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Family: Stephen Keshi died of a heart attack

The man popularly known as 'The Big Boss' complained about being in pain & died en route to the hospital.

A file picture showing former Nigeria Nigeria’s coach Stephen Keshi looking on during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying football match between Nigeria and Sudan on 15 October, 2014 in Abuja. Picture: AFP.

LAGOS - The family of former Nigerian football coach Stephen Keshi says he died of a heart attack in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The man popularly known as 'The Big Boss' complained about being in pain and died en route to the hospital.

The highly decorated coach was also believed to be on the verge of joining South Africa's Orlando Pirates next season.

Keshi has coached the national teams of Togo and Mali, qualifying Togo to the 2006 Fifa World Cup.

He previously said, "Football players know genuinely when you give them some advice, they know when you give them good advice and they will appreciate that."

In his last job with Nigeria, he won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and reached Round 16 at the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

'A SAD DAY FOR FOOTBALL'

The Nigerian Football Federation's General-Secretary Mohammed Senusi says it's a sad day for football.

"He was the captain of Nigeria for quite a while and also played a major role in Nigeria's football development. He was a household name in Nigeria."

Senusi has told Eyewitness News that Keshi was rushed to hospital after he complained about being in pain.

"He complained that his legs are giving him problems and he requested that he should be taken to hospital. A few minutes after, when he got to the hospital, he died."

At the same time, Orlando Pirates' Chairman Irvin Khoza has told Eyewitness News Keshi's death is a great loss to African football.

Khoza says Keshi shone on the international stage.

"He made history as one of the few players and coaches coming out of the continent to represent the country at Afcon and also the World Cup. He was also a captain at some point during his days with the national team."

TheCable, Nigeria's independent online newspaper, earlier confirmed his death from a member of his family as well as one of his close associates.

WATCH:_ Rare Super Eagles Pre-game Team-Talk by Stephen Keshi._

FORMER COLLEAGUES, FANS REACT

Meanwhile, former colleagues and fans have expressed themselves on social media, many mourning the loss of 'The Big Boss'.