By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
Occupying the Number eight (8) spot on Green/Super Eagles Greatest of all Time (GOAT) list as compiled by Soccernittygritty is Daniel “The Bull” Amokachi.
8. Daniel Amokachi (Super Eagles, 1990-1999)
‘Westerhof gave me that name (The Bull). I remember when he picked me up at 16 and there were big players playing who were in their 20s and pros already. He just told me: ‘go in there and bully them.’- and I go in there and do my stuff, and then he said ‘you know why I call you The Bull’?- ‘Because you charge those defenders and anybody that you see in front of you’.
Like Amunike, Amokachi was undoubtedly one of the most fearless players in Nigeria’s history. Again, like Amunike, his stint was brief. It’s hard not to think of the possibility of the Super Eagles not being at least ‘1 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title’ better had they an ‘in-form’ Amokachi and Amunike available in Surulere for the AFCON 2000 final against Cameroon. One can only imagine the possibilities if they had the result-oriented duo in ‘top form’ in
France 1998. While Amunike never made the cut, Amokachi picked up a late injury days leading to the Mundial and had only 1 halfhearted game before a visibly complacent and distracted Nigerian side were humiliated in the round of 16 by
Denmark 1-4. Consequently, we never really saw Amokachi ascend the pinnacle of a career which promised to bestow him soccer elitism.
Daniel Owofen Amokachi caught the attention of national team handlers very early, aged 16 in 1988. He had broken into the first team of Kaduna side, Ranchers Bees. By the following year, he was just going on 17 and was invited by Westerhof to the Green Eagles B-team for theECOWAS Cup in Bauchi which Nigeria won. That competition was the solid bedrock Westerhof laid what later emerged as Nigeria’s greatest era in football till date.
Months leading to Algiers 1990 AFCON, the cankerworm which typifies Nigerian football again reared its ugly head when players and administrators were at loggerheads over a pay dispute. A livid Westerhof decided to dump the ‘money-gang pros’ for the ‘fame-seeking locals’, hence, opted for an all-home-based side, save for just 3 professionals- Andrew Uwe, Ademola Adesina, and Rashidi Yekini. The eccentric manager arrived at this brave decision after the Green Eagles showed impressive form against European sides including beating Ajax 2-1 in friendlies.
So, Westerhof reiterated his belief in his largely local players including Amokachi after a successful pre-tournament campaign. AFCON started with a heavy 1-5 loss to eventual winners, Algeria with Emma Jay-Jay Okocha netting the only goal. An angry Westerhof exclaimed that the inclusion of the few ‘pros’ had ‘scattered his team’, he quickly reverted to his pre-tournament plan which saw Nigeria through to the final. The 17-year-old availed himself creditably and warmed his way into the hearts of the ever-critical Nigerian fans. It was a squad built on discipline such that Amokachi once said: ‘If you arrived late for a call-up, right at the airport, you’ll be informed by the immigration officers that so and so players just passed, and you’ll feel jitters down your spine for fear of losing your spot.’
A decent outing at Algiers meant European breakthrough for Amo as he was fondly called.
Amokachi joined Club Brugge in the summer but had to live with a local family because he was underage. His searing pace which saw him clock 10.15s over 100m complimented his bullish approach to games made him achieve great strides with the Belgian giants as netting the first-everChampions League goal in November 1992 versus CSKA and Ebony Award for Best African player in the league in 1992 and 1994, he was also named the best foreign player in 1994. In the end, young Amo had a successful spell in Belgium netting 54 times in 164 games across all competitions.
The Bull replicated club form with the
Super Eagles. He was a fringe player until Samson Siasia committed an ‘unforgivable sin’ in the eyes of Westerhof in an extremely crucial World cup qualifier away at Abidjan. Siasia failed to lay a simple pass to a better-placed Yekini waiting for a simpler tap-in. Siasia went for goal to no avail to the dismay of a gutted Westerhof in the dugout. Subsequently, Amo was played in his stead. The Bull seized the opportunity and struck a great understanding with Yekini through the rest of the qualifiers which culminated in AFCON victory at Tunisia and a fantastic maiden appearance at the World Cup.
Amo had an amazing World Cup including a goal rated 45th best in World Cup history when he picked up a simple pass from Adepoju, evaded a vicious Greek tackle, went past 3 markers before blasting the ball into the net. The Super Eagles were through to the Round of 16 before his goal, however, Westerhof dished out instructions to his players from the sideline urging them to go for the second goal, the goal would guarantee a matchup with Italy, a tie the Dutchman was relishing ahead even though his players would rather play a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania. The Italians ran away with a lucky victory but the Nigerians had announced themselves to the world regardless.
Amo arrived Everton after the Goodison Park outfit outwitted Juventus in a £3m club-record fee. He instantly became the first high-profile black player – Everton’s response to Liverpool’s acquisition of John Barnes following a club takeover by the billionaire, Peter Johnson. Manager-Joe Royle unveiled Amo to a rapturous crowd right before the league game against Nottingham Forest. After a long delay with work permit issues, Amo finally made his debut away at Blackburn. He made his home debut in a 1-1 draw vs QPR with Amo netting Everton’s only goal. Then came an 11-game drought. A difficult period that saw the entire squad looking uninspiring. It resulted in the sack of Walker and the arrival of Royle.
Nonetheless, the fans sustained their support for The Bull because of his unblemished commitment and rumbustious style. Royle arrived and showed his preferences in the pair of Duncan Ferguson and Paul Rideout upfront. This led to Amo being snubbed over a 6-month spell until mid-March when fate took another turn.
Coincidentally, the preferred duo got injured, yet, Royle wouldn’t play Amo, instead, he started the long-forgotten and insipid Brett Angell to the dismay of the fans. Strings of misses by Brett led to an uproar which saw the fans chanting: ‘Send him off please… bring in Amo! Amo!!’ – With Everton down 0-1 by the interval, Amo’s inclusion added the required verve.
In the end, Everton won 3-2 via a last gasp free-kick by Andy Hinchcliffe with Amo playing a vital role in the fixture. This further endeared the fans to him with a cross-section of fans and pundits questioning Royle’s tactics and discretion. They labeled him ‘rigid’, thus, his inability to spot the sophistication in Amo’s game. Still, all protests fell on Royle’s deaf ears.
Unlike former Manager- Walker, Royle alongside trainer, Willie Donnachie were tagged rigid by angry fans and pundits, hence, why they couldn’t accommodate the dynamism Amo’s play provides, rather, the duo believed Amo should be an out and out striker.
Amo’s erratic spell continued until the fateful FA Cup semi-final game vs Tottenham in April 1995. Spurs were clear favorites but shockingly, Everton was up 2-1 amid intense comeback threat by Spurs following a Jurgen Klinsmann penalty goal. With only 20 minutes left, Rideout got injured and Manager- Royle asked Amo to warm up. The medics signaled to the bench indicating Rideout can’t continue but Royle still wanted him on longer. Amo took off his tracksuit, whispered a few words into the ears of another crew member ‘quietly’ and before Royle knew what was happening, Amo had subbed himself into the game …leaving a delirious Royle yelling at the sideline. Amo looked back, gave Royle a brief sarcastic glance, ignored his tantrums and quickly ran into the pitch. Then, 8 minutes from time, Graham Stuart’s delivery met Amo’s header for the third goal and the fans went hysterical. With only 1 minute remaining, Gary Ablett’s counter-attack resulted in Amo slammed in a second goal- final score, 4-1 amid thunderous Amo Amo chants.
Royle buried his pride and later admitted: ‘It was the greatest substitution I NEVER made’. As a result, he didn’t have a choice but to retain the Nigerian in his starting 11 in 7 of the last 8 games with Amo scoring thrice.
Amo was instrumental in the Dream Team’s
Gold medal feat after joining Besiktas. Painfully, a most promising career was halted by an incessant knee injury which forced a premature retirement at 28. Amo-Taxi scored 13 times in 44 international caps for Super Eagles.
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