Keshi makes case for revenge

05 February 2013 - 02:09 By Carlos Amato
Carlos Amato
Carlos Amato
Image: Times Media

Vengefulness is highly underrated. It's not nice, and various holy books advise against it, but it motivates like hell.

If you don't have a taste for revenge - for silencing your critics and humiliating your arch-rivals - you're not cut out to be a world-class athlete or coach. The same applies in politics or business or any other gladiatorial arena.

We want our sporting idols to be kind, gracious and well-adjusted, and many of them seem to be. But lurking beneath the glossy surface of even the nicest superstar is a secret well of spite. It doesn't have to poison the star's whole personality, à la Lance Armstrong or Joey Barton. But it has to be there, somewhere, quietly pumping megawatts of dark willpower.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was gracious enough on Sunday evening. He had good reason to be: his Super Eagles had just dined on a gourmet feast of cordon-bleu elephant steak, served medium rare, with a side order of fried plantains.

But when asked to comment on the sad reality that Ivory Coast's golden generation now seemed destined never to win an Africa Nations Cup, Keshi's response was tellingly cold: "That's none of my business."

His words offered disdain as much as terse discretion. The Ivorians were the enemy, finish and klaar, and as such they deserved none of his sympathy. Keshi could easily have blathered something consolatory and respectful about their emerging young talent, or about the looming opportunity of the 2014 World Cup. But he didn't feel like it.

Keshi has paid his dues. He was a hard bastard as a defender for Anderlecht and Strasbourg - and some heavy blows in his coaching career have left him even harder. His first coaching gig was with tiny Togo, and he stunned Africa by guiding them to qualification for the 2006 World Cup. The Togolese FA promptly fired him for his troubles, replacing him with the washed-up German Otto Pfister, who failed miserably at the finals, losing all three games. It must have been hell to watch for Keshi. It filled his well of spite.

Then he got the Mali job, in which he did some good early work, but got sacked after Les Aigles' early exit from the 2010 Nations Cup. More cold water in the well.

Keshi is even willing to tell his team's own media and fans to go jump in a lake. Witness what he said on the eve of the quarterfinal, in response to a storm of public criticism of Nigeria's group-stage efforts: "As far as I am concerned, everybody can think what they want to think. We have confidence, we know we are going to do something tangible in this Cup of Nations.

"It is a shameful thing if my nation do not have confidence in their team. If they don't have confidence in their team, it's a big shame to my nation, including me, that they think it's just a walkover for Ivory Coast.

"It's a pitiful thing and if my players hear that, what kind of confidence is that for my players? Just pitiful stuff."

Keshi and his Eagles responded with pitiless stuff. His next chore, tomorrow night in Durban, is to make his old Malian bosses regret they ever pissed him off.