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Nigeria’s Super Eagles will play the FIFA Brazil 2014 World Cup in June but getting there was like the proverbial turbulent road that is often less travelled.

Coach Stephen Keshi decided to take that road and three years down the line he has won the AFCON, qualified Nigeria to her first African Nations Championship (CHAN) and taken the country to it’s fifth World Cup.

Keshi was never the fans favourite for the job (he still doesn’t appear to be). Some fans preferred Samson Siasia who failed to take the country to the AFCON in 2012 while others would want a foreign coach.

But Keshi, who qualified Nigeria for its first World Cup as captain, did that under the country’s most famous foreign coach, Clemens Westerhof and he is methods appear to be mirroring the blueprint of his mentor.

Just like Westerhof in 1989, Stephen Keshi took over as head coach of the Nigerian national team at a time things were not at ease.

The country failed to qualify for the Cup of Nations; some players had a larger than life attitude towards call ups and Nigerians had basically lost hope in the national team.

Westerhof also came at a time when foreign-based players demanded appearance fees to play for the country and held Nigeria to ransom almost every time they were called up.

On assumption of duty as Super Eagles coach, the Eagles needed a draw in Yaounde against Cameroon to qualify for the World Cup in 1990 but lost 1-0.

Westerhof then toured the country in search of replacements for the likes of Bright Omokaro, Ademola Adeshina, Wole Odegbami, Sunday Ebiogbe, Austin Igbinabaro, Peter Rufai, Henry Nwosu, Humphrey Edobor, Mike Obiku and a couple more others whose level of discipline was either not what the country needed, had dipping forms or just for the sake of getting alternative players.

Westerhof's experiment took him to Rangers where he found Emma Okocha (Austin’s elder brother) and Herbert Anijekwu (now late); Iwuanyanwu Nationale provided Isaac Semitoje while Bendel United gave Clemens Okechukwu Uche as well as Benedict Iroha.

The Dutchman also scouted Abdul Aminu from Elkanemi Warriors, Wasiu Ipaye from First Bank, Alloy Agwu and Tajudeen Oyekanmi and Daniel Amokachi, the 17 year old from Ranchers Bees.

When he decided to take just three foreign-based players to the Africa Cup of Nations in 1990, people thought he had lost his marbles because the core of the Eagles then or as most fans thought, lay with the foreign based players.

When his experiment eventually led to Nigeria’s 5-1 loss to Algeria in the opening match, it set the nation against the coach who probably knew what he was doing.

Nigeria went on to play in the final, losing to the host again, this time 1-0.

Later on a couple of the usual suspects like Stephen Keshi, Austin Eguavoen, Richard Owubokiri, and Samson Siasia were back but the coach had proved something- that Nigeria could still play football without them and the country now had alternative players.

Westerhof continued to tinker his team and had used thirty five different players by his 10th game in charge and 91 by the end of his tenure as coach in 1994.

Stephen Keshi was known and is still called the Big Boss and this name had existed even during those Westerhof years. He was captain fantastic and was a coach of some sorts on the pitch.

Being named coach of the Eagles, he seems to have adopted the Westerhof model.

When he played his first competitive game against Rwanda on the road in an AFCON qualifier he named Vincent Enyeama, Taye Taiwo, Godfrey Oboabona, Joseph Yobo, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Ahmed Musa, Dickson Etuhu, Joel Obi, Ejike Uzoenyi, Osaze Odemwingie, Yakubu Ayegbeni in his starting line up with subs as Victor Moses, Sani Kaita, Uche Kalu, Gabriel Reuben, Ike uche, Papa Idris, Chigozie Agbim.

There were eight new players in the team including Victor Moses who played for Wigan Athletic then.

He had begun the same journey Clemens Westerhof started in 1989.

By the time the Eagles played against Namibia at home in Calabar in a World Cup qualifying match a few months later, Nigerians saw a lineup that included players like Azubuike Egwueke, Godfrey Oboabona, Juwon Oshaniwa, Reuben Gabriel, Victor Moses, Nwankwo Obiorah, Ejike Uzoenyi, Chigozie Agbim, Gege Oluwafemi Soriola,

Papa Idris, Henry Uche, Sone Aluko, Uche Kalu and Obinna Nwachukwu, the new players promised by coach Keshi at the start of his tenure.

On qualification for the World Cup players like Juwon Oshaniwa, Rueben Gabriel, Obiorah Nwankwo, Gege Soriola, Papa Idris, Henry Uche, Uche Kalu and Obinna Nwachukwu had disappeared from the team and the likes of Bright Dike, Shola Ameobi and Kunle Odunlami made their appearance.

“Only the best will be taken to the World Cup. And if you are not better than what I already have, then you will not get an invitation to my team,” Keshi repeatedly told the press

“Nigeria’s best at the World Cup has been a second round placing. My personal ambition is to better that,” he continues.

That is what rebuilding is all about and Stephen Keshi seems on the right track. The football does not seem pretty the way it is, but the end as they say, sometimes justifies the means.

By China Acheru

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  1. nice to see analyst i looked up to as a kid from port harcourt on sports panorama program on RSTV writing insightful analysis on our eagles. good job china and nice website collin.

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