Maybe April 2015 will forever be remembered as the month when Stephen Keshi returned to the Super Eagles hotseat to lead the Nigeria national football team into a glorious era of success.
However, it’s also possible that April will be remembered—years from now—as the month when the Amaju Pinnick regime made its fatal decision, to bring back a coach who had failed so blatantly over the previous year.
While the Big Boss has hopefully learned some lessons from the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, he may well continue making some of the same mistakes that have affected the team’s progress since the magnificent triumph of 2013.
One of these—a failing that has been commented upon by several Goal Nigeria readers—is the coach’s stubbornness when it comes to player selection and his overt loyalty to certain figures. He will not have lost complete faith in some of those who stuttered during his maiden reign. In this feature, we profile five players who will benefit from Keshi’s return and who will be delighted to see the big man back in the hotseat.
Despite not scoring for Nigeria since late 2013—and the first-leg of the World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia—it always felt as though Emmanuel Emenike was the first name on Keshi’s teamsheet.
Remarkably, the Fenerbahce forward hasn’t scored for the Super Eagles in his last 15 international matches. It’s a dismal record, but while the likes of Anthony Ujah and Joseph Akpala were jettisoned after only an underwhelming showing or two, the impotent Emenike started every single one of Nigeria’s Afcon qualifiers.
Now, there is a case to be made that Emenike demonstrated in 2013 that he is good enough to lead the line for the Super Eagles, and maybe the faith shown in him will reap rewards in the future, but can Nigeria truly continue with a centre-forward whose confidence appeared to be shattered?
Keshi has shown immense faith in Emenike before, and while his struggles at club level have seen his stock fall dramatically, don’t be surprised to see the former Spartak Moscow man back in the number 9 shirt again.
In fairness, Keshi did drop Reuben Gabriel after the 2014 World Cup, and the midfielder played no part in the ill-fated 2015 Afcon qualifiers.
However, would anyone really, truly be surprised if he was invited back into the squad?
Despite rarely making much in the way of a tangible contribution to Nigeria’s cause, the ‘Nigerian Yaya Toure’ was a regular feature in Keshi’s squads.
He was named in the squad for both the World Cup and the 2013 Afcon—but made only a brief cameo against France in both tournaments combined.
It’s intruging how a player can so regularly be named in squads, but so rarely get the chance to show what he can do on the pitch-particularly while tantalising alternatives like Joel Obi and Nwankwo Obiorah are overlooked!
Keshi may have brought himself to drop Gabriel at the end of 2014, but giddy at having got his job back, expect the Wolf of Waasland to receive his inevitable phone call sometime soon!
Ambrose was another Keshi favourite whose performances didn’t always merit the loyalty he received from the coach.
At times during 2014 it seemed as though Keshi wanted Ambrose in his starting XI whatever the cost, and for a time, the Celtic man delivered a passable impression of a right-back.
But he’s not cut out for a full-back berth—a reality explored eloquently by my colleague Solace Chukwu—and arguably hinders the team as a whole when he operates at right-back.
By all means keep Ambrose in the squad—he is an experienced and versatile operator—but it’s surely time to give someone like Moses Odubajo, Dominic Iorfa or Leon Balogun the chances to demonstrate their suitability over a series of matches.
Ambrose’s reducing influence at Celtic—he has been in and out of the side in 2015—will test Keshi’s faith
Ah yes—only in Nigeria is the identity of the third-choice goalkeeper perhaps the most divisive talking point that exists between the fans and the coach.
I don’t know anyone who wants Chigozie Agbim in the Nigeria squad (please get in touch if you do), and there was some element of relief when Daniel Amokachi axed the backup-to-the-backup and turned to Dan Akpeyi and Theo Afelokhai for the recent qualifier. Carl Ikeme of Wolves is another player who people have wanted to see included in the national team.
However, expect the hopes and dreams of these three men to fade and wilt when Keshi names his next squad.
After all…what would a Big Boss 23 be without Agbim, who missed only two Nigeria call-ups between the beginning of 2013 and the end of 2014!?
Nosa Igiebor has proved to be Stephen Keshi’s idealised trump card on so many occasions over the last two years.
It’s easy to see why. So many African national teams lack a truly influential central creator, and Nigeria have proved to be no different.
At times under Keshi, the team’s football became so stodgy and predictable, that something—or someone—was needed to inject some invention into the midfield.
Ahead of the 2013 Cup of Nations, Keshi turned to Igiebor, who responded with two goals (against Liberia and Venezuela) in two matches.
A myth was born.
Nosa was given a three-match run at the Afcon, before being dropped again.
After consecutive defeats to Uruguay and Spain, who did Keshi turn to in the middle of 2013? Nosa.
After the staid draw with Mexico in the beginning of 2013, who did Keshi turn to for the next friendly against Scotland? You guessed it…
And after the World Cup, after consecutive defeats to Argentina and France, who was drafted into the side—playing in the first three Afcon qualifiers? Of course, that man again.
When the chips are down and Keshi needs to make an impression, he turns to Nosa. Don’t be surprised if he does so again…