By Mazi Jaka
Emmanuel Egbo is a title winner. A Champions League veteran. And a trailblazer. The former Nigeria international goalkeeper still the only coach from his country to win a league title in Europe.
Egbo achieved that feat with FK Tirana, winning Albania’s 2019/20 Super Lig championship – and so also taking the club into the Champions League qualifiers. And even then, the journey didn’t end. Egbo, now 50, would guide Tirana past the first round before eventually losing narrowly to Red Star Belgrade in the second round of qualifying.
“Well, even for me I was surprised at the time to learn that I was the first Nigerian coach or manager to win a title in Europe,” Egbo, who has just taken charge of FC Prishtina in Kosovo, recalled with a smile to Tribalfootball.com, “because I was focused more on doing my job and winning for my team.
“But at home it was greeted very well! Everybody was calling me about this achievement back in Nigeria. I knew then that this could act as a motivation for other Nigerian coaches to work hard and break into Europe.
“I certainly received a lot of messages of congratulations back then.”
Three years on from lifting that Albanian title, Egbo has just taken charge of FC Prishtina. Egbo hoping his appointment a fortnight ago can help raise the profile of Nigerians in Europe.
By his own admission there is a concern about talent development in his home nation. The depth now available to Nigeria coach Jose Pereiro nothing like the players Egbo competed with 20 years ago.
A veteran of 12 caps with the Super Eagles and two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, Egbo admits it’s a struggle to name more than only handful of players capable of playing for Europe’s biggest clubs.
“During my time we had players playing for teams like Arsenal, PSG, Chelsea, etc. This also will impact on the performances of our national team. We have only two players like Osimhen and Boniface who are playing regularly and doing a great job with Napoli and Bayern Leverkusen.”
However, Egbo does talk positively about what he’s seen in terms of young goalkeeping talent in Nigeria. The former El-Masry and Julius Berger No1 confident in the potential of this generation of shot-stoppers. Though he does have advice for Peseiro.
“There are many good young goalkeepers and that’s the difficulty facing coaches to pin point one goalkeeper or the other. We have seen the in the past year or two they have used in the national team 3-4 goalkeepers in different matches and in my opinion its not a good thing.
“For me the goalkeeping department is not like the other departments where you can change players frequently. I think an opportunity should be given to one goalkeeper so he can gain experience playing for the national team. Because playing for the national team is different to playing for a club team. When you play for the national team you have on your shoulders the eyes of the entire population.”
Along with Albania and now Kosovo, Egbo also spent time in Saudi Arabia last year, where he took charge of First Division outfit Ohod Al-Medina. And after his time in Saudi, Egbo says the hype is real. The country’s football chiefs are putting in place everything needed to establish the Saudi Pro League as among the best competitions in the world.
He said, “They have there a great infrastructure, great stadiums with all the necessary requirements that players of a high level can go and thrive there.
“Regarding this aspect, everything is well organised because the Ministry of Sport are managing it. The Ministry of Sport helps the clubs and the league by financing them in different ways.
“I can say that in Asia the Saudi Pro League has surpassed China, Japan, etc and they are now the strongest league in the region.”
Egbo adds, “Also, we cannot forget the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo. This was a big step and opened the door for other big players to go and play there.”
And of course, now driving such big-name recruit for the SPL is Egbo’s countryman, Michael Emenalo. The former Chelsea and AS Monaco technical director now heading the SPL’s talent identification department.
Egbo admits he’s delighted seeing a fellow Nigerian in such a critical role: “Yes, he is from my country and he is a very experienced football executive. He has worked in many big clubs in Europe and now in Saudi Arabia he is doing the same thing. He’s there to improve the league.
“Saudi Arabia have done a good job hiring him due to his great experience and qualities. Yes I feel a great pride for him due to the fact he is from my country and working in a top league and already is doing a great job.”
And who knows? More trailblazing success with this latest venture in Kosovo could yet spark the interest of Emenalo and earn Egbo a return to Saudi in the not-too-distant future.