Posted by Nelson Dafe | 27 February 2014 | 3,678 times
Super Eagles Chief Coach Stephen Keshi’s stock has ascended impressively over the past year or so. Since winning the African Nations Cup last year in South Africa, the CAF Coach of the Year (2013) has gone on to record other impressive feats that include qualifying Nigeria for the forthcoming Brazil 2014 World Cup and, just recently, leading Nigeria to a respectful third place finish in her debut campaign at the Championship of African Nations in South Africa. In fact, except in the event of an embarrassing finish in Brazil (like losing all preliminary matches by large-margin score lines) it is safe to predict that the Big Boss would not be lacking for suitors from countries and clubs all over the world.
One of Keshi’s most vaunted qualities (aside his tactical reading of football games) is his no-nonsense approach to issues of players’ discipline. In Keshi’s dictionary, it is total submission to his primacy as head of the Nigerian Eagles or getting ignored with regard to future invitations to the team’s fold. Osaze Odemwingie had a taste of Keshi’s ability to call a player’s bluff so firmly, as he stuck to his guns by leaving out the popular striker from the Super Eagles team to last year’s African Nations Cup triumph in South Africa when the attacker had a public fallout with him.
Recently, the matter of players’ discipline in the Super Eagles cropped up again when Keshi released his list of players for the upcoming build-up match against Mexico scheduled for March 5 in Atlanta, USA. One major exclusion from the list is Ike Uche, the attacker who plays his club football in Villareal, in the Spanish La Liga. Uche is the most prolific Nigerian player in a major European league at the moment with 12 so far goals this season; but Keshi is reportedly unsatisfied with his level of discipline, and has opted to overlook him, later ruling Uche out of the World Cup.
Keshi’s claim has puzzled many a soccer lover here, especially given the clean record that Uche has got in the public eye (discipline-wise) in his many years of stewardship in the Eagles fold. Also, while playing for several clubs in Europe, there has not been any reports of indiscipline about the player.
The question that many are silently and openly asking is whether Keshi is not showing a frailty in his ability to manage players. Is he not over-playing the discipline card? As it so often turns out in world football, a coach’s best strength can turn out to be his Achilles heels.
Is Uche’s purported indiscipline towards Keshi not something that a coach can overlook, and just put an arm in the shoulders of the player and talk him into the right path? Sure, there’s so much to dislike about the behaviour of many a modern football professional, but can’t a coach just handle such matters internally and extract the best out of a talent for the national good?
Talking of discipline, Mario Baloteli doesn’t particularly score high for Italy, but he has got the talent and his national team manager, Cessare Prandelli, has astutely managed his ego, making the fiery lad to fire from all cylinders any time he lines up for Italy. Great managers usually have the quality of working with the toughest of egos.
Perhaps Keshi needs to remember how his messy fallout with Emmanuel Adebayor when he was coach of Togo led to his sacking prior to the Germany 2006 World Cup.
Osaze Odemwingie may not have won public opinion because he opted to go public with his criticisms of his national team manager in a manner which many felt bothered on the childish. But so far, Uche has maintained a respectful silence, and Coach Steven Keshi may really need to think twice about dropping Nigeria’s current most lethal attacker.
A more careful look at the list of attackers named for the Mexico friendly would show that the Eagles are not so loaded in that department afterall. Victor Moses has suffered a dip in form and hasn’t featured regularly for Liverpool. Shola Ameobi looks past his sell by date. Ahmed Musa and Obinna Nsofor have not convinced consistently, while the others are relative greenhorns at the big stage. It is hard to see how IK Uche would not be needed for the World Cup for Nigeria, pragmatically speaking.
•Nelson Dafe is a News Express Correspondent. Photo shows Ike Uche.
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