Super Eagles assistant coach Joseph Yobo has opened up on his relationship with African football great, Stephen Keshi.
Since Yobo’s international debut against Zambia in a World Cup qualifier in 2001, the ex-Olympique Marseille man has built a compacted connection with the former Togo and Mali coach.
When Keshi became Super Eagles’ coach in 2011, the bond was impenetrable as the former Everton defensive stalwart captained his team to winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations title in South Africa. He also played a key role in the country’s outing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Sadly, the ‘Big Boss’ passed away suffering a heart attack at the age of 54 on this day four years ago – six months after losing his wife Kate to cancer.
In a no-holds-barred chat with Goal, Yobo opens up on his relationship with his former coach revealing they shared many great ‘memories’ together.
“May his soul rest in peace but it is hard to forget him as long there is football. We also have so many great memories together,” the 39-year-old told Goal.
“Anytime you talk about Afcon 2013, you have to talk about him. And anytime most people talk about me as well, his name comes up. It is very hard to forget especially if I’m getting into the coaching angle as well.
“I always think about what he would have said and how happy he would have been if he was around today, but I know that wherever he is, he is resting in the Lord.
“It is sad that we lost a great man but he’s left his legacy so we can remember him.
“He was a great man and he had a great personality and was charismatic.
“He was a leader and deep down he was humane if you can actually get to that point with him. People that knew this were people who were close to him. He was loveable and I have so many beautiful memories about him.”
Yobo claims that Keshi’s relationship with the Super Eagles at that time extended off the pitch. And to accentuate that fact, he shared a memory where the late legend showed his humane side.
“One of the memories that I won’t forget happened during the 2014 World Cup. Despite what was happening, his wife ([Kate] – may her soul rest in peace – came to Brazil,” he narrated.
“Then, the food we were having wasn’t tasty as we would have wanted it – as in having the Nigerian flavour. She had this pepper that she brought from America and said the Big Boss liked.
“He would call me and say ‘Skippo, take and share with your boys’. We shared that solid bond and apart from what people knew, he was more humane than what people saw.
“His legacy is always going to stay forever for what he has done for football. Regardless of how we look at it, Keshi is a symbol of Nigerian football.”
The ex-Fenerbahce defender also explained former Togo coach-built him up to become Nigeria’s captain.
Following his impressive outing with Nigeria U20 at the 1999 Fifa U20 World Cup, he caught the attention of Super Eagles selectors.
And in his third cap for the country, then assistant coach Keshi elected him among the established players to lead the country in the 2-0 triumph over Namibia at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium – where Yakubu Ayegbeni and Ishola Shuaibu got the goals.
He became the only man after Mahmoud El-Gohary to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach.
“That changed everything because when you look at the Super Eagles, it is the biggest in African football. To look at everybody and pick me who was coming through the ranks meant a lot to me and a great honour for me,” he continued.
“When he handed to me the captain’s armband, he looked at me and said ‘This is the beginning of greater things that will happen in future’. For me, that was an anointing and to show how much he believed in me.
“He would tell me that he sees himself in me and that we had similarities at some point. Being made captain was going to happen but it came sooner than I expected.
“He was fond of me and would call my name in a special way ‘Yobolistic Yobo’ before calling me ‘my captain’. Keshi and Amodu [Shuaibu] had a special way they were calling me.”
Yobo is currently Super Eagles’ assistant coach after the Nigeria Football Federation named him as a replacement for axed Imama Amapakabo in February.
After a glittering football career that saw him represent ACB Lagos, Africa Sports, Lokeren, Anderlecht, RC Strasbourg, and Sacramento Scorpions and ultimately captained Nigeria to 1994 Afcon triumph, Keshi went into administration.
He helped Togo qualify for the 2006 World Cup, led Mali to the 2010 Afcon in Angola before taking over as Augustine Eguavoen as Eagles’ permanent boss.
His side’s failure to qualify for the 2015 Afcon led to his third and final disengagement by the Nigeria Football Federation after a long and grumpy relationship with Amaju Pinnick’s led board.