The Honourable Minister for Youth and Sports Development, Barrister Solomon Dalung has expressed shock and sadness over the sudden passage of former Super Eagles Head Coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
Dalung said the news of Keshi’s death came to him as a big surprise as the former coach was neither sick nor had any health issues before his demise.
“It is with a heavy heart but gratitude to the almighty God, that I, on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Federal government of Nigeria sympathize with the family of Coach Stephen Okechukwu Keshi (MON) and the entire Nigerian football family over the untimely death of our amiable, dedicated and outstanding hero. I was really shocked by the news of his death. He was one of Nigeria’s heroes whose contributions to the development of football and Nigeria’s sports in general cannot be quantified,” Dalung said.
In his tribute, Barrister Dalung said that as Captain and Coach of the Super Eagles, Keshi contributed greatly to the development and popularity of football in Nigeria. He was a trailblazer who dedicated his life and talents to his fatherland.
“I will formally inform the government of the death of this great Nigerian, and I want to assure Nigerians that government will seek ways to immortalize him. I join millions of soccer followers across the world to mourn this illustrious son of Nigeria, Africa and the world. I pray for the repose of his soul and that the family, especially the children he left behind will find the strength to bear this devastating loss.” Dalung said.
Keshi during his life time was an embodiment of all that was good about Nigerian Football. Having played the game from the grass roots, where he featured prominently at the prestigious Lagos Principal’s Cup that launched his playing career into national limelight at a very tender age, he had a long career with the Super Eagles, that saw him record well over 64 appearances from 1981 – 1995.
His sojourn in Europe opened the floodgates for other Nigerian players to go abroad and play football.
He was one of the longest serving captains of the national team and won the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 in Tunisia as captain of the team. That was the same year Nigeria was ranked 5th in the FIFA World ranking, the highest ever ranked African team till date.
After his playing career, Keshi began his coaching career. He managed Togo and Mali national teams before returning home to Nigeria in 2011 to handle the Super Eagles. This time, he won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 as a manager, making him the only Nigerian to have won the tournament as a player and a coach. He also qualified Nigeria for the World cup and took the nation to the knock out stage of the World Cup against all odds.