Keshi is famous for being the one of the two people, alongside Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), Africa’s biggest soccer tournament, as a player and manager. Keshi first won the title in 1994 as captain of the Super Eagles and, 19 years later, won it again as manager leading a less-than-fancied Super Eagles side. He died in June 2016.
In a soccer-mad nation where the sport is a national pastime and often a unifying event, Keshi was well-loved and is fondly remembered for his decades of service to the national team. His career as a player with the Super Eagles spanned 14 years during which he made 60 appearances—the second highest ever by any player at the time of Keshi’s retirement in 1995.
In 2011, Keshi took over as a manager of the Super Eagles at a time when the national team was at a low ebb and barely living up to its reputation as one of the continent’s best teams. Indeed, the Super Eagles had not won an international title since Keshi last lifted the AFCON trophy in 1994. In 2014, Keshi further sealed his legacy with the Super Eagles at the World Cup in Brazil, matching the team’s best ever performance at the event with a round of 16 finish.
Notably, Keshi remains popular among players in Nigeria’s local soccer league. During his time with the Super Eagles, Keshi broke a ceiling of sorts by insisting on inviting promising players from the local league to the senior national team—a gutsy move given that Nigeria had several big name players at popular European soccer clubs at the time. Keshi’s team at the 2013 AFCON comprised of six home-based players. His decision eventually paid off when, in the final against Burkina Faso, Nigeria’s lone goal was scored by a home-based star.
His 19-year club career spanned five countries and four continents, including a four-year stint at Anderlecht, Belgium’s most successful club, where he won the league title in 1991. Keshi’s managerial career also saw him make history outside Nigeria as he qualified Togo for the World Cup in 2006—the country’s first ever appearance at the global event.