Finidi George: The Super Eagles enigma

Finidi George: The Super Eagles enigma
Credit @thenff X

In 1991, a tale spread about new Super Eagles coach Finidi George following his fantastic debut for the Nigerian national team.

It is not a palatable tale, yet one that speaks volumes of factions and classes in the Super Eagles, with some players feeling more important than others based on longevity and self-appraised importance.

Clemens Westerhof had invited Finidi George to the national team for a CAF AFCON qualifier against Burkina Faso in Lagos. As is the norm, the home-based players were the first to arrive at the camp.

The tale goes that the late Stephen Keshi (the Big Boss) arrived late like other foreign-based players. Upon meeting Finidi George, Keshi asked him to carry his boots.

The tale is about 34 years old, but we couldn't help but roll back the years. On April 29, the NFF announced Finidi George as the new Super Eagles coach.

Who is Finidi George?

Finidi George as assistant coach
Credit @MascotKenechi X

Following the announcement of the employment of Finidi George as the new Super Eagles coach, tongues have been wagging.

Some people sang praises of the decision, others were sceptical at the choice, while some were indifferent.

The Enyimba gaffer has cut his teeth as a player and a coach. Despite being a neophyte in the coaching business, his teething career is laced with success.

Finidi George led Enyimba to their ninth league title in 2023. He was the assistant to Jose Peseiro at AFCON 2024, where the Super Eagles finished second following a loss in the final to the hosts Ivory Coast.

He played for several clubs at home and abroad. They include Calabar Rovers, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Sharks of Port Harcourt, Ajax, Real Betis, Mallorca and Ipswich Town.

It has been a long, torrid road to where he is today, but few can fault his accomplishments or deny him his flowers.

Despite his massive achievements for the country and various clubs, Finidi George remains an enigma, thanks to his quiet mien.

Perhaps humble and articulate best describes the man once regarded as arguably the best winger in the world, contending with David Beckham.

The game that brought Finidi George to national consciousness

Finidi George in action for the Super Eaglesa
Credit @NRTCNigeria X

Once again, we have to go back to the beginning – 1991. Though Finidi George's beginning dates back to before that year, his story would only make sense if we start from where he burst into the national limelight.

The Super Eagles were playing for a place at AFCON 1992. The last hurdle was Burkina Faso, with a tie in Lagos seemingly a piece of cake.

Westerhof had invited some of his trusted hands from AFCON 1990, like Ben Iroha, Uche Okechukwu, Friday Elahor and Aminu Abdul.

Finidi George was on the bench, yet to make his debut for the Super Eagles. At halftime, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of Nigeria, with the Burkinabes refusing to roll over.

Westerhof introduced Finidi George, and the rest, they say, is history. He changed the game's complexion by providing four pin-point assists to Nigeria's goal-king, Rashidi Yekini, who scored all to make it 6-1.

The former Ajax star was going to make the fifth assist, but Westerhof kept screaming that he should go for goal, and the winger obliged his coach and scored to make it 7-1.

It was a glorious debut – four assists and a goal. No Super Eagles player has matched that record till today.

All hail King George

Finidi George for Ajax
Photo by Icon Sport

The success against Burkina Faso was not the only contribution of Finidi George to the Super Eagles.

The man who regretted not being part of the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, cemented his place in the Super Eagles and formed a telepathic alliance with Yekini, such that it was almost a given the goals king would score off an assist from the winger.

In the push for Nigeria's first-ever World Cup qualification, Finidi George also played a massive role.

With several assists during the qualifiers, the former Sharks winger was part of the team that headed to Algeria seeking at least a point to pick a USA 94 slot.

Nigeria dreaded the North Africans and prayed that their final group game in the Desert Foxes enclave would have nothing at stake.

However, the Super Eagles needed a point, while the Algerians had nothing to lose but their pride.

Finidi George scored Nigeria's only goal as the game ended 1-1, and the Super Eagles made it to the World Cup.

Ironically, Keshi threw his body on the line to deny the Algerians a last-minute chance that would have knocked Nigeria out.

He also assisted Yekini for Nigeria's first World Cup goal in the 3-0 win over Bulgaria.

If we were to believe the tale told 34 years ago, Finidi George went from boot carrier to ticket bearer.

Achievements and honours

Finidi George, Nwakwo Kanu and Louis Van Gaal
Photo by Icon Sport

Following the Super Eagles World Cup qualification, the Enyimba gaffer joined Ajax straight from Sharks and had three trophy-laden seasons with the Dutch club.

There is a general belief that Westerhof had a hand in his movement to Ajax, which became his most successful European period.

He won the Eredivisie thrice (1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96). He played back-to-back UEFA Champions League finals, winning it in 1995. He also won the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup in 1995.

He had less successful stints at Real Betis, Mallorca and Ipswich Town (where he suffered relegation).

Finidi George also won the 1994 AFCON with the Super Eagles and has a silver when Nigeria/Ghana hosted in 2000 and two bronze medals from 1992 and 2002.

As a coach, Finidi George, who joined the Super Eagles as a home-based player, led Enyimba to their ninth league title in 2023.

The pain in the side

Finidi George had two brothers who were also footballers, Alari (Sharks, NNPC Warri & Udoji United) and Igeniwari.

Tragically, Igeniwari lost his life after he was hit by a stray bullet following a Cup game between his club, Enugu Rangers and Stationery Stores.

Igeniwari was also a member of the Golden Eaglets in the FIFA U-17 World Cup the year he died.

It is safe to say that Finidi George is well-invested in the Nigerian project. Call him Mr Super Eagles.

This article was most recently revised and updated 2 months ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter. Chooka has a passion for football and has been a fan of Enugu Rangers (over 30 years) and Real Madrid (Since 1996).