Sunday, 1st October 2023

What made Finidi George’s career so special?

When it comes to Nigerian footballers, one name immediately comes to mind: Finidi George.

Nigerian Football PHOTO: Pixabay

When it comes to Nigerian footballers, one name immediately comes to mind: Finidi George.

George came into the spotlight back in the early 1990s as a handsome young winger. 1994 was the first time that Nigeria had ever qualified for the World Cup, so it was the first time the world had really set eyes on this 23-year-old Port Harcourt boy. He was paired up with Emmanuel Amuneke, and between the two of them, they formed a fierce partnership on the wings.

Originally, he was called up as a central midfielder by then Sharks FC coach Clemens Westerhof. However, when he arrived in the team, they had second thoughts. Friday Ekpo, his senior teammate, suggested he had a go at playing on the outside right wing. Ekpo would supply the balls, George would bring his speed.


Life After the Sharks

Eventually, Finidi George went on to play for Dutch footballing giants Ajax, but before that, he was spotted by Heartland, a Nigerian team then known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale. They went on to win the league, cementing George’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

In 1993, a down-on-it’s luck Ajax were on the hunt for something special, an undiscovered gem in the footballing treasure box. They did not have the budget for big name stars, and instead, wanted someone who could bolster the team on a shoestring budget. Finidi George was that sparkling gem, that Louis Van Gaal wanted so much that he paid his £3000 transfer fee out of his own pocket.

It was worth the risk.

The team grew form strength to strength, going on to defeat current champions AC Milan in the 1995 UEFA Champions League and getting to the finals in 1996. The Nigerian superstar made more than 80 appearances for Ajax, and as yet is one of only a handful of Nigerian footballers to hold a Champions League winning medal. Not only did Finidi George win the Champions League with Ajax, but the side also went on to win three consecutive Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Super Cups.

In 1996, his exploits caught the attention of some of the European big boys, including Real Madrid. George wanted to play in Spain, eventually being signed by Real Betis. For a while, success was in his hands, with George tallying up double figures of goals in his four years there. However, by 2000, the side was relegated, signalling the start of the end of his career in Spain. He moved to England, where he played for Ipswich Town for several seasons, before retiring from the beautiful game in 2003.

Representing his country

It did not take long for his home country to notice his supreme talent after that first sighting back at Sharks FC. and sign him up for the national team. On his first appearance, he scored and set up three assists for the main striker, which only furthered his reputation as the new legend of Nigeria. In 1994, after their first world cup appearance, Nigeria became seen as someone to watch out for in the footballing a world – a new powerhouse. They faced some incredibly tough competition in their group, including Diego Maradona’s Argentine side. But, before they could conquer the world, they had to conquer the continent. This was no problem to a team with George on its side – they beat Zambia in the final.

It lifted Nigeria up from being a country who had never been associated as a footballing country to one that to watch out for. It meant that people were sitting up and paying attention and placing bets – and still are. If you’re from Nigeria, you can place your bets here.

The Peeing Dog

Ask any self-respecting 1990’s football fan about Finidi George, and they will no doubt allude to his Peeing Dog action. In the 1994 World Cup, in a game against Greece, George scored and proceeded to mimic a urinating dog as a celebratory action!

Finidi George is a story of a boy becoming a household footballing name, almost by accident. Would he have been as successful if he had gone on to play central midfield? Who knows?