Over the years, the Africa- Cup of Nations has been the stage on which many players have been rewarded for showcasing their skills, with a move to a club where they had the opportunity to improve their careers, by playing at the highest level on a weekly basis. The case of Emmanuel Amunike as one of these players follows a script depicting great achievement, which frustratingly lacked in longevity, due to a cruel injury which belied the hugely talented Nigerian’s development.
As a 23-year-old striker, with a growing reputation for his goalscoring exploits with Egyptian side Zamalek, Amunike was relatively unknown on the international scene when he went to the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia as a member of Nigeria’s squad. However, this anonymity did not last for long, as he attained legendary status amongst his compatriots, by scoring both goals for the Super Eagles as they defeated Zambia 2-1 in the final of the competition, to win the championship for a second time.
Whilst these were Amunike’s only goals at the finals, they – combined with his performances at the World Cup in USA later that year, where he scored twice to help Nigeria to the last 16 – understandably raised his profile as a prodigious talent, with those in charge of Sporting Lisbon choosing to recognise this in the most complementing way. A contract offer to join their illustrious ranks in the summer of 1994, which Amunike duly accepted, before going on to be named African Player of the Year.
This was just reward for his fine international form which he reproduced at club level, to quickly establish himself as an important player for Sporting, with whom he won a Portuguese Cup and Portuguese Super Cup. His contribution to these successes and consistent high level of performance was such that, in December 1996, Barcelona lodged a successful bid of €3.6m to take Amunike to the Camp Nou.
However, following a productive initial spell in the first team, Amunike suffered a horrific knee injury in the pre-season of 1997 that would prevent him from making both any further impact for the Catalan giants and the Nigeria squad for the 1998 World Cup in France. Subsequently, he was released from Barcelona in the summer of 2000, but the severity of the knee injury he sustained three years earlier cruelly hampered his tenacious efforts to continue playing during spells with Albacete (Spain), Busan l’Cons (South Korea) and Al-Wahdat (Jordan). This eventually led to him ending his playing career whilst with the latter of these clubs at the age of 33 in 2004.
Since his retirement from playing, Amunike has remained heavily involved in the game, as a scout for Manchester United and coach for various clubs, including Ocean Boys FC of Nigeria who he is currently in charge of. Furthermore, Amunike set-up a football academy on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital Lagos in 2008, with the aim of developing young talented players who are capable of helping to re-establish the Super Eagles as the football force they were at the height of his own career.
As such, it is safe to say Amunike remains a highly influential figure in raising the reputation of football in Nigeria, just as he was 18 years ago when helping the country win the Africa Cup of Nations.