Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Mistakes that Keshi cannot afford to repeat with Nigeria

Mistakes that Keshi cannot afford to repeat with Nigeria
After all the drama that followed the Super Eagles’ elimination from the second round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Stephen Keshi looks set to continue as Nigeria boss.

For many, the Big Boss remains the best choice for the job as a result of his impressive first stint with the team. There is a sense that the former defender has unfinished business with a crop of players that he has cultivated and developed.

In truth, such an opinion is not by any means misplaced, as the former Togo national team coach had succeeded in transforming the fortunes of a team once considered by their own supporters as being unworthy to bear the 'Super Eagles' nickname. Taunts of ‘Super Chickens’ have become much rarer under Keshi.

Who, among Nigeria fans could easily forget that memorable evening when a little-known Sunday Mba poked the ball home to hand his compatriots the continental trophy and give Nigeria her first major trophy in over 19 years?

Similarly, at this year's World Cup in Brazil, Keshi equalled Dutchman Clemens Westerhof's Last-16 feat, repeating the team’s greatest-ever showing in 1994 and 1998. This achievement placed Keshi side-by-side with a man considered by many as the national team's best coach to date.

Keshi might have earned himself a place in the hearts of many Nigerian football fans, but this does not by any means indicate that his success with the team was not affected by his few shortcomings and mistakes both technically and tactically.

If the 52 year old wants progress, certain errors must be avoided.

The manager's decisions are often hard to understand for fans

Throughout Keshi's three year stay with the Super Eagles, he has often made the mistake of not wanting to let go of some under-performing players. Simultaneously, he often refused to give other players a chance to prove themselves, often supporting this decision with the excuse of wanting to maintain team unity and understanding.

He persisted in sticking with the same faces match after match during the qualifying stage of the 2013 AFCON and only invited new players when the tournament was on the horizon.

Little wonder the team struggled to find rhythm in their first three matches at the competition.

Both Ikechukwu Uche and Ezekiel Imoh were overlooked for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil despite having scored more goals together than three of the strikers that Keshi took to the tournament.

Ramon Azeez was only drafted into the team few months to the World Cup regardless of the fact that he was already an integral part of La Liga side Almeria for over three months before the Super Eagles’ last match in 2013.

Despite Hope Akpan and Kenneth Otigba, for example, impressing regularly for their clubs during the 2013/2014 season, both players were not called up to the national team for any of the World Cup qualifiers or friendlies. Instead, Keshi opted to go with familiar faces, even though some areas of the team obviously needed reinforcements.

While Algeria successfully processed the nationality switches of several players who have proved pivotal to their success, Keshi demonstrated a reluctance to cast his net deep into the diaspora. As fans watch Reuben Gabriel, once again, let an opposition attacker pass him by, people can’t help wondering whether there are better options out there.

There are!

Reuben Gabriel | Becoming a symbol of Keshi's stubbornness

Moving forward, Keshi must make the most of the resources at his disposal and ensure that the Super Eagles consistently use their best players for competitive matches.

Secondly, it is important that Keshi begins to make the most of friendly matches and starts to treat them as an important aspect of the team’s preparation.

At both the Championship of African Nations and the African Nations Cup, Keshi's teams started poorly but managed to gel and find their shape during the course of the competition.

This trend could easily be traced to gaffer's failure to effectively utilise the numerous friendlies and tournament qualification matches to arrive at his best possible formation and tactics.

It was a similar story at the World Cup, where the team looked lacklustre during their 0-0 opening draw with minnows Iran. The Super Eagles’ uninspiring performance in this game came as little surprise following their disappointing friendly showings against Scotland, Greece and the United States.

If he can begin to see the error of his ways and make amends, then there is no reason why Keshi cannot guide Nigeria to the African title in Morocco in 2015. Retain the title, and Keshi could comfortably call himself the Super Eagles’ greatest-ever coach.

If he continues to repeat the mistakes of his reign to date, however, then Nigeria may well be heading to North Africa in hope, rather than expectation.
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