Yet another Barcelona college of excellence graduate makes good

AmunekeA LOT continues to be said of the quality of young players that come out of the La Masia talent factory, but aside Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique not many of the graduates of the Johan Cruff school of excellence have stamped their feet on the difficult terrain called coaching sector.

Pep Guardiola is the most popular Cruff pupil, as he has won all there is available in world football minus the FIFA World Cup. The late Tito Villanova, Frank Rijkaard (a Cruff pupil and son-in-law, who, however did not play for Bracelona) and Enrique are all acknowledged as purveyors of the Cruff philosophy.

However, there are others, who may not be as popular as the aforementioned quartet, who have also done one thing or another to signal their ability to perform at the big stage when the opportunities are presented to them.

In a recent report by Goal.com, Miguel Angel Nadal, who was one of the bright players in the Barcelona of the Cruff era, talked about Barca’s Luis Enrique, Paris Saint-Germain’s Laurent Blanc, Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola and Porto trainer, Julen Lopetegui, who were together at a time at the Catalan club. Now, enters Emmanuel Amuneke, the current FIFA U-17 World Cup wining coach, who also played in the famous Barcelona team of the 1990s.

Many pundits, including the FIFA Study Group, openly confessed their inability to decipher the pattern of football played by the Golden Eaglets. Even when comparing the victorious 2013 team with Amuneke’s lads, some analysts readily credit Manu Garba’s squad as being more of a team than the Nwakali-led Eaglets. But a little understanding of the Cruff philosophy will give better insight into what Nigeria did in Chile.

Guardiola came through the youth system at Barca, became club captain and spent over a decade at Camp Nou; current coach Luis Enrique moved from Real Madrid to Catalunya, where he played between 1996 and his retirement in 2004; former France defender Blanc spent a sole season in Catalunya; and Basque goalkeeper Lopetegui was around for three years spent mostly as a reserve.

Amuneke came through a rougher part trasversing Obanta United, Julius Berger, Zamalek of Egypt and Sporting Lisbon before landing in Barcelona.

In a recent photograph released by a Barcelona fan, one can see some of the finest players ever to strut their stuff in European football. They include Albert Ferrer, Oscar Garcia, Sergi Barjuan, Albert Celades, Pizzi, Enrique, Amuneke and Abelardo. There is also a young assistant coach called Jose Mourinho in the photo.

Miguel Angel Nadal, an uncle of tennis player, Rafa, played in that Barcelona team, where he also cut his managerial before moving on to Mallorca as the sporting director. So, he knows first hand the Barcelona set up.

He says: “I think Barcelona’s style and football philosophy hooks you. It’s a special philosophy, a way of understanding football, a very defined style. And perhaps that philosophy appeals and hooks you more than others because it is a style of football centred on the spectacle and on the importance of having the ball.”

The head coach at the club during Amuneke’s era was, incidentally, the late Bobby Robson, in his sole season in charge at the Catalan club, but Nadal believes the emergence of so many young managers is down to another man: Johan Cruyff.
“For us the biggest influence was the Cruyff brand,” he explained. “That change of philosophy that we still see today was brought about by Cruyff, first when he came as a player but mostly during his time as coach. The Cruyff brand is still evident at Barca now.”

According to Nadal, every new Barcelona player is hit by the unique atmosphere of the club, which represent more than a football club to the Catalunyans.

There is a distinct philosophy of football, which a player must imbibe if he wanted to be successful in Barcelona. It has been there since Cruff’s days as a player.
Cruff, a member of the great Dutch total football school, which he invented with Coach Rinus Michels in the 1970s, showed that good players can thrive in the game no matter their physical structure.

Many pundits, including the FIFA Study Group, openly confessed their inability to decipher the pattern of football played by the Golden Eaglets. Even when comparing the victorious 2013 team with Amuneke’s lads, some analysts readily credit Manu Garba’s squad as being more of a team than the Nwakali-led Eaglets. But a little understanding of the Cruff philosophy will give better insight into what Nigeria did in Chile.
“For Cruff, it was more about staying tight, being quick and trying to go forward than being good in the air,” right back, Albert Ferrer, who went on to play for Chelsea, said in a recent interview in FourFourTwo.

Every team, from the under-8s to Barça B, aped the senior side’s revolutionary 3-4-3 and desire to keep the ball.
“At the very least, Cruff installed our way of playing, an idea of continuity throughout the club,” says Eusebio, who was Barcelona B coach until February 2015. “I could feel his DNA in my team. Every player knew the system already. It penetrated every part of the club. The success of La Masia has proven him right. Every time a youngster reaches that group or the first team, it is 
a success that Johan is part of.”

Pep Guardiola is the most popular Cruff pupil, as he has won all there is available in world football minus the FIFA World Cup. The late Tito Villanova, Frank Rijkaard (a Cruff pupil and son-in-law, who, however did not play for Bracelona) and Enrique are all acknowledged as purveyors of the Cruff philosophy. However, there are others, who may not be as popular as the aforementioned quartet, who have also done one thing or another to signal their ability to perform at the big stage when the opportunities are presented to them.

Barcelona

Barcelona Coach, Luis Enrique (centre), rubbing Amuneke’s head before a game when they were still players of the Catalunya club.

In Chile, Kelechi Nwakali, a natural number 10, was deployed deeper with the mandate to help protect the defenders, as well as spray passes to the wingers, Chukwueze and Bamgboye and the sole striker, Osimhen.

The only dent on the team’s play in Chile was the 1-2 loss to Croatia, but some pundits explain as a result of a desperate team, which met a side that had already qualified for the second round and was, unfortunately, over confident in their ability to withstand any foe.

But the team banished such foolishness in their subsequent games and the result was the success that Nigerians are now celebrating.
Amuneke has achieved a height, which many past Nigerian youth coaches reached. The challenge now is in building a career that can take him to the big where his former colleagues now play.

Although he realises that his journey in the coaching world has just begun, the success story would only be written when he takes the right step up to the champions’ league.
“We wanted to make no mistakes but we lost the ball many times in the midfield in the first half. But I don’t want to complain because they are all kids. We changed some things in the second half and made some substitutes. That brought us more safety in our game.

We are thankful for everything. We wanted to bring the players to their dreams and we did it. Thanks for the support. We feel like we are at home. We have worked very hard for this success and we hope to continue.

The players will go home now but their journey is not over yet. Personally, I’m really happy. I have football in my blood, as a player and as a coach. This is what I want to pass to my players,” he told FIFA.Com after Monday’s defeat of Mali.

Amuneke has written his name in gold, albeit in the cadet category, but to join the likes of Guardiola, Blanc, Enrique and Rijkaard, he has to keep working hard and getting good results in whatever role the Nigeria Football Federation assigns to him after the U-17 World Cup celebrations.



4 Comments
  • Toba Emmanuel

    good write up

  • amanda saleeby

    Amunike is a hero,congrats,that name sounds like Biafran name

  • charlieakpeumoh

    Thanks indeed! Whoever wrote this article is a thorough sports writer. Indeed, just like the Nigerian Golden Eaglets have brought-back home to Nigeria, FIFA’s World football golds several times; he, with this article, has written a very golden article for all good lovers of the “hat-trick”-leather game. I have learnt a lot of infos from this single article. Thanks to the Guardian, for publishing this one!! But I will preserve my copy for posterity.

  • mahmoud omar

    We never forget that Emmanuel Emenike was a fantastic player in the Egyptian league with Zamalek club

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