AFCON most difficult tourney to win – Finidi
Enyimba coach and 1994 AFCON winner, George Finidi, who also doubles as assistant coach of the Super Eagles, talks about coaching the most successful club in Nigeria as well as the chances of NPFL players in the senior national team, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE
Your team Enyimba are second in Group A at the end of the first stanza. How would you rate your performance this season?
We are in a very tough group where we have most of the best teams in the country. But at the moment, we are second and I think so far so good, the boys have been responding and we hope to keep the momentum. It’s not going to be easy; every team wants to be in the top three, and our aim is to make sure we are among them. Hopefully we will achieve that.
How would you also describe your first season as a coach in the NPFL?
First season, I will say that is gone. I will say we didn’t get what we wanted in terms of classification, but I think we played some good football. However, if the objective was not achieved, then you must say it was a bad season, but we all learnt from that and try to be better this season and get the job done.
Which NPFL team has given you a tough time since you took over Enyimba?
I can’t really say a team has given us a tough time. We have competed favourably even in matches that we lost. We have not been outplayed when a team played Enyimba and won the match. We have lost some matches as a result of little details and concentration, so we will try and put that into our training programme before the second stanza, so that we don’t commit those little errors again.
You played in the NPFL as well, looking back, what are the advancements and areas that still need improvement in the Nigerian league?
From my time to the present state, there’s been a lot of improvement. I think particularly with the teams and some facilities. There are other areas that need improvement but I think overall we are getting there.
As one of the assistant coaches of the Super Eagles, would you beat your chest for some of the NPFL players to be included in the national team?
As assistant coaches of the Super Eagles, our job is to contribute and help the head coach. He needs our support and we will give him. If there are players that are good enough that we see and can make it, not just to go to the camp and come back, but go there and make an impact, we will give him that advice and we will make sure we get the best out of the players. We are all watching, not just me, and we are looking at bringing one or two or even five players into the fold. There are lots of good players in the league, but we will see who is ready to go. Once we see that, we will be able to do what is necessary.
Eagles play Guinea Bissau in an AFCON qualifier this month and a lot of people think the coaches don’t have to invite overseas-based players. Do you feel the same way?
For the game against Guinea Bissau, if it’s necessary, we have to mix the team, bring some home-based players and overseas-based players and see how we can get the result. But this notion that no player abroad should be invited is not totally a good idea. I will always say that if we see players that are capable of going there and making an impact, we will give them that opportunity. It’s always nice to mix the players, we will see how everything goes.
It’s been 10 years since Nigeria last won the AFCON. How important is it for you to win it for Nigeria again, as a member of the technical crew?
I must tell you the AFCON is the toughest tournament to play and win. Most people feel AFCON should be won every two years, but if it was that easy, no one would cherish it anymore. It’s been a long time but we will work towards it and see if we can win the next edition.
Ex-Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof had a huge impact on Nigerian footbal. What lessons have you picked from him now that you are a coach yourself?
Personally, I think Westerhof did a good job in his time with Nigeria. At the same time, I have worked with so many coaches that have impacted my way of life and my career. From Westerhof to every coach I played under, even the ones I played under from Louis Van Gaal to Guus Hiddink and Shuaibu Amodu, I’ve learnt a lot and I try to imbibe one or two things into my own way as well.
What were your highest and lowest moments while representing Nigeria?
The highest moment in my Super Eagles days was winning the AFCON in 1994, while the lowest I will say will be not beating Italy in the second round of the World Cup in 1994 as well.
At club level, you won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax as well as other titles in Europe. If you place them side-by-side with your national team medals, which one is the most precious?
If I have to pick between all the titles I’ve won for club and country, I would say the AFCON medal is the most valuable while I will call the Champions League precious.
Finally, what is it going to feel like to lead Enyimba to another CAF Champions League glory in the nearest future and do you have plans of returning to Europe anytime soon?
For Enyimba, it’s one step at a time. Our focus now is getting to the Super Six, once that one is achieved, we will compete for the Top Three and then we can begin to talk about what to do on the continent. But yes, it will be great to achieve everything achievable with the club. I’m in Nigeria at the moment, I don’t know if I’m going back. But as a coach, you can find yourself anywhere. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I will try and enjoy my time here at home and whatever happens in the future will depend on the result I can achieve here. So, I will keep working hard to be better. I’m thinking about what I can do today and who knows what will happen tomorrow? I’m not thinking about going back to Europe, I’m just focused on my job here.