The five lessons Stephen Keshi must learn from Nigeria's draw with Rwanda

The Super Eagles could only muster a 0-0 draw against the Wasps on February 29, and takes a look at what their coach must do to turn their fortunes around
By Akinbode Oguntuyi

A brand new era started for Nigerian football two weeks ago in Kigali when the national team drew 0-0 in their first competitive game under Stephen Keshi, an away game against Rwanda in the first round of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Much was expected from the new trainer following previous coach Samson Siasia's disastrous stint, which ended in ignominy when the Eagles stumbled to a 2-2 draw against Guinea in Abuja and crashed out of the 2012 Afcon.

As fate would have it, the fired trainer's spell at the helm started with a 1-0 loss against the very same opponent in Conakry. Keshi's first game in charge, despite ending in a dull stalemate, was better received than Siasia's effort for various reasons.

But the fact that the Kigali deadlock did not draw much criticism should not be seen as a major achievement for the newly appointed coach. Nigerian fans are fickle at best, while the country's football officials are not known for their patience towards coaches who fail in qualification phases.

When the Nigerian press comes into the picture, it becomes all the more important to learn the lessons from the 0-0 draw with Rwanda.


Keshi must never forget that his complete and absolute trust in local players is of utmost importance. The opportunity to work closely with footballers from the domestic league has yielded good results for Zambia and Egypt. Therefore, it is perhaps better to use players who know the continent.

The fact that Nigeria are a major exporter of football talent gives food for thought for every coach entrusted with the responsibility of leading the national team. The reality is that the abundance of talent does not equate to the abundance of commitment. The no-show of some of the foreign-based stars in the heat of Kigali and the excellent performance of the home-based footballers should be enough to make Keshi think.

He has worked with players from the domestic league and knows what they can do. In contrast Keshi has had limited opportunities to have a look at the foreign-based footballers, who arrived too late to be eased into the squad ahead of the match against Rwanda. His decision to give them precedence backfired spectacularly.

While club form is a good way to measure the capability of any player, other factors must come into play when the footballers arrive for national team duty. One of them is their track record.

Peter Odemwingie is blowing hot in the Premier League, but any serious follower of Nigerian football will tell you that the last time he played well for the national team was in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

Ikechukwu Uche on the other hand, has covered himself in glory every time he has pulled on the green of the Super Eagles, and he is constantly overlooked whenever Odemwingie shows up. The Granada striker came off the bench and played well against Guinea in Siasia's last game in charge and his performance was in stark contrast to Odemwingie, who disappointed. One could not help but notice the deja vu in the 0-0 with Rwanda.


Another lesson Keshi should take from the disappointing draw in Kigali is that he should back his words with actions.

He will not be the first Nigerian coach to talk up the home-based players and then relegate them into a supporting role when the chips are down. While Siasia only paid lip service to the idea of integrating domestic footballers, Keshi actually started work on the project, and seems keen on seeing it through.

Now that the process has begun, the coach must doggedly keep going until the seeds take root. What he needs to do is to depart from the knee-jerk, pressured reaction of previous coaches and stick to the team he trusts, not a media-favoured team, not a Nigeria Football Federation-favoured team, and certainly not the fans' team.

If the group he trusts is one made up of players based in the Nigeria Premier League, he must use them. Similarly, if the side he trusts is one consisting of only footballers from foreign countries, he must stick with them.


A real team is made up of individual parts that constitute the whole. A good coach researches the opposition, and comes up with a game plan that takes into consideration the pieces that make the whole team click.

The fact that certain players are regulars at club level and are in sizzling hot form does not mean they must always start for the national team. First and foremost they must fit into the system the coach wants to employ for a particular game. The era of throwing in superstar names in the line-up just for the sake of having them in the XI must be brought to an end.


There will be times when Keshi will need to reassess his tactics and ideology and he will need all sorts of players to help him in his search for the right approach.

It is important not to criticise players in the media as the coach risks alienating footballers who might prove useful in the long run.

A hallmark of a good trainer is not just the ability to manage a team as a unit, but also as a collection of individual egos. Siasia failed in this aspect and it cost him his job, and Stephen Keshi will do well not to fall into the same trap.

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