Head coach of the Nigeria national team, Stephen Keshi has been under intense scrutiny in recent days. Keshi stroked the fire of controversy on Friday, December 21 when he released a provisional list of 32 players for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Football faithful across the nation raised eyebrows as stellar performers like Kalu Uche, Ozase Odemwingie and Obafemi Martins failed to make the cut.
Odemwingie predictably did not take his exclusion lying down and went on an astonishing tirade via the social networking site, twitter to launch a scathing attack on Keshi, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Super Eagles captain, Joseph Yobo.
Millwall Manager, Kenny Jackett and his Newcastle counterpart Alan Pardew have made known their intentions of preventing the duo of Danny Shittu and Shola Ameobi from playing for Nigeria at the 2013 Afcon.
Keshi took out the time to discuss the issues, and several startling revelations were made.
It must have been a roller coaster week for you, how have you dealt with the pressure? - There is no pressure. This is my job and anyone who cannot deal with pressure is not ready for this. I’m fine with this. All is well.
You left out Obafemi Martins, Kalu Uche and Osaze Odemwingie out of your provisional 32-man squad for the 2013 Afcon. Why? - There are a lot of good players in Nigeria. We cannot invite everybody to play all at once. If we do that, it will be a jamboree situation. We don’t want that.
But these players have been in fine fettle for their various clubs this term and many expected them to make the list. - The exclusion of these players does not mean they are not good players. I have also heard people say I have a personal grudge against these players. That is not true. It only means that they are not needed at this time. They are still in my plans (for the future). There is no problem at all. It just means that the 32 players selected are the ones that are needed for now.
It was a shock when Bright Dike of MLS club, Portland Timbers made the squad. He has only been capped once at international level and has never played a competitive match for Nigeria. Why was he selected? - Well, the truth is the list I announced is a provisional list. Not everyone in that list will be on the plane to South Africa. Yes, Dike has one cap but I was really impressed with his fitness level when we played against Venezuela in Miami. His dedication level is impressive. These are the kind of players that I need. I am not saying he will make the list or will be dropped eventually. When the camp opens in Portugal, we will see who is who.
Many are questioning the rationale behind your decision to include Rabiu Ibrahim who has yet to make a single start for Celtic in either the Scottish Premier League (SPL) or the UEFA Champions’ League this season. - I watched Rabiu play in a Scottish Cup tie for Celtic recently and was impressed. He is a creative midfielder and one of the areas where we come up short (in the team) is the creative midfield position. I invited him to see, at close quarters, what he can.
Alan Pardew says Shola Ameobi will not play for the Super Eagles at next year’s Afcon even if is selected in the final squad. Pardew says you know the reasons why Ameobi won’t play. What are the reasons? - I have never spoken to Alan Pardew in my life. I have only seen him on television so I don’t know what reasons he is talking about.
Have you spoken to Shola about the situation? - No, I have not. Not yet...but I will eventually do that and get to the root of the matter.
The Federation (NFF) has insisted that Ameobi will be compelled to go to the competition if he is eventually selected in the final squad. Are you on the same page as the Federation? - Of course, I am on the same page as my Federation. Alan Pardew knows he cannot stop Shola from going to the Cup of Nations because the competition is recognized by Fifa. I don’t know what is in his (Pardew’s) head or what he is thinking about.
The Millwall Manager, Kenny Jackett has also vowed to stop Danny Shittu from going to the Afcon if he is selected... - I don’t know why the English clubs are trying to stop their players from going to the Cup of Nations. Do they feel these black boys don’t have the right to play for their countries? I don’t know... but any player who is selected to play will play at the Cup of Nations because we reserve the right to do that. However, I would not want to cause any problems for any player over something like this because that is his career and eventually, he will have to return to his country. But the clubs also have to understand how important this competition is and that it is sanctioned by Fifa.
When will the invited overseas-based players be expected to arrive the camp in Portugal? - From January 5, 2013. We want to begin preparations early and we will want to get all our players in camp on that date.
Were you shocked at the reaction of Osaze Odemwingie following his exclusion from the 32-man provisional squad for the 2013 Afcon? - To be honest, I will prefer to talk about players in my list and not those that were not invited. I am not interested in what Osaze is saying or not saying at the moment. It’s none of my business.
Nigeria will face Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and the champions, Zambia in the group stages of the competition next year. What should Nigerians expect from the team? - We will give our best in the competition. We ask Nigerians for their prayers and I want to wish Nigerians a very merry Christmas.