Daniel Amokachi’s short but monumentally eventful career was full of firsts as well as honours and a few dramas along the way, IKENWA NNABUOGOR recalls those exciting moments..
Right from his days at Government College in Kaduna, Daniel ‘Da Bull’ Amokachi was destined for the top and there was no stopping the Kaduna-born striker.
Kaduna’s best youth club, Kaduna Kick & Die FC (KKD), began the development of this powerful striker, who would go on to rule in his generation.
“Da Bull” was still not yet done with his birthplace as Argentine coach Alex Dominguez took a huge chance on this youngster who was still in senior secondary school signing him on to the great Ranchers’ Bees FC, noted for producing national team greats like Ayo Ogunlana, Tajudeen Oyekanmi and Dahiru Sadi.
He was not only young and powerful, Amokachi was truly the most bullish as he bullied defenders to no end, combining well with attacking partner Abubakar Balarabe ‘Keegan’ and he was just 16 years plus.
Dominguez’s gamble on this previously unknown youngster coupled with his early exposure in the WAFU Cup and African Cup Winners Cup competitions caught the eye of Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof, who had just assigned the role following the Super Eagles Italia’ 90 World Cup qualifier ouster handed by arch-rivals, Cameroon in 1989.
Westerhof fell in love with Amokachi and made CAF history by handing the continent its first youngest ever player to grace the African Cup of Nations at Algiers’90.
A year earlier, Amokachi had convinced Westerhof he was the man to pair late Rashidi Yekini at the Ecowas Cup which Eagles won by overcoming Senegal 2-0 in the final with Amokachi netting one of the goals.
Yours truly also caught the ‘Da Bull’s bug during his days at Ranchers and I knew it was just a matter of time before he took his trade to Europe, the route that was seriously not smooth sailing for African players those days.
His Algiers’90 showing opened the doors to Europe for him when Belgian giants Club Brugge grabbed him later that year.
The West Flanders, Flemish-speaking city of Bruges will never forget Amokachi in their history for the amazing things he did in the blue half of the city.
Two Ebony Show Awards for emerging the Best African Player in Belgium, including the inaugural edition were some of the highlights of his great Belgian sojourn and also scoring the first-ever goal in the new format of the UEFA Champions League in 1992, combined to make his Belgian stay the most memorable before signing off in style.
Arriving at Everton with a huge three million pounds price tag on “Da Bull” was another massive challenge for Amokachi, but the forceful striker refused to slow down.
In England, he was nicknamed ‘Amo-Taxi’ by the British press which described the bull-strong frontman as a black London taxi big enough to carry two or three defenders along, was also one of talking points of his brief but seriously eventful Merseyside sojourn.
His major highlight was defying all odds to substitute himself in the crucial semi-final English FA Cup game against Spurs, scoring two goals in the process and helping his side advance to the final in the famous 4-1 win, and eventual earning himself a hero’s welcome by the Toffees’ faithful.
His manager Joe Royle, who took over shortly after Mike Walker, the manager who bought him from Belgium took a walk, was also ‘Amo-Taxi’ killjoy at Goodison Park who only had the Nigerian hit man on a bit part role, preferring the twin attacking pair of Duncan Ferguson and Paul Rideout.
Besiktas wasted no time in ending his troubles at Goodison Park by bringing him over to Turkey, where the league then was beginning to enjoy a commendable influx of foreigners.
Sadly, niggling knee injuries did not allow him prove how solid he was soon after leaving Besiktas in 1999. German side 1860 Munich and MLS side Colorado Rapids offered fresh starts, but injuries put paid to those opportunities and ultimately his career.
His direct-playing style, robustness, goals and mad goal-scoring celebrations would catch the eye of Barcelona and Real Madrid but the ugly rearing head of injuries denied him the chance of becoming the first African player to wear the colours of either of those two world great clubs.
One of the major misses in his career was not winning the African Player of the Year after coming third best thrice.
Take a bow “Da Bull” for the great memories you left in world football with his lovely hair-styles, dance steps and amazing goals.