Coach, Stephen Keshi has praised Super Eagles
and Stoke City forward, Osaze Odemwingie as a
great player and professional whose character is
not out of place.
In a down-to-earth interview with cable network,
Aljazera, Keshi said that he cannot disqualify him
from playing for Nigeria. “If he’s stubborn, that
doesn’t mean he can’t play for the national side.
He’s stubborn because of the way he was talked to
or the way he was approached,” Keshi told
Al Jazeera: Brazil 2014 is on the horizon.
Nigerians are excited. You’ve set the bar high by
winning the African Cup of Nations. What are your
expectations for the summer?
Stephen Keshi: I just hope that my players are in
good health. That’s key for us. Before the Mexico
game [friendly], I lost Bright Dike and I would’ve
loved to have him there. Now he’s out of the World
Cup. After that, I’m just going to take it match by
AJ: Every player has glowing things to say about
you. How does that make you feel as coach?
SK: I wasn’t aware of that since we’ve never been
that close that we talk about such things. I’m very
transparent with them. My oldest son is 31 so most
of them could be my kid’s age. I have to be honest
with them. I tell them the way I go about life
beyond football because after they leave the sport,
they need to know there’s another life, a very
complex one, ahead.
AJ: What has been the key for you because they’ve
had clashes with Nigerian and foreign coaches in
SK: I have an open communication line. I talk like
they’re all adults. You must listen to them, you
must respect them. They appreciate that.
When I wanted to bring in John Obi Mikel, I left him
out. I told him he had problems with Nigerians, he
had the big-player mentality. He called me and
said he’d like to come back to the national team
but I refused and hung up.
He called back again and asked me to hear him
out. I told him I was trying to build a team and
these players were respectful, they gave their
hearts out. They wanted to play for Nigeria and
ensure the team does well. You won’t do that for
us, we don’t need you, I told him that.
His agent called and I refused to talk to him. So
Mikel called back again and I said let’s talk. At that
point, almost 80% of Nigerians didn’t want to see
him in the national squad. And I told him that. But I
also took the risk and he agreed to the conditions.
Ever since then, he’s been a great professional with
great attitude in training. He’s a different Mikel and
I told him to enjoy his game and have fun.
AJ: How did that work?
SK: We’re open. There is no superstar in this team.
Everybody works for one another. You have 170
million people in Nigeria and if you leave, there will
be somebody else to take your place. Everybody
thinks anyone playing abroad is ready and is a
great player but that’s not true.
AJ: Last time we spoke, before the World Cup
qualifier against Ethiopia, you were sure about
80% of your team composition. Is that still the
SK: It’s still a good number but that doesn’t mean
that if I see one of two available players, I won’t
bring them in. If they’re better than the ones I
have, I will include them.
AJ: There’s a story out there that you were critical
of Ikechukwu Uche?
SK: I don’t want to go there again. I’ve talked
extensively about that and I don’t have any bad
feelings with him. My aim is the national team. I’m
responsible for that. Nigerians have entrusted me
with this job. I have to do what I have to do. I want
to move ahead and talk about players here not the
ones not in the camp.
AJ: Peter Odemwingie, does he fit into your
SK: Why not?
AJ: So you’re saying there’s a chance Odemwingie
might be a part of your 30-man squad?
SK: He’s a Nigerian, isn’t he? And he’s doing well.
AJ: But Peter, allegedly, is a very stubborn player.
He has allegedly had problems with every coach
he’s played for.
SK: We’re all stubborn. It’s just how we manage
the player. I just need to be able to manage the
player and that’s it. Odemwingie is a great player
and a great person. If he’s stubborn, that doesn’t
mean he can’t play for the national side. He’s
stubborn because of the way he was talked to or
the way he was approached.
AJ: So I’m hearing that Odemwingie will be a part
of your 30-man squad?
SK: I didn’t tell you that.
AJ: Joseph Yobo?
SK: Maybe. He’s playing in one of the biggest
leagues in the world.
AJ: But you have a great centre-back pairing in
Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo?
SK: I know that.
AJ: You’re lighting fire underneath your players
because you’re telling your starters that they’re
not guaranteed a place.
SK: There are no guaranteed shirts for anyone. You
have to work hard to play for me.