Stephen Keshi will be remembered as an African pioneer

Stephen Keshi celebrates winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations
Stephen Keshi is one of just two people to win the Africa Cup of Nations as both player and coach

African football is mourning the death of former Nigeria coach and captain Stephen Keshi, who passed away aged 54.

Keshi will be best remembered as a coach but he also had a successful career as a player at club and international level.

Winning the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria was the highlight of his international playing days.

As a player he had stints in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Belgium, France and United States of America.

Keshi began his professional career with now-defunct Nigerian side ACB of Lagos and his hometown club New Nigeria Bank of Benin City.

His first move abroad was not to Europe but to Ivory Coast where he won the domestic cup with Stade Abidjan in 1985 and 1986, before moving to their local rivals Africa Sports.

Unique achievement
Stephen Keshi is the only African to win the Confederation of African Football's Coach of the year twice - in 2005 with Togo and 2013 with Nigeria

He became known as the "Big Boss" during his playing days as he was one of the first Africans to move to the European leagues in the 1980's.

Belgium was his first port of call when he joined Lokeren, which in later years became a popular destination for other African players.

Keshi's compatriots Victor Ikpeba and Sunday Oliseh as well as Ghana's Nii Lamptey also played for Lokeren.

It was at another Belgian side where Keshi really thrived, spending four years at Anderlecht a side that he also captained.

While at Anderlecht he won the Belgian Cup in 1988 and 1989 before helping them to the league title in 1991.

After that success, he moved across the border to French second division side RC Strasbourg and is fondly remembered for scoring the second goal in a 4-1 win over Rennes on 13 May 1992 which secured the team's promotion to the top flight.

Keshi (right) celebrates with the African Nations Cup trophy after victory over Zambia
Keshi (right) celebrates with the African Nations Cup trophy after victory over Zambia

The following season saw Keshi and Strasbourg finish in eighth place - their highest ever finish in the top division - before he made a swift return to Belgium with Molenbeek that summer.

His return to Belgium was not the success he had hoped for and he eventually moved to the United States to play for Jaguar Bay, San Jose and Sacramento Scorpions.

He eventually ended his playing career in Malaysia with Perlis in 1995.

Keshi earned more than 60 caps for Nigeria and won the 1994 Nations Cup with Super Eagles, although injury prevented him from playing in the final against Zambia.

He made two appearances, including as captain for their semi-final win over Ivory Coast on penalties, but the Nigeria coach at the time, Clemens Westerhof, refused to risk playing him in the final.

Later that year Keshi, was part of Nigeria's squad at the World Cup in the United States but another injury meant he played only once in the final group match against Greece.

Once his playing days were over he made the United States his home and went into semi-retirement.

His first coaching experience came when his daughter's elementary school were looking for a coach and she demanded that her father helped out and gave his number to the principle.

And so began his journey into coaching as he declared: "I was reborn and discovered it was something I could do."

It sparked his dream of one day coaching Nigeria but before he fulfilled that aim he took charge of both Togo and Mali and enjoyed success and disappointment in both posts.

Not many would have predicted that in his first job as a coach he could lead the previously unheralded Togo to the 2006 World Cup finals, ahead of Senegal and Zambia.

However, he would have to wait another eight years to lead a team at the World Cup finals because he was sacked by Togo just a few months before the tournament in Germany.

He lost his job after Togo crashed out of the Nations Cup in Egypt without winning a single game and was replaced by Otto Pfister for the World Cup.

Togo then re-hired him in 2007 but the Big Boss was unable to find the same success with the Hawks and moved on a year later.

Then while he was waiting for Nigeria to decide whether to offer him a job he was approached by Mali, a chance that he accepted.

More success came his way as he led Mali to the Nations Cup finals in Angola but again he was unable to lead them past the group stages.

Former Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan and the late Stephen Keshi with the Africa Cup of Nations
Former Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan stepped in to ensure that Stephen Keshi kept his job as coach

Keshi finally got the call he had been hoping for in 2011 when the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) asked him to coach the Super Eagles.

The next four years saw him earn his place in African football's history books but his stint was also beset by seemingly constant arguments with the NFF.

He became only the second person to win the Nations Cup as a player and a coach and was also the first African to lead two different nations to the World Cup finals.

At the finals in Brazil in 2014 he led Nigeria to the second round and so is the only African coach to appear in the knockout phase of a World Cup.

But throughout this time there were constant rows with the NFF over unpaid salaries and several attempts to ease him out of the job, including reports the federation wanted to sack him during the 2013 Nations Cup finals.

Keshi eventually stayed on and led the Super Eagles to their fifth World Cup finals in Brazil, where they were eliminated in the second round, beaten 2-0 by France.

Again it appeared he had lost his job when he said his contract had not been renewed but once more he was persuaded to continue in his role.

Just a few months later it took the intervention of then-Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan to ensure Keshi remained in charge of the Super Eagles.

His time in charge eventually came to an end in July 2015 when he was sacked amid rumours he had applied to be Ivory Coast coach.

Keshi did not get that post and did not work as a coach again before his untimely death although he had once again begun looking for work.

After spending time to mourn the death of his wife of more than 30 years, he had started talks with South African club Orlando Pirates as well as the Guinea national team.

Keshi and his late wife Kate, who died in December after a battle with cancer, had four children.

Keshi is the fifth member of the so-called 'Golden Generation' of Nigerian footballers who won in 1994 to die after Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini and Wilfred Agbonavbare.

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