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Tactics: U.S. defend deep

Tactics Board Jul 1, 2014
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Stephen Keshi

Latest Team: Nigeria

2014 FIFA World Cup

  • 4GP
  •  
  • 1Won
  •  
  • 1Draw
  •  
  • 2Lost
  •  

Profile

Previous Clubs/Countries: Togo; Mali

Honours: African Nations Cup, 2013

Stephen Keshi is not called "The Big Boss" for nothing. He calls the shots, especially the most important ones.

Twenty years ago, Keshi was the captain of the Nigeria side that went to the 1994 World Cup and muscled their way into the round of 16, only to lose to a Roberto Baggio strike in extra time. Then, Keshi was on the sidelines, having only featured on one game because of a spat with Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof.

Fast forward two decades and Keshi's run-ins have not lessened. He could not take Togo to the 2006 World Cup, despite having overseen their qualification, because of a dispute with Emmanuel Adeboyor, and in 2013 he resigned the day after guiding Nigeria to African Nations Cup (ANC) glory because of a run-in with the Nigerian Football Federation, before retracting his resignation the next day.

In between all of that Keshi has earned legendary status in his homeland. He made his name as a disciplined defender in Lagos before playing club football in Ivory Coast, Belgium, France and the United States. It was in the latter that Keshi decided to go into coaching.

He took charge of Nigeria's junior team at the 2001 African Youth Championship but they did not win any matches in the group stage and then assisted Jo Benfrere in managing the Super Eagles at the 2000 ANC, which they co-hosted. The team lost the final to Cameroon in a penalty shootout but Keshi was involved as an assistant in the 2002 edition of the competition as Nigeria lost in the semifinals.

After that, oppportunities in his native Nigeria dried up and Keshi took up a job with Togo in 2004. The tiny West African country were unfancied in World Cup qualification but Keshi guided them to make a maiden apperance at the global showpiece, which they went to without him. He was reappointed to the Togo role in 2007 and moved on to coach Mali from 2008 to 2010. Mali's group stage exit from the 2010 ANC saw Keshi lose his job but a year later he landed his dream role, in charge of his own country.

Success came swiftly with their 2013 ANC victory, a surprise to some because of the number of Nigerian-based players Keshi put his faith in. He took Nigeria to the 2013 Confederations Cup where they failed to get out of the group stage despite beating Tahiti 6-1.

That was not a major setback because Keshi oversaw the Super Eagles' qualification to the World Cup and took them to the semifinals of the African Nations Championship, a tournament in which only locally-based players compete. With a strong focus on recognising local talent and showing the world what Africa has to offer, Keshi has promised to make the continent proud in Brazil.

Strengths: Bullish self-belief is tatooed onto Keshi's personality and transferred to his players in what winger Ejike Uzoenyi has described as a "fatherly way." He is unflappable despite the swirling politics that come attached to his role.

Weaknesses: Public fall outs with former Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo and Stoke City striker Peter Odemwingie have painted a picture of Keshi as an uncompromising, dictatorial manger, who does not mind dispensing with key players if they fail to bend to his will. Both players said they felt "disrespected" by Keshi not informing them of their respective axings but both have since rebuilt their bridges with the coach.

Career high: Winning the 2013 African Nations Cup with Nigeria, to become only the second man after Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary to triumph in the continental competition as both a player and a coach.

Career low: Being unable to take Togo to their first World Cup, in Germany in 2006 because of a dispute with Togo's top players which saw him sacked and replaced by Otto Pfitser.

Tactics: Nigeria won the 2013 ANC with a 4-3-3 formation, with Sunday Mba playing a crucial role in the midfield. When Mba lost form, Keshi did without him by opting for a 4-4-1-1 structure which worked as a stop-gap but left Nigeria vulnerable to being too reactive. Mba is back in contention for Brazil and 4-3-3 would be the likely approach to make best use of resources at the World Cup.

Quotes: "Do not bring a mediocre coach from Europe and tell me he's better than me -- I will not accept that. The white guys are coming to Africa just for the money. They are not doing anything that we cannot do. I am not racist but that's just the way it is," Stephen Keshi on foreign coaches in Africa.

Trivia: Keshi played club football in Ivory Coast and Belgium, where he recalls wearing a suit so much that he has since turned down offers to be styled. He told Nigeria's Punch newspaper he would rather wear tracksuits on the sidelines because he finds that more comfortable but would not be caught dead in white trousers.

Words: Firdose Moonda