Stephen Keshi – Troublemaker. Pathfinder. Legend.

The former Nigeria coach will be remembered in many different ways after his illustrious three years in charge of the African champions comes to an end

By Lolade Adewuyi in Brasilia

As his flock scattered like sheep without a shepherd on Tuesday, each catching flights to different parts of the world following their second round exit to France, Stephen Keshi chose to reflect.

Reclined on a lounge chair close to the still lake that borders the Brasilia Palace Hotel, he had one last thing on his mind - how to return home with the remaining crop of players in his care.

“I brought them here, so I have to take them back to Nigeria,” Keshi told Goal. " I just hope whoever comes in will give them the opportunity to showcase their talents."

Afterwards, he would take a deserved break with his family in the United States and then seek newer pastures with his long-serving assistant, Togolese Valere Houandinou.

It has been a long summer for the 52-year-old, who took his side to the round of 16 at the World Cup in Brazil. It was the first time an indigenous coach had reached such heights with the team, and their third time overall.

Keshi, a name synonymous with the Super Eagles, has overseen many highs and lows.

After serving in the set up as a player and captain for 14 years, he was brought back in 2011 to help shore up a fledgling side that failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

Leading by inspiration, his time as a player saw the team win their second African title and qualify for their first World Cup 20 years ago, Keshi took up the job without the perks of office that his predecessor enjoyed.

He worked without a permanent home in Nigeria, living out of hotels for more than two years in charge while spending breaks with his family in America.

He even went seven months without pay, the backroom staff suffering from the poor administrative issues that have bedeviled the Nigeria Football Federation. It was one of the reasons that players decided not to train last Thursday as a way to press home their financial demands.

Keshi has even had to pay Houandinou from his own pocket in order to make his job of leading the national team to success easier.

One year into taking over the Super Eagles, he led them to win the African title in South Africa with a host of new players bursting onto the scene after he did away with the bulk of the squad that failed to qualify for the tournament the year before.

For the first time in memory, Nigeria qualified for the World Cup on their terms. Gone were the days of waiting for the result of other matches to go in their favour, this time they topped their group and defeated Ethiopia over two legs in the CAF playoffs to reach Brazil.

Back home, however, opinion is divided over the success of the former Togo and Mali coach. Some say he is deserving of his success, others say he has only been lucky and that luck can only take one so far.

Keshi | Luck can only take one so far... 

Keshi splits opinions generally. He is described as stubborn by the federation while some members of the Nigerian media claim that he is arrogant, and someone who doesn’t take their advice.

This World Cup has revealed another aspect of his character.

An Iranian journalist told me that he has a great sense of humour. Even a Western journalist screamed, “I love this man” after one of his early press briefings in Curitiba.

So who exactly is Stephen Keshi?

Perhaps only his dear wife can answer that question. But we will not go so far, and will attempt to put a few things into perspective rather than assume to fully answer the puzzle.

I grew up adoring the team of 1994, they were my heroes - Rashidi Yekini, Peter Rufai, George Finidi and of course Keshi. He led that team under Clemens Westerhof to victory after three attempts at the Afcon.

They took us to our first World Cup in the United States and cemented their place in history and in our hearts.

But Keshi has always been known for his behind-the-scenes scheming. It was why they nicknamed him the Big Boss. He led player revolts, he was stubborn, he was rough, but he was loved.

He was among the first Nigerian players to play in Europe at a time when the local scene was very much respected and had keen rivalry. He left through Abidjan for Belgium and then on to France in an illustrious career that eventually ended in 1998 in Malaysia.

After him, many Nigerian players began to seek out greener pastures in Europe and they have not stopped since.

Since setting such examples as a player, Keshi has now left a bigger mark as a coach, following in the footsteps of his mentor Westerhof.

His critics say he should have brought Ikechukwu Uche, Sunday Mba and Nosa Igiebor to Brazil. But he says he brought Michael Babatunde out for the world see.

They say he is unable to read tactics correctly and won’t grow much more than this as a coach. Where were they, however, when Nigeria failed to make any meaningful impact with their array of European and local coaches since 1998?

With his decision to step down from the job on Monday for the second time in as many years, people will remember him in several different ways.

To some he was a troublemaker, others would say he was a pathfinder. Yet in a few years, most will only remember him as a legend.

For what it is worth, he has left his successor oversized shoes to fill. 

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