Nigeria aiming to settle rift between players and coach

By Oluwashina OkelejiBBC Sport, Lagos
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is attempting to broker talks aimed at settling the rift between Super Eagles' senior players and coach Stephen Keshi.

Captain Joseph Yobo had a public spat with coach Stephen Keshi last week after reacting angrily to being omitted from the squad that drew 1-1 against Kenya in a World Cup qualifier at home in March.

It follows criticism of Keshi from Nigeria strikers Peter Odemwingie and Emmanuel Emenike, who also felt they had been treated badly.

The NFF has mandated its technical committee to wade into the three-way dispute, and a member of that group says they have resolved to call a meeting involving all three.

"The public fall-out has created a very difficult situation. We are well aware that a divided house won't help the team," former Nigeria international Victor Ikpeba told BBC Sport.

"The major problem has to do with management, in life there's always disagreement but we need to sort it and not apportion blame.

"We plan to resolve this crisis affecting the team, it's a work in progress and the absence of the coach [presently in the United States] has slowed things down."

Victor Ikpeba, who won the 1994 African Cup of Nations and the 1996 Olympics gold, explained that the coach makes the call but feels older players still have a role to play in the squad.

"Some new players are coming through the ranks but older players still have a role to play too," the 1997 African footballer of the year said.

"No one is interested in meddling in player selections or decisions taken by the coach, because that is his job."

Ikpeba who represented the Super Eagles at the 1994 and 1998 World Cup has called for better communication between the Nigeria coaching staff and players.

"Personally, the issue of Yobo and others relates to communication, and this is very essential in building a strong team."

Ikepba said unless changes are made to improve relationships, the national team will continue to struggle.

He said that football is such an important feature of Nigerian life that the problems affecting the Super Eagles need to be resolved urgently.

"The game against Kenya is in June, we cannot be battling with a divided house when a World Cup ticket is at stake.

"The whole thing has got the fans and media talking because that is how powerful football is to average Nigerians.

"If we let this problem continue, it could have a terrible effect on the team and the draw against Kenya is a pointer to that.

"We are working hard to sort this and the president of the federation [Aminu Maigari] has not been given enough credit for giving the directive.

"It's unfair because critics are quick to criticise the NFF, hopefully people will look back one day and thank him and his board for their hard work."

The African champions have been hit by off-the-field issues since they conquered the continent in South Africa two months ago.

The NFF has withdrawn its team from the 2014 African Nations Championship qualifiers due to financial constraints.

In another move aimed at slashing costs the NFF has cut salaries and bonuses for their players and coaches.

They have also restructured the team's 17 backroom staff, with several members losing their jobs this week.

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