They called it the “gold mine,” because it gave birth to extraordinary talents for the world around, namely, Africa, a continent of magic and beauty with its secrets and rare details. The black continent has given birth to many great talents in the world of football, including, but not limited to, the star George Weah, who is currently in charge of Liberia, the Ghanaian legend Abedi Pele, and the shrewd Cameroonian Roger Milla.
Between ’94 and ’96, Emmanuel Amunike stood alongside George Weah, Daniel Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu, and Rashidi Yakini as the finest African players on the planet.
Amunike glowed in the jersey of the Nigerian national team, nicknamed the Green Eagles, along with the generation of the nineties. He’d played a critical part in Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations success in 1994—netting twice against Zambia in the final—and it’s hard to pick any Super Eagles star who played a more decisive role in a trophy triumph.
While Nigerian players have starred at the highest echelons of the European game, few have made their mark at the pinnacle of Spanish football. Emmanuel Amunike belongs among a select few Nigerian players to have represented La Liga’s top two, having been signed by Barcelona in 1996 following a fine spell with Portuguese heavyweights Sporting Lisbon.
The former Super Eagles professional is one of the most important players in the history of Zamalek SC, and the brown jewel that shone in the stadiums during the nineties and contributed with White Knights and Nigeria to winning continental and local championships. Amunike was able to etch his name in letters of gold in the history of Egyptian and African football, during his professional career in the Zamalek club, as well as after making great achievements with the Eagles national team.
He started his football career with Concord Club, and in 1991 he moved to Julius Berger Club, where he drew attention until he joined Zamalek SC, and became a name adored by the fans of the White Castle, where he succeeded in achieving many championships that were enough to elevate his name as one of the best players in the team.
In 1991, he moved to the Egyptian club, Zamalek, and played with them until 1994. Football experts consider Emmanuel Amunike the second best African deal for Zamalek after the Ghanaian Koarshi, as he added to the team strength and contributed to the team’s winning two league championships, especially the 1992 season.
In 1994 he moved to the Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon, and played with them until 1997, participating in 51 matches and scoring 17 goals. With Sporting Lisbon, he achieved the Portuguese Cup title, and his successes continued. He then moved to FC Barcelona in 1997 and played with them until 2000, and participated with them in 19 games and scored one goal.
At the international level, Amunike won the gold medal during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where the historic generation of Nigeria defeated the “Samba Dancers” in the semi-finals of the tournament, and dropped Argentina in the finals. He ended his football career with the Jordanian Al-Wehdat club, with which he won the Jordan Cup and afterward became a coach.
As a coach, Amunike led Nigeria's under-17 team to the FIFA World Cup title in Chile in 2015 and then led the Tanzanian national team to the finals of the 2019 African Nations Championship, which was held in Egypt for the second time in Tanzania's history.
Recently, Coach Emmanuel Amunike was appointed as a member of the African Cup of Nations technical study group, meeting in Cameroon. Since his wealth of experience as a player and a coach can never be underrated, he worked effectively as a member of the technical study group during the last World Cup in Russia.
The former attacker has relived the memories from his African spell during an interview with Majalla.
Amunike's knack for scoring crucial goals for Nigeria made him special, as a player for the big occasion: “My two goals against Zambia in the final of the 1994 AFCON and winning the tournament was the most memorable moment for me as a player.”
Former Zamalek and Barcelona star player believes that the Green Eagles are strong candidates for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations title in Cameroon, and to repeat the 2013 achievement in South Africa.
“Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Samuel Chukwueze have what it takes to lead Nigeria to glory at the Africa Cup of Nations if they display the performances they usually make with their clubs and the national team,” Amunike said.
“AFCON has been grown from 16 to 24 teams and this indicates that African football is very high-standard today. It is very difficult to predict who will win this version of AFCON, but of course, there are many strong teams including Senegal, Cameroon, Egypt, and Nigeria. There is, of course, Algeria, which I consider a strong and stubborn opponent who will do everything to preserve the title,” he explained.
He further elaborated: “Club football is different from national teams’ football— in national teams you don't have as much time as the clubs to prepare these players, but it all depends on the coach.”
When asked about the difference between North Africa’s players and south and west African players, he said: “I don’t think there is a big difference between North Africa's players and south and west African players, as football has advanced a lot and many clubs have been able to be in a position to develop the teams and the players. For example, when you look to African players you will find that they play in top clubs in Europe, and I think that offered them the possibility to grow and the possibility to compete. On the contrary, I consider the difference in levels between them to be balanced.”
Two of the competition's big guns, Egypt and Nigeria, have been paired together in Group D in Africa Cup of Nations, and Nigeria still is a tough prospect despite pre-tournament issues within the camp.
“The Egypt and Nigeria game is going to be a very interesting game. Both teams have very distinguished players who can make it. It's a big challenge to play against Egypt and a player like Mohamed Salah in the first match."
"It's also a big challenge for our defense, of course, we have to collectively defend against Mohamed Salah," he added.
Regarding Cameroon’s national team, Amunike said: “In football, you can’t win without playing very well, both at the collective and individual levels, any team that wants to win the title has to demonstrate that it has the capacity to win the tournament. But of course, the Cameroon national team has more advantages being the host country and also playing in front of their fans, which will give them a whole lot of confidence.”
“We have lot of great stars in this tournament like Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Aubameyang who have high potential and will shine in the African Championship, besides many young talented players whom I expect will also make a mark in this tournament,” Amunike also said.
As being a much remembered Barca figure at the end of the century, we asked him about his former club: “Barcelona is going through a very tough time now, especially after Messi’s departure to PSG, but they are now in a great transition period after many years of enjoying glorious success and winning trophies.”
“Barcelona now has very promising young players who will be great players in the coming years. Barcelona has to move ahead from the Messi era and discover new players. I know it is a difficult thing to do and it will take time, but I think Barcelona will move ahead with those talented young players it has,” Amunike added.
Amunike scored over 25 league goals in over 70 appearances for Zamalek. His brilliance with the Egyptian Zamalek was a turning point in his football life, from which he moved to Europe’s top teams.
“Zamalek is always in my heart. I am always surrounded by the love and support of Zamalek fans wherever, and I am so grateful for their endless love. I hope one day to have the opportunity to coach Zamalek. Happy Birthday to Zamalek on the club's 111th anniversary.” With these words, Amunike concluded his interview with Majalla.