How former Nigeria’s national trainer, who suddenly died on 8 June, defeated prejudice against African coaches in Africa
Tragedy struck African football in the early hours of 8 June when Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, former coach of Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles, suddenly died at 54 in Benin City. The former international football player and coach had lost his wife of 33 years, Kate, last year after a prolonged battle with cancer. Keshi is survived by four children and his mother.
The football icon is suspected to have suffered a heart attack. “He was not ill at all, never showed any signs of illness, but we suspect he never got over the death of his wife,” a friend said.
Keshi represented Nigeria from 1982, at age 20, till 1994, most of the time captaining the Super Eagles and scoring vital goals from his position as a central defender.
As Nigeria’s national team trainer, Keshi was one of only two African coaches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. On a continent where the rule is that national teams hire European coaches, Stephen Keshi also coached Mali and Togo, showing that Africans cannot only play well but also manage teams, and he bravely shattered a convention, opening up new opportunities for others.
Keshi was the only African coach to qualify two African teams to the World Cup – Togo in 2006 and Nigeria in 2014. He was also one of only two, along with Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations both as a player and a coach.
“With many African countries looking for coaching experience from outside the continent to lead their countries at major tournaments, Keshi was a beacon of hope for coaches from the mother continent. Not only was he the first Nigerian to lead his country to the AFCON title, he was the first African coach to lead a team to the Round of 16 at a World Cup, achieving that feat at Brazil 2014,” the world football governing body FIFA said in its tribute to Keshi.
Africa’s most successful African trainer will best be remembered for defeating prejudice against Africans by Africans in Africa, providing an inspiring example to a continent in need of can-do role models.