Finidi, Cry No More

Drenched in tears invisible since the passage of younger brother, Igeniwari, new Super Eagles coach, Finidi George, deserves honours for believing in self and country. This journey to the plum job was full of twists, turns, bruises and blood.

Igeniwari died on September 9, 1995, playing for Enugu Rangers. It was in Ibadan following their 1-0 victory over Stationary Stores, in a Challenge Cup game. He was part of the Golden Eaglets squad to the Ecuador ’95 FIFA Under 17 Championships. That was the year Finidi won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax.

From ecstasy, the George family went into agony. The trauma was compounded because till date, there is no official pronouncement on who killed Igeniwari. Twice, Finidi flew back home from Amsterdam but was not allowed to see his brother’s  body, by the police.

Some of us thought the bullet that killed him came from Stores supporters who went wild after the referee awarded Rangers a penalty in the 87th minute. The result was a 1-0 victory for the Flying Antelopes. However, Adetilewa Adebajo, one of the owners of the Lagos club argues otherwise.

He wrote: “The bullet that killed Igeniwari, was allegedly fired by the Aide De Camp (ADC) to a Military Administrator, whose car was coming from behind the Rangers bus. It’s movement had been blocked by the throng of supporters (Rangers and Stores supporters), all trying to exit the stadium.”

According to Adebajo,”To disperse the supporters, the ADC came out of the car, in an attempt to fire into the air but his gun discharged half way up. Igeniwari was seated at the rear of the  bus and unfortunately, took the bullet. NFF banned Stores as a scape goat.”

Adebajo admitted that he was not at the stadium but as a stakeholder, got information from those who should know. Police investigations did not yield any official statement. NFF later unbanned Stores after much pressure.

There is also another version that blames the Police for the tragedy. “The police used live ammunition to control the crowd. More than one person died although it was reported that only Igeniwari died.” The painful part was that Finidi could not grace his brother’s funeral.

It has been a hard road to the top. Finidi’s Eagles debut was sweet and sour. He scored the last goal, three minutes to time in the 7-1 demolition of Etalons of Burkina Faso. That was the day the Eagles cut their long pants because an NFF official forgot to bring their shorts to Sportscity.

Finidi came in for Austin Eguavoen. The game cost NFF chairman, Yusuf Ali, his job. Secretary General, Patrick Okpomo, resigned.

The Burkinabes who got a 1-1 result in Ouagadougou earlier, were taunted as ‘Burkina Suffer’ by Nigerian fans.

From that first cap on July 27, 1991, Clemens Westerhof stuck to Finidi. It was no surprise that Ajax snapped him in 1993. Until the winger moved to Real Betis in 1996, Ajax remained Dutch champions, three times consecutively. He also played for Mallorca and Ipswich.

Finidi scored the goal that took the Eagles to their first World Cup, USA 1994. His 20th minute strike in Algeria lasted for 70 minutes before the hosts equalised. A 1-1 ending was perfect. And he graced the Mundial twice, from America to France.

This same star was denied a third World Cup opportunity as Vice Captain to Sunday Oliseh.

After losing to Senegal in the semis of the Mali 2002 African Nations Cup, the NFF felt the captain was a bad influence on the team with what was seen as little respect for government officials. Coach Shuaibu Amodu was sacked and replaced by Adegboye Onigbinde who overhauled the team to Korea/Japan 2002.

Finidi would always prove himself. While playing for Calabar Rovers against ACB in the Nigerian league, he got the winning goal three minutes to the final whistle. Rovers Chairman, Rowland Obu, had asked for the player’s substitution but the coach refused.

From Government Comprehensive Secondary School, Borokiri, Finidi joined Agip in 1985. Two years later he crossed over to NNPC, Port Harcourt. After one season, Sharks grabbed him in 1988.

I met Finidi for the first time in 1990. He was one of the Local Leaguers kept busy at the Eagles’ Otta Farm Camp of Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo, by coach Tunde Disu, under the supervision of Westerhof.

The Sharks player always moved around with team mates Eson Osagie and Fubara Owunaro. Goddy Eke and Amir Angwe, were also there.

This experience will help him in managing the Super Eagles. As coach of Enyimba, Finidi understands the Nigerian Premier League better than his European predecessors who chose to operate from overseas.

Finito is not the noisy type but will brook no indiscipline. He has more trophies in his room, than any player under his charge – African Nations Cup.

The Toyota World Championships Cup. UEFA Super Cup and Champions League. Double World Cup Appearance.

Perhaps, Igeniwari would have done well outside Africa like his Ecuador ’95 contemporaries, Stephen Appiah, Tim Howard, Harry Kewell, Shinji Ono, Brett Emerton and Junichi Inamoto. Ecuador highlighted some football families – Amuneke Kingsley, Yobo Albert, Oruma Johnson and Igwilo James. Finidi still has elder brother, Alari, who also played good soccer, around. The Kerekese are proud of yet another son, after giving Nigeria Adokiye Amiesimaka and Richard Owubokiri. For a man who never turned his back on Nigeria, this is his time to shine.

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