After an illustrious football career in which he bowed to injury at 33, Emmanuel Amunike’s profile has been on the rise. He led Nigeria to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2015 in Chile, had a stint with Sudan’s Al Khartoum SC before quitting the job. Recently, he was appointed by the world football governing body in the panel set up by FIFA to shortlist the 2017/2018 season men’s footballers and coaches of the year. On Monday, the former Super Eagles player was appointed head coach of the Tanzania national team. How far can he turn around the fortunes of the Taifa Stars, asks Kunle Adewale
Currently ranked 140 in the world by FIFA, Tanzania is not a superpower when it comes to African football. Their only Africa Cup of Nations appearance was in the 1980 edition hosted and won by Nigeria, in which they failed to qualify from the group stage. The challenge before Amunike now, therefore, is how to turn around the fortunes of the Taifa Stars and ensure a second AFCON appearance in Cameroon next year- a tall order by any standard.
Tanzania on Monday unveiled former Nigerian international Emmanuel Amunike as their new head coach. The Tanzania Football Federation confirmed the appointment on their official Twitter handle, with Amunike being unveiled by TFF President Wallace Karia in Dar es Salaam.
The 47-year-old signed a two-year deal with the East Africans, replacing Salum Mayanga, with the primary task to qualify Tanzania for the 2019 AFCON. They were held by Lesotho in their opening qualifier, and will also face Uganda and Cape Verde in a tricky qualifying group.
After his unveiling, an elated Amunike said he is beginning a new chapter in his career with his appointment as coach of Tanzania.
“This is a new page of my career. I am a professional coach who believes any professional should be able to work anywhere. I am happy with the contract and I am ready to give my best as a coach in any place I find myself. It’s a new page, a new environment but the same philosophy of the game,” he declared after he was announced as coach of the Taifa Stars.
In a chat with THISDAY, Nigeria’s female U-17 Coach, Christian Obi said it was just unfortunate that Nigerian coaches are not given the respect they deserve on the home front, but optimistic that Amunike would do well in Tanzania.
“A prophet is not without honour except in his own country. It is just unfortunate that we don’t appreciate what we have in this country. Nigerian coaches are very good if given the right atmosphere to work. Amunike is a very good example. He is technically and tactically sound and he also has his coaching Grade A license,” Obi said.
The 1985 U-20 World Cup bronze winner indeed charged the eggheads of the Nigeria Football Federation to reconsider their stand on Nigerian coaches.
“It’s high time the NFF started reconsidering its stand and attitude towards Nigerian coaches. It should start by giving them the respect they deserve. Given the necessary support, Nigerian coaches would take the country’s football to a position of envy,” the former Heartland of Owerri goalkeeper trainer opined.
Asked if the job of Tanzania was in the best interest of Amunike considering the low level of football in that country, Obi reacted thus: “I must emphasise that Amunike is not the first Nigerian coach that would take appointment outside the shores of the country. When Adegboye Onigbinde took over as manager of Trinidad and Tobago, their football was in crisis but he (Onigbinde) gave them some time to stabilise their football and before the expiration of the date he gave them, they had begotten for them a good and stabilised the national team.”
Obi is indeed optimistic that Amunike would do well with the Taifa Stars.
“I know Amunike very well; I have worked with him before. He knew his onions and he would impart his knowledge on the players,” Obi said.
Speaking in the vein, the National PRO, Nigeria Coaches Association, Etta Egbe expressed that Amunike’s appointment as Coach of Tanzania national team is a good omen for Nigerian coaches.
“It only goes to show that Nigerian coaches are being monitored and appreciated worldwide and this would pave the way for more Nigerian coaches to be appointed head coaches of more national teams,” the former Calabar Rovers safe hands said.
Against the insinuation that most Nigerian coaches are technically deficient, Egbe said: “A lot of Nigerian coaches are technically inclined, but we are being undermined by the football federation. You cannot because one coach failed; you then rub it on every other coach that is very wrong. If one coach disappointed there are several good coaches that could be turned to,” Egbe said.
Egbe said Amunike would be given the necessary backing by the Nigeria Association of Coaches. “Though we trust that he has the quality and the technical know-how to take Tanzanian football to a new height, we would not leave him all by himself as he would enjoy our support and encouragement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Amuneke has stated that he shared the same ideas with the Tanzania Football Federation.
“I am grateful to the Tanzanian people. I’m also grateful to the President and General Secretary of the Tanzanian Football Federation for giving me the opportunity to coach their teams.
“We are happy that the ideas that they have is the same with what I have in mind. Hopefully and collectively, we will be able to see how Tanzanian football can grow and develop,’’ he said.
“African football is laying emphasis on developing young players and that is the direction the Tanzanian football have taken to develop. They have good players. Some are playing in Europe and others are playing at home.
“ We have our first game against Uganda in September and we will look at our team to improve on it. Work has already started and we will do our best,’’ he said.
He assured that through hard work, discipline and collective efforts, he would move Tanzanian football forward.
Interestingly, the former Barcelona winger has started work immediately and has picked former Flying Eagles goalkeeper trainer, Emeka Amadi as one of his assistants.
“We have started work already as we don’t have time on our side we have an AFCON qualifier against Uganda away from home and we need to start in earnest and that is why I am not going back to Spain for now,” he told ScoreNigeria.
Amunike was at the 2018 World Cup in Russia as a member of the panel set up by FIFA to shortlist the 2017/2018 season men’s footballers and coaches of the year. He was joined in the panel by retired footballers Ronaldo Nazario de Lima, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba,Lothar Matthaus and Alessandro Nesta.
Other panelists include Sami Jabar, CHA Bum-Kun, Andy Roxburgh, Kaka, Wynston Rufer andCarlos Alberto Parreira and coach Fabio Capello.
Amunike and his co-panelists will shortlist nominees for the 3rd edition of the Best FIFA Football Awards.
Ten nominees in each of the categories were announced on July 23, with voting expected to commence on the same day and will end on Friday, August 10.
Speaking to www.scorenigeria.com.ng, Amunike said, “As a player, I was privileged to have participated in the 1994 World Cup and now in 2018 I am privileged once again to participate this time, not as a player but as a fan and also one of the people going to make some major decisions.”
On his appointment to the FIFA Russia 2018 Technical Study Group, the former Africa Footballer of the Year said, “This role is a good one for me and Nigeria football as it goes to show that our football has grown.”
Amunike who was part of the first ever Nigeria team to feature at the FIFA World Cup talked on the team experience going into that tournament in 1994 saying, “We were excited in the first place for being part of the 1994 World Cup but ahead of the first match against Bulgaria, there was a lot of excitement, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of doubt, a lot of questioning mindset but most importantly we were very confident in our ability as a team and we played as a team, which was the secret behind our little success.”
On having several players he coached in the Golden Eaglets representing Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup, he said: “As a coach, it is a thing of pride to see the players you coached at the U-17 level after few years playing for the senior national team, that is pretty much what player development is all about and with FIFA’s main priority being development, Nigeria as a nation should not be left behind.”
In his playing days, his goals were always crucial and had given Nigeria victory on a number of occasions. From the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, to the Afro-Asian Cup at the National Stadium in 1998 and many others.
Many soccer fans were bemused that daredevil winger was kept on the bench by Dutch tactician, Clemence Westerhof for almost the entire duration of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia. But in the final game against a stubborn Zambian side, the former Julius Berger of Lagos player was introduced and he scored the two goals that secured Nigeria’s second Nations Cup victory after winning an earlier one in 1980 on home ground.
“No player worth his salt likes to warm the bench but I’m the kind of person that respects coaches’ decisions. Even when such decisions are against my desire, I still abide by it. I must confess I was not really pleased that I was not featured in most of the matches of the Nations Cup in Tunisia, especially when I knew within me that I deserve a place in the team but the coach has the last say. And I was very glad that when I was eventually featured in the last game, I was able to prove a point not only to the coach but to the watching world,” he noted.
Against the backdrop of calls in some quarters that new Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rorhshould inject an appreciable number of home-based players into the national team, the former Nigerian international has a different opinion.
“The team still needs the services of the foreign professionals. If the coach should feature a good number of home-based players and fail to get the desired result, he would be heavily criticised for excluding the professionals. Though it is a good move to restoring the confidence of the local players, it is going to take a lot of time and exposure to meet up with the challenges. He still needs the experiences of those foreign-based players that are willing to give their best, not only putting on the national jerseys,” the former Barcelona of Spain player said.
The former African Footballer of the Year, who moved to Spanish giants FC Barcelona in 1996 for a fee of $3.6 million had his career at top flight cut short after he suffered a serious knee injury which in the process denied him a regular place in the Catalans team and also deprived him of a second consecutive World Cup with the Super Eagles. Amunike never fully recovered from his injury and was released by Barca to play for Spainish second division side, Albacete, Busan l’Cons of South Korea and Al-Wahdat SC of Jordan before retiring from football at the age of 33. He also spent some time as an assistant coach at Saudi Premier League side, Al-Hazm, but left the club to become a scout for Manchester United of England.
“It was very painful that the knee injury came at the time it came, especially after moving to one of the best clubs in the world and already had a wonderful season with them. It was a moment of despair in my football career having to watch my colleagues in the national team play in France in 1998. After our impressive outing at the ’94 Mundial, most of us had moved to big clubs in Europe, played alongside the best players in the world and were really looking forward to the France 1998 World Cup. Unfortunately, injury denied me of my dream but I took solace in God like I always do in every situation I find myself,” he said.
Speaking further, the two goals hero at USA ’94 said: “After being voted as the second most entertaining team in the ’94 Mundial and winning the Atlanta Olympics in a spectacular fashion, defeating football giants-Brazil and Argentina in the process, Nigeria cannot pretend to be minors in football any longer. Therefore, we were the team to beat and we paid the prize. Getting to the top is easier than staying at the top. After the Atlanta feat, the Nigerian team was like golden fish which has no hiding place.”
It, however, remains to be seen if Amunike would be able to transform his success as a player to the coaching line as all eyes are on him.