He led Nigeria to their first ever World Cup finals in 1994 in the United States — the same year the team won a second Africa Cup of Nations — and coached them to last year’s African title before steering them to this year’s World Cup finals.
Keshi was Nigeria’s longest serving captain, holding the role for 13 years. He is known as “Big Boss” and he has certainly stamped his personality on a group of players, whose talent has never been in doubt, but who have proved difficult to manage.
A commanding and skillful central defender, he was so influential that there were claims he and other senior players often decided the team for internationals.
Keshi showed he had an independent streak when he joined Belgian giants Anderlecht — via Ivorian outfit Stade Abidjan — soon after being banned for refusing to join up with the national team.
His first experience with the national side as a coach was when he helped Shuaibu Amodu secure a berth at the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.
– Keshi’s Confrontations –
But after the 2002 Nations Cup, both coaches were sacked following a row with top officials at the tournament.
Out of favour in his homeland, Keshi took charge of tiny Togo in 2004 and proved his credentials by guiding the unfancied west African nation to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
But history repeated itself and Keshi — who had almost come to blows with Togo’s star player Emmanuel Adebayor on the team bus at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the year — was replaced for the tournament.
Keshi’s combative approach has continued with his stewardship of the ‘Super Eagles’ where he has not been afraid to upset European-based stars and introduce home-based talent, something pretty much unheard of under previous coaches.
As a result, players such as Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe and Ejike Uzoenyi have blossomed into full internationals.
He hasn’t been afraid either to take on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and he even quit immediately after the country won the 2013 Nations Cup.
The 52-year-old claimed top officials were interfering and he did not enjoy their full confidence. But he returned to the helm.
This has given him some leeway when it comes to rows with high-profile players such as Stoke City’s Peter Odemwingie, who he dropped from the 2013 Nations Cup squad, while he has overlooked in-form forward Ikechukwu Uche, who has scored 12 goals for Spanish side Villarreal this season.
– Uncertain future –
Keshi’s Nigeria is now a more settled and confident team, who play a 4-4-2 formation that gives Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi a more attacking role in midfield.
But the coach has refused to commit to a target at the World Cup.
Despite his continued strained ties with the NFF, he has said he wants to stay on. The federation has, however, sacked all four of the coaches who took the team to the World Cup.
“If the conditions are good, I will definitely stay,” he said.
“I am not in Nigeria (as coach) to make money, if I wanted to do that, I would have been in other countries that offered me more.
“But I want to contribute and help build the Super Eagles, as well as develop football in my country.”