Following his unveiling as the Super Eagles coach for a two-year period last Tuesday, Stephen Keshi had a short session with the media, where he requested a greater degree of cooperation from the media and insisted that the team would only field the nation’s best legs. TAOFEEK LAWAL was there for LEADERSHIP Sports.
What should Nigerians expect from your second coming as coach of the Super Eagles?
There is a new thing happening now. There would be more seriousness in the game but where there is a divided house, it will be very tough. We are going to take everything seriously and we are not going to give anything away.
However, we want Nigerians to support us with their prayers and also, request that they be patient with us and have belief that their team will succeed.
You have two years to work with the team; do you have any targets for the period?
The target is, simply, to take Nigerian football to the highest place it can get to.
In achieving that, are you ready to invite players from all the cadres to the national team as is being done in other countries? Do you think home-based players still have chance in your team?
That is what I did in my last two games. You could see [that] I invited some home-based players into the team then and will continue to do that. I came out from the league [so] I don’t have a problem inviting the players. They are good lads. People like me, Henry Nwosu and Segun Odegbami emerged from the local scene, playing for local clubs. Henry Nwosu and I also got into the national team at age 17. We have them (local players) here in their numbers. The only challenge is the provision to start with them and to continue working with them; these are more important. Otherwise, I’m always going to work with the home-based players and, probably, see the professionalism in them. If they can continue the way they are doing, we are going to work with them. However, this is not about inviting them; they must be ready for the challenge of being in the national team because this is the height of all the national teams.
But we are talking about the U-20 national team players who have shown a lot of promise. Will they be given opportunity to vie for places in the Super Eagles, having been celebrated by Nigerians?
Again, this is all about personal achievement, personal excellence and, you know, the Flying Eagles is not [the same with] Super Eagles. The Super Eagles is the height of the game if you can cope with it. I did it while I was aged 17 years, playing [with the] junior and senior [teams] with Henry Nwosu as I mentioned earlier. So, if any of them believe they can do it, I will play them; no problem. But they must be ready to have the quality and the commitment.
During your first stint, you tracked a number of Nigerian players born abroad who expressed their desire to play for the country. That move brought some players into the limelight and a number of them are waiting to play for Nigeria.
Will you continue with that programme?
Of course, I was in touch with Shola Ameobi’s brother, Sammy – though we cannot do the whole thing now. Also, I was in touch with the secretary-general [of the Nigeria Football Federation) over this. We brought in the likes of Steve Ukoh from Switzerland and there are others like him. If they all qualified to play for Nigeria can give all it takes [to be part of the team] we’ll bring them in. They are Nigerians and they are willing to play for their country.
What will your relationship with the media be now, given the icy relationship you had with them during your first stint?
Thank you for that question. Honestly speaking, for one moment I never thought I had any problem with the media. I think I have been friendly with the media but you can be friendly with someone and he feels he doesn’t want your friendship. But I have never gone against the media because I understand that in coaching you are bound to work with the media and this is what I have been doing all over the place. I am your brother and I am your friend, but I have to be honest with you because if you have asked me a question that is not right, I have to tell you I cannot do it. If only we can live with honesty, then everything will work fine. I don’t have a problem with the media, I never had and if you guys (media) think I have done something you do not like, I’m sorry.