Okechukwu in 2015 was linked to the sacking of former Super Eagles boss Stephen Keshi.
Gabriel Okechukwu got his first big moment in national team colours when he netted the winner for the home-based Super Eagles in their 2-1 win over Angola in the quarter-final of the 2018 African Nations Championship.
Okechukwu had just played when one game for the Super Eagles in CHAN 2018-a less than 10 minutes appearance in Nigeria’s 3-1 win over Equatorial Guinea in the last group game.
A 59th-minute substitute, the 22-year-old came in to score Nigeria’s winning goal in After Extra Time (106th minute) to send Nigeria to the semi-final.
With his goal, his name has dominated headlines across the country.
Keshi’s unknown call-up
But this is not the first time Okechukwu is getting press. He was in 2015 linked to the sacking of late former Super Eagles boss Stephen Keshi.
Eyebrows were raised when Keshi named an unknown Okechukwu in his squad for an Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in 2015.
Then just 19, the forward was registered as academy player with Water FC of Abuja and had failed to make the final cut for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup after he was named on a 35-man provisional squad in the Flying Eagles.
But there was this unknown youngster, invited to the Super Eagles and then shockingly assigned the famous No. 10 jersey.
Okechukwu did not get any action in the AFCON qualifiers as he was on the bench for the whole 90 minutes.
During his time in charge of the Super Eagles, it was well known that the late Keshi ruffled feathers in the NFF with his ‘arrogance’ and with the esteem he had garnered with winning the 2013 AFCON and taking the Super Eagles to the second round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the ‘Big Boss’ felt untouchable.
But when he flirted with the vacant managerial position of the Cote d’Ivoire national team, the NFF had enough and he was fired.
But many quarters believed that his sacking had more to do with him handing a call-up to Okechukwu than applying for the job of the Cote d’Ivoire national team.
In a long report by the disciplinary committee of the NFF where they recommended Keshi’s sack, Okechukwu call-up for the AFCON qualifiers was included.
The third ‘Issue No 3’ of the report submitted, by the committee, read; “From the facts given and evidence of the fact that Gabriel Okechukwu was invited from a non-league football club that only existed by name whereas there are a number of talented players who play in the leagues thereby compromising his position and failing in his duties in flagrant breach of Clause 5.8 of his contract of employment.
“He also did not consult and there is no evidence suggesting that he consulted with the Federations Technical Study Group in the selection of players invited to the Super Eagles in breach of Clause 5.4.”
In an interview with Hip TV in 2015, president of the NFF Amaju Pinnick confirmed that handing Okechukwu a call-up was one of the reasons Keshi was sacked.
“We signed a contract that when picking players, you must pick a player from a competitive league, then a player came from nowhere and all of a sudden he was given the number 10 jersey,” Pinnick said.
“The disciplinary committee spotted that and brought it to the executive committee and while we’re still looking at that, we saw that he had applied to coach Cote d’Ivoire.
“We went through our own internal procedure we took a division that we have to disengage.“
Okechukwu’s career so far
Okechukwu quietly went under the radar after this incident, playing in Malta before signing a contract with Ukrainian club FC Karpaty in February 2016.
He returned to Nigeria in 2017 to join Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) side Akwa United and that’s how he earned a recalled to the national team albeit this time with the home-based team.
Okechukwu was part of the Akwa United side that won the 2017 Federation Cup, scoring the decisive penalty in the shootout win over Niger Tornadoes in the final in Lagos.
He was also part of Nigeria’s Super Eagles team which finished second in the 2017 WAFU Cup after losing in the final to Ghana.
On Sunday, he was back on the radar with his name dominating headlines, but this time not for causing any sack, rather he was saving the job of another coach.
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