As just one of two men in the 56-year history of the Africa Cup of Nations to win the trophy as a player and a manager – the late Egyptian legend Mahmoud El-Gohary being the other – you would assume Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi has earned some well-deserved job security.
But, as mind-boggling as it may sound, the man who managed the Super Eagles to the trophy in Johannesburg might be forced, by a series of bizarre circumstances, to quit, as football in the continent’s most populous country takes a dramatic turn for the worse, in the nine weeks that have followed that unexpected triumph.
Tottering on the brink of bankruptcy, when they ought to be ushering in a healthy financial period, following a Nations Cup victory – which clearly calls the competence of the commercial department of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) into serious question – the NFF made savage cuts to Keshi’s coaching staff, clearly without his consent.
Claiming they lack the resources to maintain what they regard as a “bloated” backroom team of 17 people, including four assistant coaches, officials of the NFF claim it is compelled to engage in “the staff auditing of the technical crew and backroom staff.”
The dismissal of Valere Houandinou, one of Keshi’s assistant coaches, is particularly informative, as the Togolese is regarded as his right-hand man, having worked with the former Nigeria captain whilst managing Togo and Mali.
And how about qualification for the Championship of African Nations (CHAN), a tournament that Nigeria has never qualified for, since its inception by CAF in 2009? That has also been abandoned.
The ridiculous excuse for withdrawal? Nigeria, one of Africa’s wealthiest nations, cannot afford, according to the NFF, to participate in the qualification series. If you believe that, then pigs regularly fly over the moon…
In the midst of this furore – with a crucial World Cup qualifier against Kenya in June, followed by a trip to Brazil, in the same month, for the Confederations Cup – Keshi’s relations with the NFF, already strained, following the well-known difficulties in South Africa, have hardly improved, if they have not worsened.
When he returns from his home in the United States, where he has gone for a short break, Keshi is expected to explain, according to NFF board member Emeka Inyama, why he left Nigeria “without permission” and “refused” to appear before its technical committee.
“The fact remains that Keshi applied for leave to see his family and [this] was not approved or confirmed and he travelled,” Inyama claimed.
“The NFF wanted him to be part of all the discussions affecting his team, before he would be allowed to proceed to the US for his holiday, but he chose to leave without permission.”
But in a conversation I had with a well-informed NFF official, he claimed Keshi was left with no choice but to travel without the federation’s consent.
“Keshi had submitted a request for leave whilst we were in South Africa. They’ve had more than enough time to give him a proper answer. He has been away from his family for several months, because of the pre-Nations Cup preparations.
“Had he not gone now, he would not have had another window of opportunity, with the next World Cup qualifier and Confederations Cup approaching. So, what choice did he have?”
As a member of the executive committee of the NFF confirmed, in an off-the-record chat, many of his colleagues have not forgiven Keshi for his dramatic resignation in South Africa, immediately after the Cup win, which embarrassed them and seriously threatened their positions.
“If I were to advise Keshi now, he has to be very careful. Without doubt, there are some colleagues of mine who would not be sad if he is given the sack or is frustrated out of the job.
“For them, it does not matter whether Nigerian football suffers as a consequence, as long as they are able to get their pound of flesh.”
Whilst Keshi appears to be at the unfair, rough end of the wedge, in his dealings with the NFF, it would not be out of place to suggest that he should take a long, hard look at his relationship with players, especially the Europe-based ones, if he’s to build a harmonious team for the future.
Joseph Yobo, the captain of the Super Eagles in South Africa, surprisingly joined a list of malcontents, including the Spartak Moscow forward Emmanuel Emenike and West Brom’s Osaze Odemwingie – who’s not pleased with Steve Clarke either – that have complained, in public, about Keshi’s style of management.
But if you think what you’ve heard so far is bad enough, I am only telling half of the story.
I am leaving out the endless tales of slashed wages, unpaid salaries and delayed entitlements for national coaches, some going as far back as 16 months.
Oh, yes… Did I forget to mention the rather minute detail that the NFF has a practice of allowing some coaches to manage the national teams without proper contracts?
And that the country’s league has been without a sponsor for three years?
It hardly takes the intelligence of a rocket scientist to figure out that the haphazard manner in which Nigerian football is managed ensures it can never have sustained progress, even when, with its large talent pool, it ought to be amongst the world’s leading football powers.
Do not be surprised if the African champions, who were on top of the mountain in February, fail to be amongst the five African teams that qualify for the group stages of next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Pulling defeat and sorrow out of the jaws of victory, even after a heady Nations Cup triumph, is a well-established Nigerian tradition.
I hope they prove me wrong. But the worrying indices indicate that I may, sadly, be right.
Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org