Keshi prepares youthful players for future

THE competition for the middle of the park was stiff and intense. Only
John Mikel Obi seem assured of his place and finding a new inspiration
from the change of coaches, he started to show flashes of the second
best player in the 2005 World Youth Championship.
But who will join Mikel at the heart of the team became the ache of
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi as he started scrutinising a collection of
midfielders who were virtually unknown. Of the pack, which included
the likes of Fengo Ogude, Nosa Igiebor, Joel Obi, John Ogu, Sunday
Mba, Ogenyi Onazi and more it took the cliff-hanging game against the
Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the last African Nations Cup in South
Africa for Keshi and his technical team to realise that they had found
the right mix.
Sunday Mba, then a home-based player became the revelation with his
goal- scoring prowess, while Onazi became the steady, reliable
powerhouse with a shooting zest. It was the turn-around and as it is
the midfield mix of either Mba, Mikel and Onazi became the option
favoured by many Nigerian soccer aficionados.
Did it just happen or was there considerable effort to stabilise and
draw confidence for a midfield, which had the unforgettable flavour
and colour of the inimitable Austin Jay Jay Okocha.
“Today voices are raised screaming the name of Onazi. Everyone is
worried about the injury he suffered. If they had a way of not getting
him off the pitch and have him recovered, it would have been done. It
is good Onazi’s qualities are being highlighted and we all missed his
contribution. But when I brought him into the team, did anyone know
who he was?
“This game is funny. Some people thought I was preparing an unknown
player to sell abroad. I received abuses from all corners and there
were questions from some technical experts on my choice of Onazi. AsI
told you, it is a matter of time and patience.”
And what does Keshi have to say on his choice of Ramon Azeez who
featured in the opening game against Iran and Uche Ochebo, who came in
as a substitute in one of the group games only to end up with the
nickname of “Flavour” for dancing around in the pitch like the famous
musician of the same name.
“Yea, I know they call him Flavour’ because of his hairdo. But watch
out for these young boys. The likes of Ramon Azeez are the future of
Nigerian football and are still very young. These are boys with heart
and I know them. In the next five years whoever comes in and knows how
to use them will have the desired result. That’s why I said anyone
wishing to work here or anyone coming in should seek my small blessing
so that when he is here he will know exactly what to do and will be
As he takes his deserved rest from a hectic campaign that ended in
the second round, Keshi is pleased that his injured players are
gradually recovering and getting set to join their club mates for
pre-season camping. Onazi is expected to be back in training for his
club, Lazio in the next two weeks and the gospel is that the tackle he
suffered did not affect the bone as initially suspected.
“Great to learn that Onazi will be back soon and I am pleased that
Echiejile (Elderson) has started training with his club,” Keshi noted
with a reminder that the Nations Cup qualifier is around the corner
and all these players may be needed for whosoever will be leading the
Super Eagles as coach.
It has been a battle to win the hearts of passionate ball fans on
his selection of players, but Keshi has learnt that football is a
practical game and one’s work on the pitch will draw the necessary
“See how they are all surprised by the showing of Babatunde Michael.
Before we left for Brazil, I told you that with a little confidence
and consistency Babatunde is a bundle of talent. He barely gave us a
bit of what I have seen.”
Just as we count on these players to make hay and lift the national
team, can we say that of the Big Boss himself. Tomorrow remains
pregnant for our football all round.

The Guardian


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