Former Nigeria international Finidi George hopes to thrive in his first managerial role at two-time African champions Enyimba and repay the faith shown by the club’s board.
The 50-year-old retired from playing in 2004 after a 15-year career, which included winning the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations as well as three league titles and the 1995 European Champions League with Dutch giants Ajax.
As part of his coaching course, the Nigerian had his internship at Dutch minnows PEC Zwolle but George’s quest for a chance to coach at the top level has been rewarded with a two-year contract at eight-time Nigerian champions Enyimba.
“Enyimba is a sleeping giant and the club management is determined to take them back to the elite level – I also share in this ambition,” George told BBC Sport Africa.
“They’ve entrusted me with this project, so I am hungry for the challenge and hopefully give my best to repay the faith.
“The goal is to steer the club up and do better than before. We are going to work with the players and let them understand what it takes to compete at top level, and be consistent.”
Since his retirement from football in 2004, George has earned his Uefa A Coaching Licence which is one level below the highest qualification, the Pro Licence.
His previous coaching roles include director of international football at former club Real Betis and managed the youth team of his erstwhile Spanish side Real Mallorca in 2013.
“We all know traditionally that Nigerian players love to go forward, show their attacking power but we must try to get the right balance and not expose the team.
“We have to try to get the players focussed on discipline, tactics and freedom to enjoy their football without losing sight of our goal as a team,” said George, who won over 60 caps and featured at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.
He is determined to try and make Enyimba a force to be reckoned with on the continent once more and replicate past successes that saw the club win back-to-back African Champions League titles in 2003 and 2004.
But he is fully aware of the enormity of what lies ahead in reviving the People’s Elephant.
“Nothing good comes easy,” he explained. “It’s going to be a big challenge but we will put in more effort and get the boys to do a great job – get them fit, get a good formation so we can bring the best out of the players.
“The first season is to go for everything, compete strongly in every competition and see where that can take us.”
Latest ‘Golden generation’ manager
Despite being overlooked twice by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Finidi is still pursuing a long-term aim to manage his country.
Aware that success with Enyimba could open the doors with Nigeria, George is not getting ahead of himself as he prepares for his first competitive game against Senegal’s Diambars FC in the Caf Confederation Cup next month.
“Enyimba has given me the opportunity and I have to be focussed and do a great job here,” he added.
“I leave the future to decide itself because I am not a soothsayer. I will concentrate on my club, they’ve invested in me and they believe in me. I want to do a good job here and that’s all that matters now.”
George was part of the ‘golden generation’ of Nigerian football, playing alongside Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Emmanuel Amuneke, Sunday Oliseh and Daniel Amokachi among others.
The winger, who scored a spectacular goal against Greece at the 1994 World Cup, now follows in the footsteps of former teammates Austin Eguavoen, Samson Siasia, Amuneke and Amokachi by managing on the domestic scene.
He played in Nigeria for Calabar Rovers, Iwuanyanwu Nationale and shone at Sharks of Port Harcourt before moving to the Netherlands in 1993, and George believes now is the right time to return.
“After all that we learnt in Europe, we have to come home and contribute to the development and progress of our football,” he insisted.
“We can’t always wait for others to do things for us just by giving us the opportunity, we have to look for a chance ourselves.
“This is the best time for me to be back. Enyimba is a very big club in Nigeria and they’ve been looking to restore lost glory. I will do my best to take the club to where they belong.”
Oluwashina Okeleji Sports Writer, Nigeria