The year 2016 will be one to forget in a hurry as a lot of events made it one of the saddest ever.
On June 7th, Nigerians woke up to the shocking news that former Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi had passed on at the age of 54.
Keshi was a legend, the key man who led the modern day exodus of Nigerians to Europe when he left Nigeria’s shores via the Ivory Coast to Belgium.
That move, opened the doors for not just Nigerians but other Africans who credit the former captain as the man who inspired them to be better footballers.
Keshi captained Nigeria to the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations as the Super Eagles won the title for the second time. The next time Nigeria were in the final of the Afcon, Keshi was also involved; this time as the coach.
He led a band of unknown players, whom no one gave a chance, to lift the trophy and put his name firmly on the list Nigeria’s great becoming the only Nigerian to win the trophy as a player and as a coach.
Keshi also qualified Togo to the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany but run-ins with the Togolese Federation meant he was dropped before the party began in Germany.
But like a man who’s destiny cannot be denied, Keshi finally achieved his dream, this time, with his beloved Nigeria.
He qualified and led Nigeria to the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil helping the team to the second round (the first by a Nigerian) in the process, inking his name in Nigeria’s football folklore.
Befittingly, Keshi got a mention from the world football governing body, the Federation International de Futbol Association (FIFA) as they paid tribute to fallen heroes of 2016.
This is what FIFA had to say about the former Anderlecht and Strasbourg defender in a tribute article titled ‘The faces who left us in 2016’.
” Very few football observers foresaw Nigeria’s victory at the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, but Stephen Keshi had other ideas, steering his side to the final, where they saw off Burkina Faso 1-0 in Johannesburg.
“A few months later, he led the Super Eagles to the 2014 World Cup after successfully negotiating a tricky two-legged play-off with Ethiopia; at the tournament proper, they reached the knock-out stages.
“ During his tenure, Nigeria also participated in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. But the astute Nigerian was not just a talented coach: during his playing career he also lifted the Cup of Nations and took part in five qualifying matches for USA 1994, which resulted in his country qualifying for a World Cup for the very first time.
“ At the tournament itself, he was restricted to one appearance – where he proudly wore the captain’s armband – due to injury. Keshi died on 7 June 2016 in Nigeria.”
Keshi’s memory will never be forgotten, he gave us given us reasons to smile, reasons to laugh and reasons to believe in Nigeria.
He earned 60 caps for Nigeria.