By Jack Moses Ekwe – Ekwe and Emmanuel Elijah
The coach of the national U-20 football Team, a scout and Assistant Coach of Nasarawa United FC of Lafia, Benue born Samson Keshi Akochi recently, granted an interview to Jack Moses Ekwe – Ekwe and Emmanuel Elijah, where he revealed the circumstances that led to his bearing the name, “Keshi”, his reason for taking to coaching as a career, his engagement with the Nasarawa United FC of Lafia and other issues.
Which of the football clubs did you start playing with?
I started playing football between 1989/90 with Trade Bombers FC of Abuja. We were the pioneer players of the club and we won the FA Cup year in year out. I played there for about two years and left in 1991 for Kaduna, to sign for the NACB football club and that was where I got the offer to play for the national U-20 team when I was identified by coach James Peters.
But did you at anytime play for Lobi Stars FC of Makurdi?
Of course I did. When we went for the FA Cup and after playing, I got offers from about three clubs, Katsina United, Lobi Stars of Makurdi and Rangers International of Enugu but I finally went for Lobi Stars FC because it is my state’s team and I wanted to feel at home. That was under coach Justine Tenger.
Can you recall any remarkable thing that happened during your playing days in Lobi which you can’t forget in a hurry?
Very well. The time I played Lobi, it was sponsored by the Lobi Bank and the bank’s secretary Mrs Ibi,was also the club’s secretary and when we were given our sign- on fees, I had to split the money into two equal halves which was four hundred thousand naira as I was one of the most paid player of the team. On my way to Kaduna, where I was travelling to settle my family, I was involved in an accident which almost took my life. I lost all that I had and to my greatest surprise, Mrs Ibi had to travel to Akwanga where I was kept after the accident on Akwanga road. She brought me back to Makurdi, and gave me the remaining which I gave to her. This is an experience I will never forget during my sojourn with Lobi of Makurdi.
Where did you go after you left Lobi Bank FC of Makurdi?
I left for Niger Tornadoes FC of Minna and played for one season and left for Enugu where I signed for Rangers International FC. There, we won the National League. From there, I went to Ebonyi Angels FC. After one season with the Abakiliki based side, I left for Sharks FC of Port Harcourt and that was the last club that I played before leaving for Europe to play Professional football, and my first call was in Cyprus then to Malta where it had some stints with Turkey, that was when Patrick Pascal was there.
There in Turkey, I played for a Division two club and then moved to Bahrain where I ended my playing career in football.
Why did you end your career in football at that young age?
It was due to knee injury and of course I was ageing too.
What informed your decision to take to coaching?
After retirement from active football, I began working as an agent. A business I did for twelve years across Europe and Asia and one day, I visited the late Stephen Keshi together with Daniel Amokachi and they said to me that ” for you to be successful in your job as an agent, you must be trained as a coach”
Did you seek their advice on how to be successful in that business?
Not really, but I was always complaining to Keshi of the problems that I was always having with either players or their parents particularly the African players when it comes to money. That is, you do all registrations for a player and when it comes to monetary aspect, it becomes a big problem. So when I visited them in the national team as they were together, they gave me that piece of advice. That was when my mind was tuned to it and I made up my mind to doing it. When I went back to Bahrain, I enrolled in the coaching school for my first coaching course. I later went for another one in Qatar, I was also in Singapore. In fact anywhere I heard that there was a coaching course, I attended because I knew that one day I would come back to Nigeria, to prove my wealth of experience. I also did Asia C and B courses before I came back to Nigeria.
Which football club did you first handle as a coach?
I first coached a Division Two club in Dubai called African United FC and from there, I could go to other big clubs like Al- Shabab, Al- Hel, mingle with the officials, do some programs with them and also showcase my harvest of certificates. Finally, I decided that I would come back to my country Nigeria and when I came back my first club was Nasarawa United FC.
Where you invited to the club?
No. I spoke to Barr Isaac Danladi through my boss, Ahmed fresh of the NFF whom I knew for a very long time during my playing days with Niger Tornadoes FC of Minna. But they told me that before I coach a team in Nigeria, I must go to the NIS even with all the coaching qualifications that I have obtained abroad, which I did. In fact, I wanted to go for Lobi Stars FC of Makurdi as a coach but I reasoned that being close to my family in Abuja was the best thing for me to do so I decided on Nasarawa United FC, that was why Ahmed Fresh connected me to Barr Danladi who accepted that I do my IT with the club.
With these harvest of coaching certificates, did you coach any of the national teams?
Yes, I am a coach of the national U-20 team now as we speak. This is a dream that I have always had and it has come to pass.
You played for the national U-20 team and now its coach, how do you view this achievement?
When I was called to take up coaching the national U-20 team which I also played in my youth, I said to myself that God loves me because this is a blessing in disguise. God has answered my prayers and I return all the glory to him and all the NFF big shots who deemed it fit for me to be there. I must not forget Nasarawa United FC management for giving me the first cut to serve in that capacity in the Premier League because I am not the best above those who have all it takes but are not where I am now.
What kind of coach would you want to be?
The best coach in Africa and that is what I am working towards. To supersede those coaches that have given good name to African football like Amodu Shuaibu and Stephen Keshi. That is what I am praying for.
Have you taken the U- 20 team out for any tournament so far?
We went for the WAFU Cup in Benin just to showcase the new format but were beaten by Ghana. The competition did not augur well with us because we were packaged for just two weeks for the tourney although, they played well. If you keep the youths for a longer time, they will perform better. And by the grace of God, we are still there.
What is your philosophy?
My philosophy is to win laurels and make it in life as a great coach as well as discipline because I like working with disciplined players. When I was playing, those were the things that made what I am today.
What is your advice for young players?
They should be self disciplined, avoid drugs, alcohol etc. My joy today is that most of the national team players are disciplined so if you begin well, you will end well.
Local and foreign players, which do you prefer for the national team?
There shouldn’t be a bunch of the local players, may be only two or three of them because our football is still backward. You can’t compare a Nigerian player to even the ones in Cote Di Voire because the facilities are different and that is the truth. In Nigeria, a player would start a pre- season and not even know what is a Gymnasium. They just package players and begin to play, in Europe it is not like that. You see why local players can’t make a bunch of the players in the national team? And also, most of our local players are aged. A 30 year old player is telling you he is 18 years. You can’t beat it.
Foreign and local coach, who would you choose for the Super Eagles?
Foreign coach is proper for the Super Eagles. If today I am called as the Super Eagles coach and they are bringing a white man too, I will accept it. I hear that players siphon money for coaches before he comes to the camp and when he is not featured, the whole world hears it through the media. He rubbishes the coach.. But the white man that comes, wants to make a name for himself using his wealth of experience. Me for instance, I have played professional football and coached under world coaches, so you can’t compare a coach that has just graduated from the NIS to me because I have a lot to offer but have not met my hedge yet so I need to be patient and wait for my time. That is the truth and you can’t beat it.
Is Nigerian football developed the way it is supposed to.
It has. In fact before I left for abroad to play professional football, if you were going for an away match, you were sure of a loss but now it is not the same because the officiating is good. No matter what, it is improved. The referees are doing well now. I think the NFF and the LMC are changing the phase of the league.
How come you bear the name Keshi?
Sometimes people had mistaken me for who I am and where I come from, like my tribe and place of birth. Although I was born in Kaduna, my father is from Ugboju in Otukpo LGA of Benue state while my mother hails from Delta state, in the family of Keshi (Stephen Keshi) so they gave me the name Keshi as my middle name as it is the tradition that you give your child a family name. So when I started playing football, I thought within me that since Keshi is a renowned name and my middle name, I would prefer being called by it. That is why I am called Samson Keshi.
Are you married?
I am married with six kids, four girls and two boys.
What is your favourite meal?
Pounded yam with okoro soup.