By GEORGE ALUO
EMMANUEL Amuneke is not a man of many words. He is more of an action person and Nigerians saw a good dose of that last year, when he led the Golden Eaglets to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup back to back in Chile.
Amuneke had since been elevated to the Flying Eagles as head coach. But before taking charge of the U-20 team he was last month “conscripted” into the Super Eagles technical crew that prosecuted the AFCON 2017 back to back qualifiers against the Pharaohs of Egypt, which Nigeria lost.
The Eziobodo, Owerri born soccer tactician during the flight back home from Alexandria, Egypt bared his mind on a wide range of issues on Nigerian football, the Super Eagles, his sojourn with the Golden Eaglets and even his career, which ended abruptly at 25, no thanks to injury.
Enjoy the chat….
On Super Eagles and the loss of AFCON 2017 ticket
We gave the two games against Egypt our best shot. We were simply unlucky not to have gotten the result we needed, especially at home in Kaduna. All of us tried our best; the NFF, the players and we the coaches. We thank God for everything. All we need do is go back home and look forward. We don’t need to dwell on this loss. The World Cup qualifiers are around the corner. We can consolidate on this new team we are building. We played Egypt with several young players and I think this is good for Nigerian football. You can see the likes of Alex Iwobi, Stanley Amuzie and Kelechi Iheanacho. I expect more young players to break into the squad because football belongs to the youths. You can see that we also have players like Nwakali, Awoniyi and Osimhen waiting in the wings. The future is bright. Like Igbos would say, Nkeiruka, which means the future is bright. We should not be disappointed with our failure to qualify for AFCON 2017.
On the Golden Eaglets success in Chile
Let me start by telling you one thing that went for me. The first thing is hard work. There is no alternative to it. Secondly, I always told my players, my employers, the NFF the truth and even the parents and guardians of the players. I never deceived anybody and I never collected a kobo, I mean one dime from anybody to make my squad to Chile. There was no single player that made it to Chile because of his godfather or because someone settled me. God is my witness. Unfortunately we are in a society where we believe in short cut… many of the players that came for screening believed all they needed to make it is to know somebody, to be well connected, but in my team, any player that comes to camp with that mindset has already missed the mark. When you are upright, God rewards your effort with success.
Allegations of favoring players from the East
I know many people said a lot about me. Making allegations they cannot substantiate simply because the players they brought couldn’t make it. I look at players and assess them without thinking one bit about which part of the country he comes from. To me merit is key. Where you come from is completely immaterial. If I get 11 good players from the same womb, as far as they are Nigerians, I will use them. In football, there is no room for quota system. I go for the very best and not even a player from my village has an advantage, because the bottom line is to get result and you don’t get result by going for mediocre. I m not better than other coaches, but as I said, I make the truth my watchword and that was the secret of my Chile success. As you know, it was more difficult defending the FIFA U-17 World Cup than winning it in 2015 because every country came to Chile determined to stop Nigeria, but God crowned our efforts with success. One day, I will write my Biography and there would be a lot to say, and put down for posterity.
His romance with youth teams and his soccer academy (Amuneke Soccer Academy)
I floated the Amuneke Soccer Academy because I derive joy in discovering talents. I m happy my efforts in that area is yielding dividend. Some of the players I took to Chile are products of the academy. Nwakali is one of them and before playing for Nigeria he (Nwakali) was a member of the Amuneke Soccer Academy that won gold at the Uber Cup in Estoril, Portugal in 2015 in an U-15 youth tournament that featured teams from different parts of the world. The academy is still there and I encourage the boys to combine their soccer career with education. Football is something you play for some years and you cannot continue. I never knew injury would make me hang my boots at just 25. If one does not go to school, what do you fall back on. The world is changing and the era when footballers didn’t think about education is gone. They must combine both.
New challenge as head coach of Flying Eagles
I will face the new challenge the same way I approached the Golden Eaglets’ assignment. I will go for the very best of players. No sentiments when it comes to who makes the team. I will give equal opportunity to everyone that comes to camp. There is nothing like I have a godfather and I will make it. No way.
On being born again
I don’t go about talking about my religious life. I wont say I m born again as some people say it in Christian parlance. But I m a devout Christian and I make truth, hard work and humility my watchword. So if that is what you mean by being born again, then yes I am.
Warm reception received in Egypt
I m happy with the kind of reception I received in Egypt, where I played for many years for Zamalek. The fans have not forgotten what we did for Zamalek, which is one of the clubs with the highest supporters in the country.
Assessment of the Pharaohs
They are a very organized side. Egyptian football is very organized and that robs off positively on their teams both at club and national team levels. And with most of their players at home playing for Zamalek and Al Ahly, blending is not a problem. I wish them luck as they return to the Nations Cup.