Keshi's labour of love for Togo

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As captain of the Super Eagles, Stephen Keshi was known as the ‘Big Boss' for his no-nosense style on and off the pitch.

Years later when he became coach of the Hawks, Togo's national football team, he retained something of that attitude, a fact that helped him qualify the West African country for its first ever World cup in 2006.

He failed, however, to lead the squad to the World Cup after falling out with officials of the Togolese Football Federation (TFF).

One year later, in February 2007, the TFF re-engaged Keshi for a friendly against Cameroon, but the questions concerning his dismissal continued to linger. The rumours at that time were that he (Keshi) wanted to manage the career of Nigerian-born Togolese star, Emmanuel Adebayor but because the former Arsenal player did not agree to the proposal, Keshi dropped him to the bench.

His second stint with the Togolese squad proved to be short-lived with the former Nigerian international showing up in Mali to lead the country to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

Keshi, who was laid off by Mali after the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola, also lost out to Samson Siasia, in the race to become the coach of the Super Eagles in November.

Third missionary journey

After losing out to Siasia, Keshi weighed his options and last Tuesday, March 22, he made a dramatic return to the job he had handled and lost twice. TFF President, Gabriel Ameyi called a press conference in Lome to reveal that a temporary arrangement had been reached with Keshi to lead the team once again.

He has assigned him the job of leading the Hawks to Blantyre for yesterday's 2012 African Cup of Nations Cup qualifier against Malawi.

So what is different now?

Keshi is now back in his third stint as Togo coach. He has successfully weathered the storms of the accusations about his wanting to manage Adebayor. With the passage of time, the world has come to know that Adebayor is not an easy player to manage as he has shown first at Arsenal and then at Manchester City.

Whether his erratic behaviour will be curbed by the ‘Special One', Jose Mourinho, at Real Madrid remains to be seen.

Keshi was welcomed heartily by Togolese football fans at the team's first training session on Tuesday where he smiled and waved to fans who had come to watch the exercise.

But there could be a cog in the wheel with the naming of Emmanuel Adebayor in the list of 22 players; the former African Player of the year striker had ostensibly retired from the national team last year after the Togolese bus was attacked in Cabinda, shortly before the Nations Cup in Angola leading to the death of three persons.

Instability in Togo football

Togo's football administration is one that can be said to be worse than their neighbour's, Nigeria's. The tiny West African country has a penchant for hiring and firing coaches and the football community surely must be wondering why Keshi returned after previous emabarrassments.

Since February 2009, Togo has had four coaches- Otto Pfister, hired after Keshi's sack also quit the team over player bonuses before a ball had been kicked in Germany in 2006 but returned to the team for the opening 1-2 loss to South Korea.

Frenchman Patrice Neveu was expected to replace German Otto Pfister as the coach of the Hawks last month but his appointment was blocked by the government. Neveu was appointed by Gnassingbe Eyadema but when the son of the former Togolese president was voted out of office, Tata Avlessi, the TFF President became reluctant to endorse an appointment packaged by the previous regime. Thierry Froger resigned to take charge of French side Nimes earlier this month.

The national team players have also staged protests at various times over the World Cup bonuses of about $200,000 each, with additional payments.

The future of Keshi and Togo interwoven

As a football player, Keshi achieved many feats - the first Nigerian player to play in the Belgian league and ensured that the lexicon; foreign-based became entrenched in football journalism in the country. He has also become the first Nigerian coach to manage the affairs of three national teams - Nigeria, as assistant to Shuaibu Amodu, as coach of Togo and then Mali. Now, he has thrust himself back into the limelight perhaps to prove naysayers wrong.

If he can lift the Hawks to the heights of 2005 and 2006, then maybe Keshi will have proven beyond any doubt that he has the capability to coach at the highest level.

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