On the 7th of June 2016 the footballing world was shocked to hear of the death of Nigerian legendary footballer and head coach Stephen Keshi. At the age of just 54 the footballing family lost a man who had had a great influence on Africaa and Belgian football during his playing career, while as a manager he had led Togo to its first World Cup and won the AFCON in 2013 with Nigeria.
Keshi was born in Azare, Bauchi State, Nigeria, and began his footballing career in 1979 with ACB Lagos, before spending four years with New Nigeria Bank. During that time, the central defender caught the eye of the national team and won his first call up. Over a 14 year international career Keshi would score nine goals and play 64 times for the Super Eagles. The end of his career came just as the famous Nigerian side of the 1990’s began to emerge, but he was a member of the 1994 AFCON winning side. Injury denied him a chance to feature more than he did during that tournament.
After a few years in the Cote d’Ivoire, Keshi moved to Belgium in 1986 to join Lokeren. After just one season with Lokeren he joined Anderlecht. During a four year spell with the Mauves, Keshi won the Belgian cup twice, first during his first season in Brussels and the second the following year in 1989. During the 1990/1991 season he finally won the Belgian League title. During his time in Brussels, Keshi scored 18 goals for the club from center back. The side almost won the 1989/1990 European Cup Winners Cup, beating Ballymena United, Barcelona, Admira and Dinamo Buceresti on their way to the final. There they faced a strong Sampdoria side with the likes of Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli. The Italians were the winners, but only after extra time and thanks to a Vialli brace.
After two years in France playing for Strasbourg, Keshi returned for another season in Belgium and Brussels when he joined RWD Molenbeek. Keshi would then depart for the USA, where he would finish his career.
Following retirement, the Nigerian defender turned to coaching. He was the man responsible for leading Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo side to the 2006 World Cup, although after a poor 2006 AFCON the Togolese FA sacked him before he had the chance to lead Togo at the tournament. This did come following a verbal and almost physical brawl with Adebayor on the team bus after the first game of the 2006 AFCON.
In 2011 he took over a Nigeria side that had failed to make the 2012 AFCON. Keshi led them to the final of the 2013 AFCON, beating favourites Cote d’Ivoire in the process. After a 4-1 triumph over his former side Mali in the semi-final, Nigeria beat Burkina Faso 1-0 in the final. This made him just one of two people to have own the tournament as a player and a coach.
Following the 2013 final, during his press conference Keshi said something that epitomises his entire career: ‘My dream is to make all Nigerians happy’. It’s safe to say he achieved this on and off the pitch.