Stephen Keshi and locker room control

This piece has taken a long time coming and I have been thinking and doing my bit of research on the Super Eagles situation and why certain players have been “kicked” out of the team.

Players like Osaze Odemwingie (out since January 2013), Ikechukwu Uche (out since February 2013) and Joseph Yobo (out since February 2013) are/ used to be key figures in the Nigerian national team and it is not clear if they will get a recall for the World Cup.

And before these three were dropped last year, Keshi had done away with the likes of Dele Aiyenugba, Dele Adeleye, Yusuf Ayila, Taiye Taiwo, Kalu Uche and Obafemi Martins from the team he inherited from Samson Siasia.

Now even though the likes of Martins returned for a game or two in the course of Keshi’s time as manager, he seems out of the team.

So what is Keshi playing at? Is he sacrificing Nigeria’s best to win personal battles against these players?

Who benefits or loses from all of this eventually?

Every coach wants to manage players they can control because if you lose the locker room you lose the team and the results MAY not be in your favour.

It was said that Andres Villas Boas lost the locker room at Chelsea; it was said that Roy Hodgson lost the locker room at Liverpool and same was said of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid in his final season at the club.

A history of locker room control battles

Coaches the world over have always wanted to control their locker rooms.

Coaches want to be the bosses of their teams and this in most cases means they have total control over the playing personnel.

Any manager who cannot stamp his authority on his playing personnel MAY not be able to pass on his philosophy to the team.

Most managers at club level will quickly do away with any player with a larger than life attitude and a few examples abound.

Roberto Mancini versus Ballotelli and Tevez

At English League side, Manchester City, Roberto Mancini found it difficult handling the likes of Carlos Tevez and Mario Ballotelli.

For whatever managerial skills Mancini lacked, the point was he could no longer control these two.

At a time, Tevez was suspended when he refused to warm up and get in as a substitute during a European Champions League game.

At the end of the season, both were sold off and Mancini had his peace.

Sir Alex Ferguson versus Stam and Beckham

Why did Manchester United’s boss, Sir Alex Ferguson sell off Jaap Stam? Does anyone remember?

Why did David Beckham leave United at the time he did?

Do you all remember?

When Staam joined Manchester United from PSV Eindhoven in 1998 for 10.7 million euros, it was the highest fee ever paid for a defender.

Staam was clearly the best defender in the league and in three seasons had helped Manchester United to three league titles, one Champions League, and FA Cup, an intercontinental Cup and two UEFA defender of the year trophies then what happened?

His autobiography had accused his manager, Sir Alex of tapping him up and also encouraging his players to go down easily for penalties.
He was called into Ferguson’s office and told he was no longer needed and that they had already accepted an offer from Lazio for him.

He was sold off, just like that. He didn’t even know he had been sold to Lazio.

Just like Jaap Stam, David Beckham was the back bone of Manchester United.

Apart from his feet doing the talking on the pitch, he also made money for the club. In fact he was the poster boy of Manchester United.

Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson told Manchester United to sell Beckham because, “He thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson.”

This much was written by Alex himself in his biography.

National team coaches also want control

Scolari and Romario

Just before the 2002 World Cup, Brazil had a torrid time qualifying and they had to bring in Felipe Scolari to pick the pieces.

Romario Farias, though close to 40 was in top goal scoring form and most Brazilians thought he would be brought into the World Cup team.

Scolari had been known to be a strict disciplinarian and didn’t want to lose any bit of control.

He had introduced lots of players to the team who were level headed and didn’t need any distractions a player like Romario (who liked late nights and clubbing) would bring to the team.

The entire country, including President Fernando Henrique Cardoso called for his inclusion, but coach, Felipe Scolari stood his grounds and Romario was left out

Aime Jacquet, Jean Pierre Papin, Eric Cantona and David Ginola

When Aime Jacquet was appointed coach of the French national team, they had missed out on two World Cups.

He began to build a young team of teenagers like Thiery Henry, David Trezeguet, Patrick Vieira, Nicholas Anelka and Zinedine Zidane but the major news about his team was that the likes of David Ginola¸ Jean Pierre Papin as well as play-maker Eric Cantona were shown the way out.

True to type, French nationals who supported the national team thought the team he was taking to the World Cup was too young and needed experience but he insisted on what he wanted.

In his time as manager, he was called names like "paleolithic" and there were claims that the team had no hope for the World Cup.

In June 1997 at Le Tournoi, cries of "Resign!" could be heard from the stadium as the French team finished third behind England and Brazil and the press continued to label him incompetent.

Sports daily L'Équipe wrote an editorial before the World Cup arguing that Jacquet was not the right man to lead the French team to victory.

France won the World Cup

Westahof in 1989

In 1989, Clemens Westahof took over as Super Eagles coach and knew immediately that he needed to make lots of changes and also control the locker room.

At that time, players used to demand appearance fees to play AFCON and World Cup Qualifying games for Nigeria and some made unnecessary demands like insisting their girlfriends travel with them for games.

At his first international event, the AFCON in 1990, Westahof dropped all but three of the regular Super Eagles players.

Peter Rufai, Yisa Sofoluwe, Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Samson Siasia, Ndubuisi Okosieme, Humphrey Edobor were all missing from the team.

He relied wholly on homebased players plus Rashidi Yekini who played in the Ivory Coast, Ademola Adeshina who played in Belgium and Andrew Uwe who played in Germany.

After the opening day 5-1 loss to Algeria, ex- International, Segun Odegbami stated in an interview that Westahof had taken Nigerian football twenty years back.

During Westahof’s five year reign a lot of the former players came back but were dropped at the slightest whiff of dissent.

Players like Henry Nwosu, Oladimeji Lawal, Friday Ekpo and John Ene Okon were shown the way out during Westahof’s time as manager and by 1994, Nigeria had a team that is still being talked about until this day.

Adegboye Onigbinde and the 2002 World Cup

Before the 2002 World Cup, the coaching crew led by Shaibu Amodu was kicked and replaced with one led by Onigbinde.

Onigbinde in a bid to grab control of his team dropped some key players like Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George, Victor Agali, Tijani Babangida, Wilson Oruma and Victor Ikpeba.

These players were the back bone of the team and Sunday Oliseh, the captain had become so powerful at the time that he was beginning to make certain demands for his team mates that the authorities did not like.

Onigbinde needed younger players he could control but he failed because you do not build a new team with three months to a World Cup.

At the World Cup, Onigbinde dropped Taribo West from the final game against England after the defender spoke against him, accusing him of taking junk players to the World Cup.

Going back down memory lane

But at Nigerian National Team level, coaches dropping players from the team in order to gain control of the locker room dates back to the 1950s.

In 1955, there was an incident at the Jalco Cup when Godwin Ironkwe and Peter "Baby" Anieke led a revolt requiring payment of players.

At the time, players merely received oranges at interval. It is believed that the revolt led to the team losing 0-7 to Ghana (Nigeria's largest defeat till date). After the game, the NFA promptly suspended both players from the team.

Another incident that comes to mind is the suspension of Inua Rigogo, Nigeria’s first choice goalkeeper in 1968.

He was known as “The Cat” then but did not go to the Olympic Games and opened an opportunity for Peter Fregene as starting goalie.

Lawal had a long history of disciplinary transgressions leading up to 1968. He had a habit of declaring himself sick before a critical game and would be begged to play.

He did this in an Olympic Qualifier in Addis Ababa against Ethiopia. This time, the players met and asked the coaches to call his bluff.

This provided Fregene an opportunity and he excelled in that game including saving a penalty kick.

Enter Keshi and the lads

The encounters between Keshi and the likes of Osaze Odemwingie, Joseph Yobo and Ikechukwu Uche are well documented and there would really be no need to go back into them.

Osaze Odemwingie’s twitter rant against the Stephen Keshi and former coach, Samson Siasia, the Nigeria Football Federation, his captain, Yobo, fellow players, Nigerian sporting press and fans of the Super Eagles.

Joseph Yobo’s standoff against Keshi in the wake of his absence from the Eagles team to play against Kenya in a World Cup Qualifying game in Calabar and off course, Ike Uche’s “Refusal” to play to the instructions of the coach on the pitch.

If Stephen Keshi has left them out for more than one year, then he has every right to because every coach wants control.
Whether they get recalled to the team when Nigeria’s World Cup list is made public is another matter entirely but every coach that wants to succeed must start by having total control of the locker room which Stephen Keshi has up till this moment succeeded in doing.

I have mingled with players at National team level in camp since the Pre-2002 World Cup team handled by Bonfrere Jo and then Shaibu Amodu and never have I seen the level of discipline in the team as the current bunch.

Will Nigeria win the World Cup in Brazil? Certainly not, but after the World Cup, Keshi MAY probably beat his chest to say he has achieved his target given on appointment- To give Nigerians a Super Eagles team they will be proud of.

However that is interpreted would remain a matter of conjecture though.

Additional Information from Professor Chuka Onwumechili
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