Pulse Sports caught up with the man at a recent event in Lagos where he granted an interview.
Emmanuel Amuneke was part of the golden generation of Nigerian footballers that won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), impressed the world at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and won the gold medal in the football event of the 1996 Olympic Games.
He later went on to sign for La Liga giants Barcelona and is until today the only Nigerian player to be on the books of the Spanish club.
Pulse Sports caught up with the man at a recent event in Lagos where he granted an interview, talking about his time at Barcelona, his experience at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and his last coaching job in Sudan.
On his first move to Europe
“Getting to Portugal was a totally different game, an environment but I was lucky I had some black brothers to help me and most of the time we spent time together.”
Early life at Barcelona
“Luis Figo made it easy for me, already I knew him from Portugal and on getting to Barcelona it was much easier. I was able to make good friends like Luis Enrique.”
Friendship with Carles Busquets (Sergio Busquets’ dad)
“The guy I normally go out with most of the time was Busquet, the father of the player playing now.
“I remember when he brought his children to the dressing room, they were two and he said his son will be a striker.”
How Barcelona discovered him
“They discovered me through my playing. These big clubs don’t sign any player anyhow, they take years of study.
“It is not only about the talent, it has to do with the kind of player you are. Are you a team player or an individualist? Are you hardworking?
“When I was in Sporting Lisbon they started putting eyes on me. The guy that brought me to Barcelona came to me first and said he had the opportunity for me. I was just confused I asked, ‘what opportunity?’
“He said ‘I have a club looking for you’. But he never mentioned the club. It was one afternoon when the directors called me to tell me Barcelona was interested in me.”
How he coped in his early days at Barcelona
“Already I knew (Luis) Figo went there, Figo going to Barcelona made it easier for me to go to Barcelona also. I was not entertaining any fear about myself or my ability to play. Unfortunately, we started from Nigeria and I ways tell my friends that when I played football if I started in Europe, maybe I would have World Best player But unfortunately, where we started our journey, God knows why but the little one I achieved, I thank God.”
Experience at USA 94
“It was a big opportunity for most of us, something that we have dreamt of to play in the World Cup. My first World Cup experience was in 1986, Maradona in Mexico that was the awareness of most of us playing in the World Cup and since then we had dreamt of playing in the World Cup and then having the opportunity of playing in the World Cup in 1994 for me it was one of the highest things ii achieved that year.
“We thank God we were able to make statements in the World Cup not just making up the numbers. As a country, we were able to tell people that apart from individual qualities we had, we could also play as a team.
“We believed in ourselves, we came to realise that we had a good team, we were like brothers. Each time we came to the national team there was this unity, this understanding and harmony in the team and everyone realised that the only way we could achieve something is by working hard.
“Even if you were playing in one of the best clubs, if you are not working hard you will find it difficult to play in that team.”
Goal against Bulgaria
“It was great scoring against Bulgaria. When you score in the World Cup that is when people start to recognise and know you. The goal I scored, the goalkeeper was not expecting it. It was a cross from Finidi (George) and I had to anticipate before the defender and flew in and headed the ball."
The goal against Italy
“The Italy goal was a great goal, but unfortunately it didn’t win us the game. It was painful very painful but of course, we learnt from there and I think that experience helped us to win the Olympics (1996)
“Because we had the opportunity again in the Olympics and we were able to manage things better than what we had done at the World Cup. We were not able to manage the game against Italy."
Football in Sudan
“Football in Sudan is great, the league this season was very very unbelievable, divided into two groups each group had to produce four teams making eight for the playoff. So either you are in the playoff or you are playing for relegation. I was impressed.”