Emmanuel Amunike exclusive: Advice for Napoli ace Osimhen; tipping Tottenham kid for stardom & hope for Nigeria
Emmanuel Amunike is convinced by the new generation of talent now emerging from both his native Nigeria and Africa, Xhulio Zeneli reports for Tribal Football.
Regarded among the greatest of his generation, Amunike was crowned African Footballer of the Year in 1994 and the BBC African Footballer of the Year in 1996. It was a golden era for Nigerian football, literally, as Amunike and the Super Eagles won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
“I would say the Olympic title and the gold medal that I won with the national team was a moment of pride for me,” Amunike tells Tribalfootball.com. “Also winning the African Cup of Nations was very important – but I would stick with the Olympic medal (as my favorite) because it brought a lot of attention to African football.”
Now on the Super Eagles coaching staff, Amunike says Nigerian fans can be excited about the young players on the verge of breaking through. Ahead of next month’s Africa Cup of Nations, Amunike says there may be one or two surprises to come out of the tournament.
“I think we have young promises that we have been able to develop from youth level,” he says. “I think this is a positive aspect regarding Nigerian football that we have seen these young players develop from the youngest age through now to playing in the first team.
“But still, we are well aware that football success doesn’t come only from this, but you have to get better also in other aspects. I can say for sure we have a promising young team. But we have to give them and create for them all the opportunities necessary to express themselves as best as they can.
“For some time now we have been introducing a new generation of players and we need to have some patience so they can get better.”
Of course leading this new generation is Napoli’s free-scoring centre-forward Victor Osimhen. Like Amunike before him, Osimhen has just been crowned African Footballer of the Year for his success with the Serie A title holders.
And while a big fan of his countryman, Amunike admits there’s a young Senegalese now playing in England with Tottenham who boasts the potential to match Napoli’s Nigerian ace.
“Yeah, we have seen already there are some excellent young (African) players who are currently playing in Europe,” says Amunike.
“For example, we have a Senegal player called (Pape Matar) Sarr who is playing for Tottenham, there’s (Samu) Chukwueze at Milan. And of course, Osimhen at Napoli. I think in the future we will see new names and new faces.
“The players we have now like Osimhen, Sarr, etc. are doing very well and are representing the African Nation very well.”
As for some advice for Nigeria’s star man, Amunike adds: “He (Osimhen) just needs to stay calm and focused. The good things will come to him.”
Which is exactly how his career broke for Amunike. Success as a young player with Egyptian giants Zamalek brought the forward to the attention of Sporting CP in Portugal. It was there where Amunike would play arguably his best football. After two years in Lisbon, that “dream” call from Barcelona arrived.
“Joining Barcelona was like a dream coming true,” Amunike recalls. “Every player or young player wants to play for a big team. Nowadays the situation has changed because young players only want to play for a big team but for me, it’s important to play where you can have continuity and grow as a player.
“Of course, still, teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, etc. have that appeal where everybody wants to go and play.”
Amunike would spend four years with the Blaugrana, though admits injury prevented him from realizing his potential as a Barca player.
“My experience at Barcelona was good. Coming from Portugal to Spain it was a big step for me, but unfortunately injuries began to happen a lot. When these injuries occur you cannot give 100% as you are not in shape.
“But when this happens you need to be strong and have the confidence in yourself that everything will become better. You must remember this is part of the journey.”
Indeed, while Amunike’s injuries with Barca would leave many frustrated, Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro’s chief No2 insists everything in a player’s career is an opportunity to learn and grow.
“Every experience has its positive and negative things and for a player its important to face them. For me, all the experiences are important, also the difficult ones, because they make you better for the future and define your character.
“And for me, all of them were important because they made me a better person and helped me to grow.”