The Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi is a legend of Nigerian football. With playing spells at ACB, New Nigeria Bank, Africa Sports, Lokeren, Anderlecht, Strasbourg, Molenbeek and Sacramento Scorpions, he is clearly a dyed-in-the wool professional.
On Tuesday, Keshi named a list of 30 players that will represent Nigeria at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil.
Joseph Yobo and Odemwingie, two senior players who infamously previously fell out publicly with Keshi were handed recalls while trusted no thrills-no frills stalwart, Brown Ideye was surprisingly left out.
Keshi spoke exclusively with supersport.com on the reasons behind his decisions.
The list is finally out. A lot of Nigerians thought it would be released on 22 April after your meeting with members of the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation. What was responsible for the delay?
I read the explanations for that from Paul Bassey, a member of the NFF’s technical committee last week. His explanations are basically in order.
You stuck with Gombe United goalkeeper, Chigozie Agbim despite national outcry for his exclusion following his poor outing at the CHAN. Why?
Agbim is a good keeper. That he did not have the best tournament at the CHAN does not make him a bad goalie overnight.
Basically, I stuck with the goalkeepers I have been using since I took over in 2011. Daniel Akpeyi is a good young keeper and we want to see what he can do.
Elderson Echiejile made the list despite playing just two league games for AS Monaco this season. Are you not worried he may be targeted as the weakest link in Brazil?
First things first; Echiejile only made the provisional list. There is no guarantee that he will make the final list.
The same applies for all the other 29 players called up. Having said that, I will not pretend that I do not know he’s not been playing regularly at Monaco. It does not mean he’s lacking in ability.
Even when I was still playing, there were times when I did not play for my club for non-sporting reasons.
There are a lot of things that happen that so many fans are not aware of. The good thing is that we still have a series of friendly matches to play before the World Cup begins next month and we hope it will get the players in the right shape before then.
You know when he wasn’t playing; I was asked a lot of questions by so many journalists about this subject.
I told them then that Yobo was still in my plans but some people felt I was merely telling half truths.
Now it is clear that I was saying the truth all along. He was injured but I have been informed that he’s bounced back. We are glad to have him back.
While Yobo was away, goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama deputized in that capacity with aplomb. Will you have a decision to make as to who captains the team in Brazil.
No, there is no decision to make as long as Yobo makes the final list. If he does, he will be captain First, however, he will have to prove himself and fight for a shirt just like all the others called up. He’s the most experienced player called up.
How difficult was it for you to make up your mind on the choice of midfielders in the squad and what were you on the lookout for?
It was extremely difficult to select the midfielders in that list.John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, Joel Obi, Sunday Mba and the others we selected are very good just like the others who did not make the list.
However, I was on the lookout for energetic players that can go from box-to-box. That’s very important to me because pace for counterattacks will come in handy at certain games at the World Cup.
You just mentioned Joel Obi. The last time we discussed him, you expressed reservations about his injury problems. Are you not taking a risk?
Yeah Sammy, you are correct. However, things have changed since then and now. He has fully recovered and has been playing regularly for Parma.
He has struggled with injuries for the last two years or so but when he’s fit, he’s an asset to any team.
Joel Obi is a very hard worker, and has tremendous vision. More importantly, he’s very fit now so we are pleased to welcome him back.
Ahmed Musa and Nnamdi Oduamadi are currently injured but you selected them…
(cuts in) Oduamadi injured?
I am surprised to hear this because the information I got is that he’s fit.
Well, he’s injured. He was not even on the bench when Varese lost 1-5 to Citadella in Serie B last weekend and has not played for Varese since the 0-1 defeat to Bari on 12 April when he picked up the injury in the 30th minute.
Well, this is very interesting because I was reliably informed that he’s fit and has been playing actively.
Having said that, all the players will report to camp later this month and we will proceed from there.
We have one of the best medical staff in the world and all the players will be carefully examined and if anyone of them is carrying an injury, we will know.
Now to the curious case of striker, Uche Nwofor. He’s injured, has played just three league games all season and hasn’t played competitively since3 November, 2013. Why call up such a player for the World Cup?
We spoke before the Mexico game, Uche and I. He said he was injured then but we spoke again afterwards and he told me he was now backing in training.
I am shocked at what you just told me because again, I believe he’s been playing. I will speak to him again to ascertain the situation.
You have handed Peter Odemwingie a recall. We all know what happened before and after the 2013 AFCON. Did he give you any reassurances?
We had a heart-to-heart chat about what we want to achieve with the team in Brazil. He’s always been a hard worker. I don’t know what happened to him in the past but we will leave that in the past.
I will see how he conducts himself when the camp open before I make my final decision.I want to state here that Osaze Odmwingie has not yet made the final list to Brazil.
I have a 30-man list and will drop anyone who does not conform with the ideas that I have for the team.
What will you be on the lookout for before you make your decision on the final 23 players to go to Brazil?
The players I called up all know me. Sentiments do not exist in my dictionary. I don’t look at what you have done in the past and discipline plus the right team ethic is key.Again, no one has made the final list.
Anyone can still be dropped. I wish them all the best of luck as they come to the camp and fight for shirts.