With an important away win in Addis Ababa, Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi-led Super Eagles are confident of World Cup qualification as their return leg against Ethiopia this Saturday in Calabar draws near.
“We are very focused, they [the players] all know what is at stake,” Keshi said.
“I don’t want to bring any anxiety on them I want them to go out there and have fun.”
The coach, a former captain of the Super Eagles, relaxes in Calabar, two days before his team takes on Ethiopia in the crucial battle.
Typically, the big boss, as he is referred to, does not conduct interviews a day before the match.
It is his customary ritual, his time to relax, but more importantly it is the time to focus on the task at hand, to strategise and plan how to take his opponent apart.
The money aspect can come later on.
With the news circulating recently that the Nigeria Football Federation owed Keshi about seven months’ salary, one could excuse him if his attention on the team was not 100 percent.
But the coach is thinking of his goal, the sacrifices others are making on his behalf, his players, who idolise him, and his family that urges him to push on.
“It is true that they are owing me salaries, but my job first; let me do this job first and the salary stuff will be sorted out later,” Keshi said.
“These boys they look up to me, they want me there. Of course they want me to be paid.
“They see me as a role model and I have to live up to that. I have to show them the leadership that they are looking for.
“The money aspect can come later on.”
In Africa, a man sees himself as the head of the household and the provider. As a head coach and for a family man, with his wife and children in California, Keshi has somehow managed to stay focused. He thanks his children for helping him stay the course.
“My family has been doing a wonderful job they understand the situation,” Keshi said.
“They are 120 percent supportive and that is what has been pushing me.
“My kids keep saying, ‘dad, go get them, you can do it.’ That alone is more than money for me when my kids urge me to do the best for the country.”
On the football end, he is excited about Nigeria’s chances on Saturday.
The African champions went to a 7,726 ft high altitude region in East Africa and walked away with a 2-1 victory. The weather the storm and loud Ethiopians in October.
“It was a huge win,” Keshi said.
“We knew the weather was so hard to play in. I played in it before as a player.
“We had to absorb their pressure in the first half and it worked.
“This is good for the team and it’s confidence.”
Mikel a focal point
For the manager to get an expected win and World Cup ticket this weekend, Keshi needs captain Vincent Enyeama, John Obi Mikel and Emmanuel Emenike to put in the same shift they did in Addis Ababa or better.
Mikel is a focal point for the Super Eagles as the midfield runs through him. He missed the World Cup in South Africa due to an injury. In 2013, the Chelsea midfielder is a senior player and wants to be in Brazil.
“Mikel has been an outstanding player in this team. He’s been a great professional and I think any coach cannot ask for more than this.,” Keshi said of his star player.
Enyeama, currently with French Ligue 1 club Lille this season has eight consecutive clean sheets against Sochaux, Evian, Lyon, Ajaccio, Montpellier, Nantes, Monaco and Guingamp. That impressive form at club level has translated to his native country as well with some crucial saves in Addis Ababa.
“Vincent Enyeama is not only the captain of the team but he is a great goalkeeper,” Keshi said.
“I’m just happy for him the way he is playing and hope he can lead the boys to a victory on Saturday.”
For a coach paid twice in lump sums this year, his focus is getting that ticket to Brazil, a win that would unite a country with different languages, dialect, ethnicity and culture. If one thing would bring a smile to his countrymen’s faces, it’s a trip to Brazil.
“Nigerians want this ticket at all cost and it will be wonderful for us to give it to them,” Keshi said.
Follow Sulaiman Folarin on Twitter: @Sulaiman4real