They said the more you look, the less you see.
Yet here is a better explanation to that common expression which I have found very edifying if we are to understand the workings of Emmanuel Amuneke, Head Coach of Nigeria’s U-17 team.
Wise counselorship noted that ‘ we should not place too much confidence in unreliable sources or untested claims’ and it is on this premise that I’m devoting some attention to the stern-looking coach of the Golden Eaglets.
There are more reasons than one that Amuneke is called a ‘ Mafioso’ within the Golden Eaglets fraternity and I felt it was about time I let the ‘cat out of the bag’ in spite of the negative perception of others.
Amuneke is undoubtedly one of the most misunderstood Nigerians in the football circle – though he means different things to different people. I had been looking for the right opportunity to look at the enigma that is Amuneke and it came after a chance discussion (bothering on the misconception about Amuneke) with Alhaji Ahmad Kawu, Member of the Executive Committee of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), and some Golden Eaglets’ technical crew recently at the Value Hotel Worldwide High End in Suwon.
What have they not said about Mafioso?
They said the husband of Chika (that’s the pet name Amuneke calls his amiable Spanish wife) is a mad dog. They said Amuneke is a bribe taker. They said Amuneke knows next to nothing about football. They said Amuneke is arrogant and hostile. They said he doesn’t have eyes for talents. They said Amuneke is an ‘Aradite’ – an euphemism for someone who is not charitable at giving gift whether in cash or kind. Maybe we should look at some of these fallacies so that in the final analysis ,we would appreciate the former FC Barcelona winger much better.
Of course, yes; people cast a simple glance at Amuneke’s and what do they say? ‘This guy is mean.’ But back in the days, Amuneke had this innocent boyish look which has been ‘tampered’ with the wear and tear of old age.
“My kids don’t think I was a fine boy growing up,” Amuneke said some time ago when I showed him a poster boy shot of his that was used in the Complete Football magazine published in 1992.”I’ m growing old now ; how I wished I can still maintain that small boy look.”
Amuneke may no longer have that graceful look of the 1990s but you don’t look further for a man with a graceful heart than Amuneke. On a daily basis, he gets all kinds of request and sometimes we wonder if has a ‘bottomless’ pit from where he ‘collects things’ as if he’s running a charity organization. Yet he does his bit to those who came knocking for one assistance or the other.
“Emmanuel is a man with wonderful heart,” one benefactor told this writer.”He has always being there for me since I knew him and he has not changed all these years.”
Of course, he remains true especially to people dear to his heart. One heard of a story about how he gifted a bungalow apartment and a BMW car to one of the coaches that molded his career soon after he made his big-money move from Julius Berger of Lagos to Zamalek FC of Egypt. There was another story about how he doled out thousands of US Dollars to an indigent former Nigerian international player of Yoruba extraction during his early days with the Super Eagles in the 1990s. There was also a story of how he helped about ten of the local guys (made up of different tribes) he grew up with to relocate abroad during his days at FC Barcelona.
Yet, they say Amuneke is just a mere tribalist- a classic case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
Of course, Amuneke is Ndigbo but he is a citizen of the world. His years playing and living abroad must have rubbed off positively so much that he’s at home with everybody irrespective of where you come from. Apart from that, Amuneke grew up amongst people of a ‘thousand tribes’ in Orile, Lagos before moving his family to Festac in Lagos where he’s still ‘The Man of the People’- apologies to the great novelist, late Professor Chinua Achebe.
Those who accuse Amuneke of ethnic bigotry often say majority of youngsters in Amuneke’s Golden Eaglets are of Ndigbo nationality but a comprehensive look at the 35 players on Nigeria’s provisional list to FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 gave an interesting insight: the players came from all parts of Nigeria with Edo and Benue states parading more players than any other state – including Imo where Amuneke comes from.
“I’m Igbo but I could have been a Yoruba or Hausa,” Amuneke often says while talking to his wards.“So, I don’t want to know where you come from; I’m only interested in what you are capable of doing.
“The biggest problem we have in Nigeria is that we the elderly ones have not told the youths the truth; that you don’t have to be Yoruba, Ibo or Hausa to play for Nigeria because there are other tribes that make up Nigeria.”
Who says Amuneke doesn’t have eyes for talents?
Amuneke can indeed be likened to that legendary Australia’s 1991 Rugby World Cup-winning coach, Bob Dwyer who reportedly said: ‘I was never a coach to focus on outcomes and have certainly never been a coach that would sacrifice quality for a winning strategy.’
Amuneke’s pragmatic approach was to pick players that can function as a cohesive force rather than looking for stylish crowd pleasers. If there was any doubt about his coaching ingenuity, he has proved time and again that he has trained-eyes to distinguish between good and bad players.
I think it is disrespecting to say that someone who had a storied career playing for FC Zamalek of Egypt; Sporting Lisbon in Portugal and FC Barcelona in Spain knows next-to-nothing about football. Those who cannot even see beyond their noses would even go further to damage his reputation: ‘Amuneke is a corrupt coach.’
Yet Amuneke often tells his wards:’ God will not forgive me if I start asking you for money because I did not pay a dime to anybody or any coach throughout my career.”
How many Nigerian coaches can reject financial gifts from those who want slots for their players on the Golden Eaglets’ list? How many coaches would have the audacity to chase away blood relations from their teams even when they cannot offer anything meaningful?
Amuneke’s demeanor has always been that he has not soiled his fingers in any way and that equity and fairness have always been some of his innate qualities. He seemed to have hearkened to the profound saying of that former American Basketball player and coach, John Wooden (Wizard of Westwood) that: ‘Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.’
Time and again, he has called on his traducers to produce concrete evidence about their spurious claims but none has been forthcoming.
Is Amuneke perfect? No. Does he have his own foibles? Yes.
Yet people, my humble self inclusive, love Amuneke for his humility and gentlemanly disposition. He has a pride of place in Nigerian and African football yet he doesn’t throw his weight around in spite of the fact that he had the rare privilege of scoring match-winning goals that ensured Nigeria’s glory of winning the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations and the 1996 Olympic football Gold Medal.
He is a holder of UEFA Pro License Certificate- the same badge as Super Eagles’ Head Coach, Sunday Oliseh. But Amuneke is not tired about learning new tricks about coaching.
On our way back from the 4-Nation Invitational Tournament in Suwon last month, Amuneke, a subscriber to Futbol Tactico brought my attention to an article written about the methodological and painstaking planning of Germany’s coach Joachim Loew before he led the German Machine to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
In Loew, I gleaned another part of Amuneke which I’ve long appreciated since he took over the reins of the Golden Eaglets: Behind a quiet nature, this is one coach who is one hundred percent consistent with his ideas.
Irrespective of the outcome of the Golden Eaglets at the on-going FIFA U-17 World Cup finals in Chile, Amuneke truly deserves a pat on the back for the manner he has steered the team under his watch.
By Morakinyo Abodunrin