From Nigerian Football Hero to Coaching Legend: Emmanuel Amunike’s Story
The 52-year-old was a key player for the Super Eagles during their “golden era” in the mid-1990s and early 2000s
●28th March 2023
The “golden era” of the Super Eagles was a period in Nigerian football history when the national team achieved remarkable success on the international stage. This era is generally considered to have spanned from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
During this time, the Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 1994 and many podium finishes. They also qualified for the FIFA World Cup three times, in 1994, 1998, and 2002. At the 1994 and 1998 World Cup, they reached the round of 16.
The team featured several iconic players such as Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George, Emmanuel Amunike, and Daniel Amokachi, who all had successful careers in European football. They were known for their technical ability, flair, and attacking style of play.
The Super Eagles’ success during this period helped to establish Nigeria as a footballing powerhouse in Africa and earned the team a global reputation as one of the most exciting and talented squads in world football.
BOUNCE had a chat with Emmanuel Amunike, one of the most prominent names in the history of Nigerian football. Amunike’s playing career began at Julius Berger FC in Nigeria before he moved to Europe to play for Sporting CP in Portugal, where he won the Portuguese league title in 1994. He then joined Barcelona in 1996 and won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in his first season with the club. He also played for Albacete, Busan I’cons, and Zamalek before retiring in 2004.
Only 3️⃣ players were crowned #TotalEnergiesAFCON champions, and named Player of the Year (Men) in the same year! 💫
The 52-year-old was a key player for the Super Eagles during their “golden era” in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. He played for Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup, where he scored two goals, including a stunning strike against Bulgaria in the group stage. He also helped Nigeria win the African Cup of Nations in 1994 and was part of the squad that won Olympic gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
After playing, Amunike became a coach and led Tanzania’s national team to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 39 years. He also coached Nigeria’s U-17 team, leading them to World Cup glory in 2015 and producing the likes of Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Nwakali, and Kingsley Michael for the Super Eagles. Amunike also had stints with Sudan’s Al Khartoum SC.
Amunike’s contribution to Nigerian football, both as a player and coach, cannot be overemphasized. He was a great ambassador for the country and inspired many young players with his skills and achievements. He will always be remembered as a true legend of the game, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations of Nigerian footballers.
In a conversation with BOUNCE, Amunike revealed that he feels honored and privileged to have represented Nigeria, thanking those who stood by him during his short but glorious career. The former CAF African Footballer of the Year (1994) reiterated that he is grateful to Nigerians for trusting him to deliver both as a player and a coach.
“ I can say that I’m grateful, for the opportunity, for the occasion and for being able to do my best in the area that I belong to, which is football. I’m grateful that I’m being respected and I can only thank those who stood by my side during my playing days and supported me a lot when I was playing. So I’m grateful for that.
“And I’m grateful to Nigeria also, for their support and their love during our (Golden Generation) playing days,”
Nigeria is a household name in youth football, with many homegrown superstars getting their breakthroughs with the U-17 and U-20 teams. However, with the invention of Change of Nationality by FIFA, players who have roots in more than one country can represent the country of their choice. The former Golden Eaglets coach was quizzed about why foreign-born players rarely get an opportunity to represent Nigeria at youth tournaments and whether they are inferior to the homegrown ones in terms of quality.
“Well, the foreign-born. It’s not that they are not as good as the homeborn. The reality is that these guys have their program. Most of those foreign players at the youth level are engaged with clubs where they develop them. And you know that allows them to find themselves in a better environment to develop and play their football.
“The home-based players also shouldn’t be discarded in terms of not being given the opportunity. I think we have always emphasized the need to help the players back home to grow so that they can become better players and be in a position to match with the foreign players that are coming into the team.
“Of course, if there is room for the foreign players to come into the team, it is all welcomed as long as they are all Nigerians. Both foreign and local ones are there to represent us. They are there to make Nigeria proud.”
Nigeria has a rich history with the CAF (Confederation of African Football) Player of the Year Award. The award was first introduced in 1992, and since then, Nigerian players have won the award a total of 5 times.
The first Nigerian to win the award was Rashidi Yekini, who won it in 1993 after scoring the winning goal for Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations final. Other Nigerian players who have won the award include Emmanuel Amunike (1994), Nwankwo Kanu (1996, 1999), and Victor Ikpeba (1997).
Nigeria used to be dominant in the CAF best player award final shortlist from the 1990s but has since failed to produce a winner since 1999. Amunike has however tipped Napoli and Super Eagles star, Victor Osimhen to end Nigeria’s drought on the continent.
🇳🇬Kanu is the last Nigerian to win African Footballer of The Year award in 1999.
“Osimhen is on the right track to win the African Footballer of the Year. I’m happy with what he’s doing. I’m happy that he’s, you know, he’s representing Nigeria very well, and he’s representing himself very well. He’s representing Africa very well in his club.
“We all see what he’s doing, week in and week out. We saw him yesterday in the Champions League. He scored two goals for his team which helped them to qualify for the quarter-finals. We have a prospect, he is a Nigerian player that is doing very well. There are other players also that are doing very well in their various clubs. But of course, Osimhen is the spotlight where everybody is looking.
“And we are happy that he’s representing us very well. And we look forward to the future when he should be the African Player of the Year. We pray that he (Osimhen) surpasses what most of us have done.
“I think that is the only way we can say we are growing and developing. You cannot say you want to grow more than your son. You pray that your son should grow more than you. And that is what I believe in.
“Osimhen should do and grow more than what we have done. We laid the path and the young generations should surpass things that we have done in the game.”