After a long battle with the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, that spanned several months, over a contractual renewal, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi on Tuesday in Abuja finally sealed a new two-year deal as Super Eagles coach.
The former Nigeria captain, who is in his third spell with the national team, was first named coach of the Eagles in 2011 but his contract with the team ended after their second round elimination from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
He managed the team on an interim basis during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers as the Eagles failed to qualify and defend their title in Equatorial Guinea.
Keshi was given the boot by the Nigeria Football Federation during the AFCON qualifiers but was reportedly reinstated on the orders of the Presidency.
His assistant, Daniel Amokachi, took charge of the squad in the last four friendly matches played by the team. Keshi was handed a contract renewal — that insisted he must monitor players in the local league — in February but he described it as a “slave contract”, which sparked another row between him and the federation.
The latest row between the coach and his employers occurred when Keshi granted an Abuja radio station an interview, saying NFF boss Pinnick Amaju lied when he said the football body had paid the Eagles’ coaching crew all their salaries and allowances.
However, Keshi has now demanded a fresh start as he begins a third sojourn in charge of the national team.
“This is the time for us to come together to fight for this nation. I am begging you all to please put the past behind and let’s start afresh,” he said.
NFF technical committee chairman Felix Anyansi-Agwu said Keshi’s return as coach is ‘a new beginning’.
“The entire NFF board has absolute confidence in the capacity of Stephen Keshi to take the Super Eagles to new heights. We plead with Nigerians to see this as a new beginning and support Keshi.”
Eagles captain, Vincent Enyeama, expressed delight at the return of Keshi, describing the coach as a ‘friend.’
“I am happy he (Keshi) is back. He is more of a friend and big brother to me than a coach,” the Lille goalkeeper, who played his 100th Nigerian game recently, said.
But ardent followers of Nigerian football are watching to see how both parties work together peacefully in the next two years.
Former Eagles defender, Taribo West, said the federation should give Keshi the necessary support to succeed.
The former Inter Milan centre-back said, “I pray they will let him (Keshi) work this time around because the last time there was so much problems between both parties. There was a lot of complicity in his relationship with the NFF especially with Amaju. I pray this time they work together and make our football sweet again.
“Keshi can move Nigerian football forward. He’s done it before by winning the AFCON in 2013. They should encourage him to do better because we want to see the national team where it used to be. This time, I am expecting a lot from the NFF, the coach and the team.”