By Olumide Ogungbemi
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, the Super Eagles gaffer, isn't one to be envied right now. He may have had a successful 2013, when he was elevated to the pantheon of great African coaches following the AFCON victory, but 2014 doesn't look likely to follow suit.
Firstly, he had a January to forget at the CHAN 2014 tournament. After the players he was banking on to prosecute the tourney hopped off to Europe in search of greener pastures, the CHAN Eagles could do not better third position. Keshi couldn't be said to be happy with how his players played.
Secondly, hardly had the dust of the CHAN tournoi settled that some powerful figures at the Glass House started advocating for a foreign technical assistant for the under-fire gaffer. How this appeared to be a priority to those apparently struggling to pay Keshi and his assistants their wages on time beats one's imagination. Not only is the call ridiculous, the timing is totally out of place and role the ‘assistant’ is to assume apparently appears confusing and divisive.
Just when it appeared that the fires had been smothered, another controversy has reared its ugly head and refuses to go away—the call for Keshi to recall some players, particularly Ike Uche of Spanish side Villarreal.
With 12 strikes this season, Uche is the most prolific scorer the Eagles can boast anywhere in the world at this moment in time. When fit, Uche is a handful to his markers and has a knack for scoring key goals. Of the ‘experienced’ players fans and pundits are clamouring for, Uche appears to have the most solid case.
Keshi | Will his personal vendetta end up costing Nigeria?
But Keshi sees things differently.
The Big Boss is set for a huge battle of attrition over the Uche debacle, especially after he lost one of his World Cup hopefuls, Toronto FC's Bright Dike, to injury. How does Keshi plan to prosecute the World Cup successfully if he refuses to see that destiny has positioned Uche to lead the Eagles' frontline in Brazil?
Could Keshi know what we don't know? Most likely, yes.
Word has it that the manager is yet to get over the charismatic player and crowd favourite's conduct and snide remarks about him at AFCON 2013. It's alleged the striker disrespectfully criticised the manager's style and tactics when things weren't going well during the competition. It appears that Keshi is just returning the favour.
The question now is, should Keshi recall the outcast for the World Cup?
I boldly say no.
Football history is replete with players splitting a unified camp and making rubbish of the manager's plans. France crashed out of South Africa 2010 in the group stages despite having some of the sharpest strikers because of Nicholas Anelka's utter disrespect and total disregard for then-coach Raymond Domenech.
Even after Anelka was summarily thrown out of camp, the poison from his broken fangs had gone far too deep and formed the foundation of their disgrace. Should they pursue Ike Uche, then Nigeria risk heading down the same route, opening themselves to a controversial competition.
Can Keshi drop Uche and Nigeria still perform well? Yes, and these two cases support my view.
Uche | More trouble than he's worth?
Coach Aime Jacquet ignored the experienced and influential pair of Eric Cantona and David Ginola in the France squad for the 1998 World Cup. He replaced the sterling but mercurial stars with the precocious 20 year-olds, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet. France not only won the World Cup, with the youngsters as the nucleus of Les Bleus, they claimed the European Championship two years later under another manager.
Not even the Brazilian president could persuade Coach Luis Felipe Scolari to include Selecao 1994 hero, Romario, in the 2002 squad.
Romario's sharp tongue didn't help matters, not to mention his infamous disciplinary issues. Though hugely talented and a crowd pleaser, Scolari refused to hand the veteran a shirt and Brazil emerged World Champions in Korea/Japan.
We don't want to see images and clips of Keshi and Uche grappling at the training grounds like the erstwhile Manchester City pair of Mario Balotelli and manager Roberto Mancini. The gaffer doesn't need the distractions. No one player is bigger than the squad, if the manager doesn't want Uche, so be it. Forcing them together is going to be counter-productive, we should spare the gaffer the headache and the fans the heartache.
That’s my take, what do you think?