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Nigerian Football

HOW EMENALO MISSED MARADONA’S LAST INTERNATIONAL SHIRT

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

 

Man of the moment, Nigeria’s Michael Emenalo whose Monday resignation had been the most trending sports news on twitter, could have also been in possession of what could have been a memorable archival material, the last shirt worn by the legendary Diego Maradona in his very last international match, in fact, and his last competitive match.

Emenalo, a 1985 player of Enugu Rangers,  only played for Nigeria 14 times and was one of the late inclusions to the famed Class of 1994 Super Eagles. That was 13 years before he joined Chelsea as an opposition scout under Avram Grant. He later rose along the ladder to become a member of the football club’s board and one of Roman Abramovich’s most trusted lieutenants.

Sports Village Square recalls a story Emenalo told The Telegraph in UK some years back. He told the story of that June 25, 1994 match in which a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina scored two goals in two successive free kicks by Claudio Caniggia to cancel the earlier lead Nigeria had had through Samson Siasia.

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  • Michael Emenalo tailing the legendary Diego Maradona during a USA ’94 World Cup match played at Foxborough Stadium at the outskirt of Boston.

Argentina won 2-1. Emenalo had not realised at the time, but as he sat on a plastic chair outside the drug testing room in Massachusetts’ Foxborough Stadium – still in his kit, and totally exhausted – Diego Maradona was trying to tell him something.

Both had been randomly selected for the mandatory dope test. Hear Emenalo: “I was sat in the corridor with him and he [Maradona] was making jokes about it”.

“He had his shirt in his hand and he was looking at me. This was Maradona! I was just thinking about how I had a poor game. I was thinking I wasn’t going to play the next game against Greece.

“All the time he was looking at me. It wasn’t until I went home I thought, ‘He wanted to swap shirts’. Later when I got married I told my wife and she laughed. Can you imagine that last Argentina shirt? With Maradona’s sweat on it? I could have had that shirt in my hand!”

Emenalo was one of the Nigerian defenders that made life unbearable for Maradona in the match. While Emenalo passed his test. Maradona failed!

Maradona tested positive for ephedrine, was sent home from the 1994 World Cup finals in disgrace and never played for Argentina again. That sweaty blue and white shirt would have been Maradona’s last national team jersey, and quite a memento.

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The Aba-born player-turned technical director, Sports Village Square gathered, regretted missing the opportunity.

Emenalo had an unusual playing career, which took in stints at the Belgian club now known as FC Brussels; Germany’s Eintracht Trier; Notts County; San Jose Clash; Lleida in Spain and finally Maccabi Tel Aviv where he played under Avram Grant.

He spent 85 days at Notts County in the 1994-1995 season, having been encouraged to play in England by international team-mate John Chiedozie. During that time he worked under Howard Kendall and Steve Nicol.

Emenalo joined County late in his career. “I grew up watching English football. I watched the Match of the Day which we got two weeks late! I always wanted to play in England.”

At Lleida he was managed by Juande Ramos, who approached him about joining him at Tottenham Hotspur in 2007 and Emenalo was close to doing so until Ramos procrastinated and Grant made him an offer to come to Chelsea. He began as a scout and was briefly an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti before becoming technical director in 2011.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian Football

Enugu Rangers hold on grimly at the top as Nigerian league gets to home stretch

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Enugu Rangers may have broken loose from the pack following their comprehensive  3-0 victory over Bayelsa United on Sunday.

As if to aid Rangers’ hold of the top position, their closest rivals, Remo Stars who were initially just a point behind fell like  papers blown by the huricane, losing 3-2 to Kwara United. Their loss dealt a big blow on their title aspirations as they are now four points behind Enugu Rangers and had also narrowed their goal difference.

They are now third having been overtaken by Enyimba who have better goal difference even though both are with 56 points.

Shooting Stars who suddenly peaked in the second half of the season are fast pacing up, getting to the fourth position and three points behind Remo Stars.

They were dealt a blow in the added time as Katsina United’s Michael Okoro got an added time goal against to stalemate scores at 2-2.

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Just as Enugu Rangers are at the cusp of the championship, the fates of Gombe United and Heartland appear already decided as the second tier Nigeria National League are already waiting to welcome them next season.

Akwa United may have navigated their ways out of relegation waters following their 2-1 away win over Lobi Stars. Akwa United are now 15th on the log. In Jos, former champions, Plateau and Niger Tornadoes played uninspiring goalless while relegation-troubled Heartland of Owerri spanked Gombe United 3-0 just as Kano Pillars dimmed Doma United 3-1.

All the results:

Sunshine Stars 0-0 Bendel Insurance

Rivers United 4-1 Sporting Lagos

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Lobi Stars 1-2 Akwa United

Kwara United 3-2 Remo Stars

Katsina United 2-2 Shooting Stars

Kano Pillars 3-1 Doma United

Heartland 3-0 Gombe United

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Enugu Rangers 3-0 Bayelsa United

Abia Warriors 0-1 Enyimba

Plateau United 0-0 Niger Tornadoes

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Nigerian Football

Finidi deserves our support, says former international, Kingsley Onye

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NFF Confirms Finidi George

Ahead of the first press parley that Super Eagles’ new manager, Finidi George is going to have on Thursday in Lagos, former Nigeria international, Kingsley Onye has canvassed for full support for the new coach.

 To him, the time of politicking and pushing for a particular candidate was over. “It is time for all of us to back the chosen one, Finidi George”, remarked Onye who was a left rearguard player in the 1985 class of Flying Eagles who against all odds, upstaged hosts,Soviet Union to clinch the third place in the then World Youth Championships that is now called the U-20 World Cup.

  “Although I canvassed for Emmanuel Amuneke’s candidature, am still happy that an equally good Finidi George got the job”, he said in a phone conversation from his base in the United Kingdom.

  “The fact that some players complained after Nigeria’s second friendly match in March shows that Finidi is a man of his class and cannot be influenced by players’ sentiments.

  “I believe he will take Nigeria to an enviable height, the same way Amuneke too would have done.”

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 Continuing, Onye who played for Enugu Rangers while he was in the country in the 1980s also remarked that he was on the same page with Victor Ikpeba who has asked that Finidi’s assistants should always back him in team selection  and tactical formations.

 “We should be more than 100 per cent behind the coach. If we do, he will perform wonders. He has his own philosophy which we must allow to flourish. He did it will Enyimba, leading the club to success last season and was at the brink of repeating the success before his appointment as Super Eagles’ coach.”

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Nigerian Football

Nigeria’s broadcast icon, Danladi Bako hails NFF on choice of Finidi George

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Nigerian broadcasting icon, Dr. Nasir Danladi Bako has praised the Nigeria Football Federation for settling for former international and ex-Enyimba FC strategist Finidi George as Head Coach of the Super Eagles.

The Kogunan Sakwatto, 66, who created a plethora of famous TV programmes including Morning RideMastersports and Second Chance, among others, and served as Special Adviser to a number of Sports Ministers many years ago, insisted the NFF leadership struck a bull’s eye with the appointment of the two-time FIFA World Cup star, stating that George oozes class and character, and an iron determination to succeed despite his public carapace of a quiet person.

“Finidi George has that cultured, disciplined mien and personality that makes you want to trust him with a big project. He understands the meaning of constituted authority and right from his playing days, has always displayed the attribute of a team player. He has always had that calm, collected nature even in the face of pressure or danger.

“Above all, he is not someone who thinks he is doing the nation a favour. He is grateful for the opportunity and I believe that he has all it takes to succeed. I am calling on the Federal Ministry of Sports Development, the NFF and Nigerians as a whole to support him to take the Super Eagles to brand-new heights.”

Bako, who holds a doctorate degree in development communication from the Ahmadu Bello University and was Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission between 1999 and 2002, says all hands must now be on deck to ensure victories in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin Republic on 7 June and 11 June respectively.

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“No doubt, the NFF got this one appointment right. Very much on point. Now, they should endeavour to give George all the support he needs to succeed in his task of qualifying Nigeria for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”

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