Nigerian legend, Emmanuel Amuneke, current head coach of Zambia Premier League side, Zanaco FC, talks about his experience playing for the Super Eagles, having to finish a match with one eye, in an interview with Johnny Edward
The highlight of your playing career was winning the AFCON title in 1994 and the gold medal in the men’s football event of the 1996 Olympic Games. How do you feel scoring the winners in both finals?
It’s an amazing feeling to have scored such important goals for Nigeria to help win the AFCON title in 1994 and the Olympics in 1996.
It consoles me each time I remember the struggles and pain I went through playing for the country; they remain the best goals I scored for my country.
There was a qualifier I starred in against Algeria when the ball hit my eye. I could not see for seconds, but I was chasing the defender to retrieve the ball.
We all knew we needed a point to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and we achieved that goal collectively.
I ended up playing the game with one eye.
Due to coach Clemens Westerhof’s tactical plan, I found myself on the bench from the first game at the 1994 AFCON until the final match. I did not expect that I would play the final but the chance came and I grabbed it, making the headlines.
That team was made of great players, so, there was no reason to be annoyed. Instead, I was hungry sitting on the bench before the final.
At the Olympics in Atlanta, I recall coach Jo Bonfrere telling me that there were calls for me to be dropped from the starting line-up for the final game.
My reply to him was that he should play the players who would help the team win gold and not who he thinks deserves to play. If you decide that I should be on the bench, I will take my spot there and whenever you need me I will be ready.
And it happened that I scored the winner. I was always honest with the national team throughout the years I spent there as a player and as coach.
He also shared his experience with coaching another team away from Nigeria.
What’s the experience like coaching away from Nigeria?
The experience has been great, enticing and encouraging so far from everyone. My name is a household name in the game. I’ve been a coach in Sudan, Tanzania, Egypt and now in Zambia. It’s the challenge that excites me more and I live for moments like this. The important thing for me is to pass knowledge to the next generation, which I love doing now. It’s something I love doing and I’m happy for this fresh task here and I hope to grow better than I have.