Osaze Odemwingie probably has warmed his way into Stephen Keshi’s World Cup plans after an apology to the coach but Ike Uche may have bid the national team bye, writes ’TANA AIYEJINA
There is no doubt about the fact that Villareal striker Ikechukwu Uche is Nigeria’s best striker at the moment but going by Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi’s declaration, the 30-year-old would not be part of the national team to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
On the other hand, Stoke City forward, Osaze Odemwingie, who is enjoying a new lease of life at the English Premier League side, may have wormed his way into the heart of the Eagles gaffer after he wrote an apology letter to the Nigeria Football Federation over his past utterances on Twitter and in the media.
Keshi, while at an interactive session with journalists, organised by TomTom on Tuesday, had stated, “Ike Uche was with me at the Nations Cup. I had said I won’t speak about him anymore. People would make a lot of comments, people would say a lot of things but I don’t need him, period. The most important thing for me is the Super Eagles and if you are against the Super Eagles, you are against Stephen Keshi and I will fight you.
“He is my player and I have no personal grudge against him. He is a good player but not all good players play in the national team if you are not a team player. If you are not a team player, you are not going to be with me. You can with other coaches but with me, no way because the game is about team work. ”
And that all but put paid to hopes of Uche making Keshi’s squad to the World Cup despite a brilliant season for the Yellow Submarines in the La Liga.
While the rumour mill has it that Keshi excluded Uche from his squad — since a poor outing at the 2013 AFCON — because the player refused to make him his manager, our correspondent learnt that an off-the-pitch incident at the 2013 AFCON led to a strained relationship between the coach and the player.
Officials of the Nigeria Football Federation were alleged to have used Uche against Keshi during the group stage of the competition, in their reported failed bid to sack the coach.
“Because the NFF wanted to bring in a new coach after the Eagles poor start at the AFCON, they needed players, who would voice their discontentment with Keshi’s tactics and Uche was one of them,” a member of the Eagles technical crew said on Tuesday.
But the melodrama that played out on Tuesday comes as a sharp twist of fate for both Osaze and Uche.
Speaking on Osaze, Keshi said, “This is not just about me. He apologised to the NFF and he included my name and the names of other coaches. I think we can continue the relationship from there. He must have thought he needed to redeem himself and he apologised. We talk regularly, same thing as with Joseph Yobo. When the press said Yobo and Keshi were quarrelling, we were talking. And Osaze said he was sorry.”
With Osaze likely to stage a return to the national team after two years in the international wilderness, Uche has seen his dream of playing at his second World Cup dashed.
But Keshi’s revelations has elicited mixed reactions from former Nigerian players. While some are happy with Osaze’s return, others say they prefer Uche back to the team, rather than the Stoke man.
A third group want both players’ flights booked for the trip to Brazil in June.
‘Keshi is right’
Former Nigeria goalkeeper, Joe Erico, who was an assistant coach alongside Keshi at the 2002 AFCON, said Keshi took the right decision.
“We had same problem during our Nations Cup qualifiers in 2002 and we had to put the two players involved aside. Unfortunately they displayed their characters in the games they played and we ignored them; we put them aside and they were not playing. In the next tournament, the same players were sent away. So, everybody has a way of managing indiscipline,” Erico said.
“It’s all about the coach’s choice; it’s not about what the people feel. He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. It’s only the coaches that know the type of players these boys are. Coaches don’t look at the players’ abilities alone; we also look at the attitude because the attitude projects the image of who you are going to represent.
“Both players should be in the team ordinarily but there are lots of players who missed the World Cup with their countries because of indiscipline. I will not take such players as well because when you come to camp, you will be a bad influence on other players. One bad player can destroy a team because other players will be disgruntled and frustration comes in. So, they should leave Keshi alone. World Cup is not a do-or-die affair; at the end of it all, it’s only one country that is going to win.”
Former Eagles captain, Christian Chukwu, also believes that Keshi should be allowed to pick his team.
The 1980 AFCON winner said, “Keshi is the coach and he knows the players he wants to use; he knows the pattern he wants to play. It’s unfortunate everybody cannot make his team; we don’t have to force any player on him. What we should do is to support him and his team.
“He knows Uche, he has played for him before but he says he cannot make his team, so let’s not force any player on him. We should give him the benefit of the doubt and hope those he has selected give him the desired result. He wants to succeed and if he doesn’t perform well as a coach, he knows the next thing.”
‘Osaze should have been dropped’
Former Eagles defender, Abdul Sule, says Keshi was unfair in his decision to banish Uche from his squad.
“It’s either he lets both of them go, or he takes Uche. Osaze’s case has been there for a long time and Uche is one of the best strikers that we have at the moment. If we assume that they are two indisciplined players and all of a sudden one of them has to go, then I don’t think its right,” the former Denmark-based player said.
Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games gold medalist, Garba Lawal, said though Keshi had a right to choose his team, there was no justification for keeping out Uche, while Osaze was given a consideration.
The Kaduna United Team Manager said, “We respect his (Keshi) decision; he says Uche is indisciplined but Osaze is coming back to the team. Why not Ike Uche? That’s the question I have been asking myself.
“As a coach you have to take responsibility but we don’t want selfish interest. If you don’t want a player, just say you don’t want him; don’t say he is indisciplined. If he says he has other players, then no problem. But if you say a player is indisciplined, then that is another thing.”
‘Keshi needs both players’
Former Eagles winger, Ndubuisi Okosieme, said Keshi should have worked on both players and their lapses as he prepared for the World Cup.
The 1988 AFCON silver medalist stated,“If he (Keshi) can forgive Osaze, then he should be able to forgive Uche as well. If I was in Keshi’s position, I will pick both players ahead of the World Cup. They are good players that could brighten our chances in Brazil.”
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