Stephen Keshi, known affectionately as the “Big Boss” in Nigeria, has managed the Nigerian national team since 2011. He returned to his native country three years ago after several seasons coaching in Togo and Mali. Nigeria is the first African team in the 2014 World Cup to make it to the final 16 teams, a fact about which Keshi is very proud.
Here’s what you need to know about Nigeria’s man at the helm.
1. He Played for Several Clubs All Over the World
During his playing career, Keshi was a center back who played in 386 games. He scored 61 goals throughout his career, and has played in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Most fans are aware of his long stint with the Belgium club Anderlecht, one of Europe’s most prominent teams. He also spent one season (playing 16 games) with the Sacramento Scorpions in 1996, and finished his on-field career in a stint with Malaysia’s Perlis FA club.
After receiving coaching training in the U.S., Keshi began his coaching career in Togo, where he (remarkably) led the then-rag-tag team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. He also coached in Mali before settling in Nigeria. He believes that soccer clubs in Africa would do well to employ more African coaches, especially over less-qualified European coaches who often get the job.
2. He’s Won the Africa Cup of Nations As Both a Player & Coach
Stephen Keshi is a record-breaker in a big way when it comes to African soccer. He’s the only living person to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach (a distinction he shares only with Mahmoud El-Gohary, who died in 2012). When he played in the World Cup for Nigeria, he was captain of the Nigerian team: now brining the nation to the World Cup as a coach, he’s become the only figure in the country’s history to appear in the tournament as both a captain and a coach.
In late June Keshi became the first coach to take Nigeria past the second round in the World Cup.
3. He Never Applied to Coach, and Later Resigned & Came Back
Keshi claims that he never applied to be the coach of the Nigerian team, but that in 2000 he was invited to come watch and assist Bonfere Jo. The invitation never expired. In 2013 Keshi coached the Nigerian national team to victory in the African Cup of Nations, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final game of the series. For undisclosed reasons, Keshi resigned the next day. In a strange show of indecision (or of the fact that there must have been discussions behind closed doors), Keshi reversed his resignation decision the very next day.
His winning season wasn’t over after the resignation-that-wouldn’t-be debacle, either. Later that year he took Nigeria to the 2013 Confederations Cup where they placed but ended up losing to Spain (many-time international champions) in their final group match.
4. Keshi’s World Cup Squad Decisions Caused Controversy
It’s never easy for team coaches to select their 23-man squad for the World Cup, especially in a country with as many talented players as Nigeria has. Yet the Big Boss’s decisions sparked some pretty serious debate in the country. One major upset was the original exclusion of Ejike Uzoenyi, voted as the Most Valuable Player after the 2014 African Nations Championship in South Africa. Uzoenyi ended up being recalled to replace the injured Elderson Echiejile.
It is perhaps due to this controversy that Keshi is facing heckling from his own fans in Brazil. Fans were particularly aggrieved when Nigeria ended the game with Iran in a draw.
“England and Spain are out of the World Cup, and nobody in these countries has raised hell about their team’s performances… If I were a player now,” he said, “I’d stop playing for the national team.”
5. He’s a Self-Described Reserved Person
Don’t try to get Keshi to put on a suit, and definitely don’t try to get him to put on white trousers. He abhors white pants, and doesn’t feel comfortable in a suit at all. Keshi says that because he’s on his feet yelling all day, wearing a multi-layered ensemble wouldn’t make a sense. This is especially the case because he lives in Africa where the weather is rarely (if ever) appropriate for a proper three-piece suit. Give the man a tracksuit—preferably in white and green, like the Nigerian flag—and he’ll be happy.
He considers himself reserved because he’d rather spend a quiet evening in with his brothers, or watching a movie with his wife of more than 30 years (who apparently “starves him” if Nigeria doesn’t perform well). Even when he was a young soccer star who often had women fawning on him, Keshi wasn’t into partying or philandering. He believes self-discipline is the key to true success.