The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) says it will be fully involved in the arrangements for the final burial rites of the late Stephen Keshi who died early Wednesday in Benin.
In a statement by Ademola Olajire, its Assistant Director (Communications), the NFF said on Wednesday its President, Amaju Pinnick, and board members would on Thursday visit the late Keshi’s family.
“Pinnick has been in contact with the family and will lead a delegation of some NFF Board and Congress members to Benin City on Thursday.
“But the NFF Board will meet and decide on the best way to honour Keshi. In the meantime, we will be fully involved in the arrangements for the final burial rites.”
While it expressed deep shock at the death which occurred in the early hours of Wednesday, the statement also quoted Pinnick as describing Keshi’s death as devastating.
“We have lost a superhero,’’ the NFF President said.
The statement also said Pinnick has directed all centres hosting week 21 matches of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) on Wednesday to observe one-minute silence before kick-off.
“The NFF has already informed the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and world body FIFA about the passing of the former Super Eagles defender.
The statement quoted Keshi family sources as saying the 54-year old, who buried his wife Kate only five months ago, had complained of irregular heartbeats and pain in his legs.
It was in the process of his being rushed to a nearby hospital in Benin City that he gave up the ghost.
Keshi won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and as a coach, and the only person to achieve similar feat was Egyptian Mahmoud el-Gohary, who is also now late.
In a reaction, Adegboye Onigbinde who made Keshi the Eagles’ captain in 1983, described news of his death as a big shock.
Nicknamed “the Big Boss’’, Keshi had captained Nigeria between 1983 and 1994. In the process he won the gold, silver and bronze medals at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
He also led the country to qualify for its first FIFA World Cup finals in 1994.
Keshi captained the Eagles at the FIFA World Cup in the U.S. in 1994, months after also leading the team to win the AFCON for Nigeria for the first time away.
Sani Toro, who was Secretary General of the then NFA in those glorious days, said Keshi’s death was a big loss to Nigerian football.
Keshi was assistant to Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere as the Super Eagles finished runners-up in the 2000 AFCON.
He then became the first Nigerian to lead the Eagles to Cup of Nations glory at the 2013 finals in South Africa.
In his 44 months in charge of the Super Eagles, Keshi won the AFCON, qualified the team for the FIFA World Cup finals, led the team at the FIFA Confederations Cup.
He also steered the team to the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup.
Before that, he had received global applause after leading tiny Togo to reach their first FIFA World Cup in 2006.
He also coached the senior team of Mali.
A colourful playing career took Keshi to ACB FC of Lagos and NNB of Benin, and Stade Abidjan and Africa Sports (both of Cote d’Ivoire).
He also played for Lokeren, Anderlecht and Molenbeek ( all of Belgium), Strasbourg (France), Jaguar Bay, San Jose and Sacramento Scorpions (all in the U.S.) and Perlis of Malaysia.
Keshi represented Nigeria at both junior and senior levels, winning 64 senior caps.
His first match for the senior team was against Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) on July 18, 1981.
The former defender had his last outing in the FIFA World Cup clash with Greece in the U.S. on June 30, 1994.
He will be remembered for, among other things, giving home-based players ample opportunity to compete for shirts in the Super Eagles.
Keshi was rewarded for this when Sunday Mba scored two crucial goals as Nigeria won the 2013 AFCON in South Africa, including the final match’s lone goal against Burkina Faso.
The late Stephen Keshi is survived by four children.