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Ramadan Tales E4: Emmanuel Amuneke – From Zamalek to Barcelona
When Emmanuel Amuneke arrived at Cairo’s international airport with Nigeria’s U-17 national team in early in July 2014, it was reminiscent of a trip he made 23 years earlier, when he arrived at the Egyptian capital to begin what would become the start of a legacy, a making of a legend and the beginning of a young man’s rise to the pinnacle of world football.
It was with nostalgia that he was received at the city where his rise to international stardom began. Born on the Christmas day of 1970 at Eze Obodo in the South Eastern part of Nigeria – which was still recovering from the throes of the Civil War – Amuneke like many other footballers started playing football on dusty streets and sandy pitches with his friends and schoolmates, before fate set him on a path that would go on to define his future.
His journey into football started as a schoolboy at the famous Cardoso High School in Lagos, from where he set off to the lower rungs of Nigerian football were he made a good first impression with consistent displays for Nigerlux FC of Abeokuta, from where he headed to Concord FC in 1990, before ending his local stint at the then highflying Julius Berger FC of Lagos, with whom he won the elite division’s title in 1991, while also attracting the attention of national team selectors.
Fresh from winning Nigeria’s national league with Julius Berger, the left-footed wing wizard was immediately signed by Zamalek after being scouted by officials of the White Knights who were impressed with his performance for Nigeria’s Olympic team at the All Africa Games which had taken place – only a few weeks earlier – in Cairo, where he led a relatively young Nigerian side to the semi-final of the competition before they were knocked out by old foes Cameroon.
When Amuneke joined Zamalek, he was already a capped Nigerian international, and had just won a league title in Nigeria. But it was in Egypt, that his career really kicked-off as he went on to have a successful spell, gaining international attention along the way.
During his spell at Zamalek, Amuneke won the Egyptian Premier League title on his debut season, but he and his teammates lost in the Final of the Egypt Cup that year. He was also a prominent member of one of the great Zamalek sides of the 90’s that recorded a historic double by not only retaining their league title, but also went ahead to win the CAF Champions League, which at the time was known as the Ahmed Sekou Toure Cup in 1993.
A few months later, he helped Zamalek win another continental trophy, the inaugural African Super Cup, in which the White Knights recorded a slim 1-0 win to overcome their eternal rivals, Al Ahly. These achievements were the pinnacle of the career of most of his teammates at the time, but Amuneke was just getting warmed up.
Despite his heroics with Zamalek, Amuneke was overlooked by Nigeria’s coach, Clemens Westerhof, in the preliminary stages of the Africa Cup of Nations which took place at Tunisia in 1994. It therefore came as a surprise when he was included in the starting line-up of the Nigerian team in the final game against Zambia. But Amuneke emerged the unlikely hero as he scored a brace to help Nigeria win their second African crown.
Not long after that, a move to Europe came calling as Amuneke signed for Sporting Clube de Portugal in the summer of 1994. He continued his scintillating form for the Lisbon-based side as they beat Maritimo 2-0 to clinch the Portuguese Cup in his debut season, and the Portuguese Super Cup at the start of the following season.
In the Summer of 1996, Amuneke was a member of the Nigerian team that became the first African side to win a gold medal at soccer in the Olympic game, which was hosted by the American city of Atlanta.
But the best moments of his club career came in the winter of 1996, as Spanish giants, FC Barcelona forked out $3.6 million, to secure the services of the left-footed magician. With the Catalan giants, Amuneke went on to gather his largest trophy haul at a single club, winning two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey, one Supercopa, the UEFA Cup winners Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
Amuneke’s fortune however hit a downward trajectory after his successful first season, as he picked up a serious knee injury in 1997 which effectively ended his Barcelona career. He never fully recovered from the injury as he made only a handful of appearances for the Spanish giants in his remaining years at the club before he was released in the summer of 2000.
He went on the have a brief spell with Albacete Balompie in the Spanish second-tier division, before moving to Busan I’Cons in South Korea and Al-Wahdat in Jordan, before being forced to retire in 2003 at the age of 33.
Upon retirement, Amuneke returned back to school to further his studies, and he eventually bagged a masters degree in Sports Methodology from a Spanish university, before returning to football to start a coaching career in 2008. He is currently the head coach of Nigeria’s U-17 national team.
- Episode 3 – Al Ahly defy odds against European giants Real Madrid, Roma
- Episode 2 – The short-lived Zaki-mania
- Episode 1 – Al Ahly and Zamalek fight over Lamie