Tribute to Nigeria’s Soccer Hero, Keshi

Nigeria’s head coach Stephen Keshi gestures during a press conference in Rustenburg on February 1, 2013 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, two days ahead of their 2013 African Cup of Nations quarter final match against Ivory Coast. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, “The Big Boss,” (January 23, 1962 – June 7, 2016) was a Nigerian football defender and manager.
He was also a great leader and fondly called by his team mates, players and associate as “The Big Boss.”
Keshi was educated at Saint Finbarr’s College, Akoka but subsequently received his high school certificate at Saint Gregory’s College.
During his playing career, Keshi earned 60 caps for the Nigerian national soccer team, making him the nation’s second-most capped player at the time of his retirement.
He represented the country at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, captaining the Super Eagles to victory in the latter.
He also played club football in five countries, most notably Belgium, Cote d’Ivoire, the United States and his native Nigeria.
Keshi won the West African Club Championship with New Nigeria Bank FC in1983 and 1984; the Coupe Houphoet Boigny with Stade d’Abidjan in 1985, 1986; Côte d’Ivoire Premier Division and Côte d’Ivoire Coupe with Africa Sports in 1986; Belgian Cup1988 and 1989, as well as Jupiler League with Anderlecht in 1991.
After a playing career mostly with Belgian clubs, Keshi went to the United States to be educated in coaching.
As a manager, he achieved success by qualifying the Togo national football team in 2006 for their only FIFA World Cup appearance in its history.
However, he left the position prior to the tournament and was replaced by Otto Pfister.
Togo showed a dismal performance and failed to advance to the knock-out stage in the tournament in Egypt and Pfister did not last beyond a controversial World Cup campaign that nearly resulted in a player’s strike over pay.
In February 2007, Keshi was re-engaged by Togo in time for a friendly against Cameroon.
He worked as manager of the Mali national team after being appointed in April 2008 in a two-year deal, but was sacked in January 2010, after Mali’s early exit in the group stages of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi went on to become coach of his native Nigerian National Team in 2011, leading Nigeria to qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, defeating Burkina Fasso 1–0 in the final, and making him one of only two people, along with Egypt’s Mahmud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both player and coach.
On 16 November 2013, Keshi’s Nigeria secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup by beating Ethiopia 4–1 on aggregate, thereby setting a record in African football as being the first African coach to successfully qualify two African nations, Nigeria and Togo, to the World Cup finals.
Keshi died of heart attack en route to hospital on June 7, 2016 in Benin City at the age of 54.
He was married to his wife Kate (née Aburime) for 30 years, who died before him on December 10, 2015, after battling cancer for three years. They had four children.
Today, “The Big Boss” is no more, but the lessons of his professional achievements, personal character, and dedicated service to fatherland will forever linger among his countrymen and the entire sporting world.

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