JOHANNESBURG - Returning to Nigeria as the man who led the Super Eagles to victory at the African Cup of Nations, coach Stephen Keshi smiled and waved Tuesday to screaming fans, without a mention of the fact he publicly announced his resignation less than a day earlier.
The previous 24 hours saw the Nigeria Football Federation and the nation's sports minister negotiate with the aggrieved Keshi, who said he turned in his resignation immediately after the Super Eagles' 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in Sunday's final. While a statement from the federation on behalf of Keshi said the coach had taken back his resignation letter, it settled none of the outstanding questions about the future of a team now heading into June's Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Keshi made the resignation announcement Monday night in an interview on Metro FM, a radio station run by South Africa's state broadcaster. The coach's displeasure with the football federation had been hinted at for days. Keshi has previously said he has not received his salary payments on time from the federation, and has not been given his official accommodations or a staff car promised to him.
The tipping point for the coach appeared to be when federation officials allegedly threatened to fire him just prior to Nigeria's quarterfinal against Ivory Coast. On Monday night, Keshi said federation officials tried to tell him which players to have on the field and on the bench at games and didn't treat him with respect.
"I would love to stay, but the condition of working ... there's too many people telling you what to do, what not to do. There's a lot of interference," Keshi said. "In my country, I'm a Nigerian, so they think we must tell him what to do, even if they're not there at the training session."
Keshi's remarks sparked emergency meetings through Monday night. By the time Keshi and the Super Eagles boarded a chartered flight Tuesday morning to Nigeria's capital, Abuja, the federation issued a statement on his behalf saying he had taken back his resignation letter.
"While I have had cause to express my displeasure over some issues that happened in the course of our participation in the AFCON (African Cup of Nations) 2013, which my team won by the grace of God, especially concerning my relationship with the Nigerian Football Federation, I have since had opportunity to discuss the various issues with all concerned," the statement quoted Keshi as saying. "I am therefore pleased to say that I have reconsidered my position and have decided to continue with my job."
The statement said Keshi thanked Nigeria's Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi for "his swift and kind intervention." Abdullahi did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday from The Associated Press.
Keshi's threatened resignation is the latest trouble for the Nigeria Football Federation, which has been dogged by allegations of corruption and mismanagement for years. When Keshi took over the top job after Nigeria's failure to qualify for the 2012 edition of the African Cup of Nations, and following a dismal 2010 World Cup, little was expected of the team.
After the 2010 World Cup, also in South Africa, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he would pull all national teams out of competition because of the poor showing. FIFA later threatened to ban the team over political interference and Jonathan backed down hours before a deadline. Meanwhile, four former high-ranking federation officials were charged with corruption after allegations they embezzled money from the team's tournament funds in South Africa.
Yet Keshi was able to coach the team into lifting the Cup for a third time Sunday night. The former central defender was the first black African coach in more than 20 years to win the tournament. He earned his chance with Nigeria's national team after spells in charge of Mali and Togo, and also as an assistant coach when Nigeria last made the final, in 2000. Keshi was Nigeria captain when it won the African Cup of Nations in 1994.
With its victory Sunday, 52nd-ranked Nigeria advanced to a first-round group with Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti at June's Confederations Cup in Brazil. It remains unclear, however, what the future holds for Keshi, as he'll likely go back into negotations with the football federation ahead that tournament and an upcoming World Cup qualifier.
The Super Eagles, who landed Tuesday afternoon in Abuja, later left for Aso Rock, Nigeria's presidential villa. As he announced his resignation in South Africa, Keshi said he wouldn't refuse an opportunity to privately speak to the nation's president there about his woes and those facing the team.
"We'll have a chat, so we'll see," the coach said.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .
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