Former Nigerian international and one-time African Footballer of the Year, Emmanuel Amuneke has sensationally declared that the 1980 squad of the Green Eagles were better than the ‘94 class of the Super Eagles, which has been variously been described as the golden generation of Nigerian football.
The former FC Barcelona of Spain attacker, who spoke to EMMA NJOKU in an exclusive chat with The Sunsport on Saturday, said the Super Eagles of ‘94 were only privileged to write their names in gold as the squad that qualified Nigeria for her first World Cup appearance.
He also spoke on how he guided the Taifa Stars of Tanzania to their first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 39 years, and what would happen should Nigeria and Tanzania meet at this month’s Nations Cup in Egypt.
Congratulations for guiding Tanzania to her first Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualification in 39 years.
Thank you very much.
How were you able to achieve such a rare feat?
Nothing is easy in life. Every journey and virtually everything you do in life has its own challenges. Coaching is not just about bringing players together; it takes a whole lot to achieve positive results. People would ask how was it possible? Everything is possible in life if you’re sincere and truthful with what you’re doing, especially when you believe in God.
I always say that a man’s destiny is in the hands of the Almighty, and as long as what you’re doing pleases God, you must surely succeed. I’m happy for Tanzanians and we are all happy. We’re a young team and still growing. We want to learn and, hopefully, this journey will continue to guide us to learn.
Were you given any benchmark in your terms of contract?
I have a two-year contract and I was not given any benchmark. The reality remains that when you are a coach, you want to succeed, isn’t it? Everybody wants to succeed. And for you to succeed, it takes a whole lot of process and commitment; you need to be in control of your emotions. Yes, nobody expected Tanzania to qualify for the Nations Cup, but the game of football is changing. You can see that a lot of new teams qualified for this year’s Nations Cup – teams like Gambia, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar. It shows that countries are doing a lot to improve their football, and we hope that in the nearest future football will continue to develop.
With the qualification ticket in hand, what’s your target at the Nations Cup?
I’ve not given myself any target, but I know when the time comes, we’ll approach the tournament holistically and realistically.
For now, we have not set any target for ourselves because 39 years absence from the tournament is not a joke. A lot of Nations Cup have come and gone, and a lot of players have featured at the tournament. We’re going to the Nations Cup to improve ourselves, to learn from the big boys. Hopefully, we hope to give a good account of ourselves.
How would you compare the mentality of an average Nigerian player with that of his Tanzanian counterpart?
There isn’t much difference in terms of mentality between Nigerian players and Tanzanian players. In Africa, we are blessed with a lot of football talents. But it’s not about talents, it’s about making a team function as a unit to achieve good results. You have to look at the players individually and collectively.You need to make the players see from the honest point of view, how to play as a team to achieve their objectives. Every game is different, and you must approach each game differently. You must look at what each player can give in a particular game. You must know the players who are ready for each game based on their strengths and weaknesses. A lot of work is involved in coaching.
I was a player, and as a coach, now, I love what I’m doing. Football is about winning and losing. When you lose, you learn from the experience, and that helps you in your next game.
You were part of the famous ‘94 Super Eagles squad which is generally believed as the golden generation of Nigerian football. What would you say was the driving point of the team?
There’s what is called generation shift. Football is also growing. Today, many people are investing in football. We are proud that we were able to take Nigerian football to greater heights by putting the country on the world map. I believe it is up to the new generation to continue from where we stopped.
But, are we better than those players who played in the ‘80s? I totally disagree with you. I don’t agree that we are better. We were only privileged to be the first squad to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup. It’s no doubt a rare privilege, but some of those who played in the ‘80s, I can categorically tell you, are better than us. Having said that, we pray that God gives those of us who are still alive the grace to continue to do the little we can to improve the game.
Finally, how would you feel should Nigeria and Tanzania meet at some point at the Nations Cup in Egypt?
What would you expect? We (Tanzania) will play you (Nigeria). There will be no emotion, I’m a professional. We’re afraid of any team.