PETALING JAYA: Nigeria’s football head coach Stephen Keshi has played for many clubs in various continents throughout his 18-year playing career, but many are unaware that he once played in the Malaysian league with Perlis.
According to Malian agent Issa Diabate, who brought Keshi to Malaysia, the footballer managed to impress during his short stint – 1997 to 1998 – in the northern state capital Kangar.
“It was a small city and most of the people loved Keshi during his time there. He didn’t have any problems in Malaysia,” recalled Diabate, 46.
The 52-year-old Keshi, appointed to his position in 2011, is under the spotlight on the biggest stage of the sport in Brazil, where his team is currently doing pretty well in the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament.
Nigeria is a win away from qualifying for the knockout stages and many have credited its performance to Keshi’s coaching.
“Keshi was a well-known centre-back who played 386 games and scored 61 goals for various clubs in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe, including Belgian giants Anderlecht.
“He played for Perlis 34 times and scored four goals. He was also an experienced international defender with 64 caps,” Diabate noted.
Together with another agent, Abdul Razak Abdul Salam, Diabate had introduced Keshi to Perlis football management.
Described as “dedicated, disciplined and positive”, the Nigerian football stalwart lifted the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player (in 1994) and manager (2013) – an achievement shared only by Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary.
“Some of the African teams take things too easily, but Nigeria under Keshi has done well. He understands the dynamics of the team and that was what won them the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations,” said Diabate.
He predicted that Nigeria would go far in this World Cup even though it is in a difficult group, together with Argentina, Iran and Bosnia.
Most African nations, said Diabate, were football-crazy.
“In Africa, from 3pm to 6pm in every street, everybody is busy playing football. They love the sport. Football is life for them,” he added.
Keshi’s Nigeria team was held 0-0 in its first Group F match against Iran, but went on to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 through a Peter Odemwingie goal.
It was also its first World Cup finals victory since 1998 and condemned the European team to an early exit in its first appearance.
Nigeria now needs a positive result from its final group game against Argentina on Wednesday (midnight) to make the second round.