good enough for the squad. People were wondering why I did not take Mba and all others. They forget that those so called names were also given the time to show what they have. If I was staying on, and Babatunde stops giving me what I want from training I will drop him and pick up somebody else. I do not choose players based on emotions. The likes of Ramon Azeez and Babatunde with their big hearts and talent have not even started. They will be great and huge for Nigeria in the years to come.

  1. What is happening in NFF today shows that both the players and their coaches have failed nigerians . It will be a good positive sign if FIFA finally band us , so that we should learn a lesson from our failure.

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