Amokachi: This is my life

AmokachiAt the Synagouge I saw Miracles but Did not Experience Any., •My Jet and Why I sold it, •My Link with the Abachas •What Jay-Jay did for me What to expect from the Eagles

How would you take it if you had fame, money and class but in sudden twist everything dissappears  and
you find yourself in overwhelming adversities?

Daniel Amokachi had so much money he even  owned a jet. He played soccer so well that he won many local and international laurels before the twist which interestingly he does not regret and, today, thanks God for all the challenges life has exposed him to.

In this interesting interview, he talks about those great moments he lived like Hollywood stars, his relationship with Sani Abacha, his experience at Joshua’ Synagouge and the current Super Eagles and their World Cup campaign. Amokachi is Eagles assistant coach.

In this interview Danny the bull as he was known in his playing days showed that he has bounced back from  adversity and he is now doing well. He is on the verge of completing a multi-million business project in his beloved Kaduna.

This is Amokachi’s life

After twelve years of retiring from football you still look very trim and fit. What have you been doing to keep fit?

When people tell you look good, you have to keep fit. I wasn’t just playing  football, I was also a model. As a model you should know what to eat and what not to eat.  As a sportsman you should always be fit so that when you look at yourself on the mirror you will like what you see.

what has life after football  been like, are you missing anything?

The truth is that I’ve never really sat down to think that I miss anything although   my football career was cut short when I was in my prime. But I don’t think I miss anything. I stopped playing professional football when I was 28 years which was sad because if I had continued, I would have contributed more to the growth of football.

The beautiful thing is that I never really missed anything because I achieved a lot from 1990 to early 2000 when I played active football. For every club that I played for I won championship. In Nigeria I was able to win three different cups (The Ecowas cup of Nations, Tunisia ‘94 Nations Cup and Gold medal with the Olympic team) so what else could I ask for. The only thing missing is the world cup which nobody in Nigeria has won yet.

I played and won several league titles. I  won the best African player in Europe in Belgium for two seasons. I was the first to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League and thats history because it’s  in the Guinness Book of record. I played for FC Brugge  then  moved to Everton and had a wonderful time. In Everton I won the FA cup .

I was playing football and modelling too for eight years. I played football professionally for about ten years.  Ten years after quitting,  people still remember me, the popularity is as if I’m still playing. That means I contributed a lot. That’s the beautiful thing that has made me not have any regrets. I believe so much in God, that’s why I also agree that it has been ordained for me to stop playing football at that time. After that my life still continues and I know the good Lord has been very good to me as you can see I’m living fine.
Listening to all you’ve said, are you sure you don’t miss anything?

Believe me, nothing. I don’t miss anything and that’s a grace from Heaven. Crisis comes but then it could also bounce back. I suffered an injury in 1998 World Cup prior to our first game. That same year someone that everyone  called my father passed on (The Late Abacha) that same year. I lost a lot of money in Indonesian stock market when their stock crashed in 1998.

Then I tried to continue in my football career but the injury wouldn’t let me.  I started having problems with my club. It made me lose money.  So I decided to refocus and get some rehab. I stayed in Europe for a year, spent another one year in America and came back to Europe. That period was very hectic. Like I said earlier, if you believe in God don’t always expect a rosy ground. Sometimes crisis could also come to wake you up when you’re becoming complacent and I think that was what happened to me.

So the crisis was a wake up call then?

Definitely. I was living like a star. I went to the best clubs in town, lived in the best houses, I was flying to places in a private jet and so on. It’s a life style that could make one forget where you are coming from. That’s why I said the crisis was a wake up call. I was from a very poor family here in Nigeria where we struggled to eat once a day.

Then,  all of a sudden I saw myself in that lifestyle and forgot my background.

You mentioned Abacha, what was your relationship with him?

When I mention Abacha, people think it’s because of football, No. My uncle was his ADC before he became the President(Head of State) and that was in 1982 when I was still in Primary six. After that I went to military school in Zaria and Abacha was posted there so both families had a very tight rapport and I was like a son to him.

This happened around 1984. So that was how my relationship with the Abacha’s started and “I would never sit down to say that I regret knowing the Abacha family.

So what influence did he have on you as a footballer?

Nothing, None because I was doing my own thing. Whenever I wore the green, white, green, jersey  I played from my heart. I played in that team because I deserved to be in that team,  not because of any influence. At that time also Nigeria was in crisis and under sanction. The whole world didn’t want anything to do with Nigeria.

But  football was the only thing pushing this country forward. So anybody in government would definitely support the team. Those in government then didn’t have another option than to give their support. Abacha too supported the team,  knowing that his son was contributing very well to the glory of the country.
You said you had to leave school because of football….

(Laughing) I left school twice because of football. The first time was after my common entrance which I passed to attend Government Secondary School Kaduna. Then in the  early 90s again, I left the University of Texas for football and I have no regrets.

Algiers 1990 was your first major outing, how would you describe the experience?

The good thing about our own generation of players was that we enjoyed football. Anybody who played football in that generation professionally or otherwise will agree that playing football was something we enjoyed doing.

Believe me, most of the players who went to  Algiers in 1990 just went there to play football. Probably we didn’t know the magnitude of the championship. We were just local, home-based players enjoying the game.

First we went to Amsterdam for camping. In our first friendly match we trashed them like 8-1 and the man who owned the team and even Westerhof  were shocked. Then the man said Ah we’ve not played the real team, we’ll have to play Ajax.  We beat Ajax 2-1 on their own ground. Again, Westerhof was pleased at what he was producing but was still shocked. He still appeared not convinced.   He said we’ll have to beat the two more top teams to convince him.

Two days before the game,  Rasheed Yekini came into join us and he scored the only two goals against PSV. So Westerhof built confidence in us from what he saw and made up his mind that he wasn’t taking professionals to Algiers from there. It was a real beautiful moment and when we got to Amsterdam, the professionals started coming in.

You know, then the professionals were demanding money to play for Nigeria. $10,000 for this player, $15,000 for that player etc. Westerhof did not want to bargain with them because he believed he already had a quality team. Again, he said the whole was wrong. According to him, for us to have beaten PSV and Ajax, he had confidence in us.

So he told the FA if you are giving Keshi 20,000 for example, Uche Okechukwu is also a central defender,  so give him 20,000 and so. FA knew that they couldn’t pay.  That was how Westerhof was able to change the attitude, the change things for Nigeria.

Before then Professionals just came in from anywhere and made bargains before playing.

After all said and done, he took just two professionals from Europe (Andrew Uwe and Ademola Adeshina). The first game he put Andrew and Ademola we were beaten 5-1, so, he said they scattered his team and went back his normal way without them. From there we played up to the final.

Let me take you back to Abacha, your relationship with the Abacha’s was a massive story in this country and there were stories that you had so much influence on coach. How true was that?

How could I have influenced my coach? If I did that,  then it was a good one because we were winning  matches. Again, we had Stephen Keshi who was a boss that all of us and even the government respected because he was an example of a leader and he still is. Keshi’s influence alone helped us to play good football. Believe me, I had no influence on the coach.

Another thing that influenced us in our time was the fact that we knew each other in and out so there was this bond that kept us together. Almost everybody reported to camp at the same time and on time too. We were always happy to jump into the next flight and come home. It wasn’t just about being patriotic but the love for the game. All of us had a fax machine in our homes to avoid the situation where your club will say they didn’t get the invitation.

If you didn’t come home on time, by the time you got to the Airport,  you would be told that so so players had passed here you would be jittery. The challenge was there so you had to play so well to get the green white green jersey. The competition was there.

I had no influence on the coach.  After all   I was on the bench for sometime before I got a chance to play in the National team.

Lets talk about your background now, are your parents still alive?

Yes my mum and dad are still alive but ageing now. We are seven in my house (two boys and five girls). And I have three kids from my Tunisian wife.

There were these stories about you losing a lot of money, your wife ran away, you couldn’t maintain your hair and so on. How true were they?

Yes stories. Whenever people see me and my wife they’re surprised my wife is right in my house in Kaduna. She’s always been with me and she’s the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me. The truth is that I don’t even deserve her because I’ve hurt her so many times, in so many ways but she’s always been there and she’s still my wife. My wife is a super model.”

You opened the Tunisian route to others like Tijani Babangida who also has a Tunisian wife…
I didn’t open any Tunisian route for him.  TJ and I have had a very good family relationship,  not even from football.

We all grew up in Kaduna, our families knew each other very well. I remember my wife came once with her sister and they got glued. It had nothing to do with me (when it’s love then nothing can stop it) and when you see the right woman, you’ll know.

Going from how I met my wife, if it wasn’t love then noting would have happened.

How did you meet her?

We met in Paris in one modeling show that we went for.  But it was a hi hi kind of meeting. We didn’t exchange numbers, nothing more and we left. We met again an Tunisia 94 when we came into the hotel and I went to the bar to get a bottle of water and there she was.

Do you still go to Tunisia?

Yes, but I’ve not been there in a while. Tunisia is home for me and my children.

What was it like for her when you played in Tunisia?

Nigeria generally is the flag bearer of Africa so everybody supports Nigeria.

What happened to your private jet?

The Jet came when my club was to play a very crucial match in Istanbul and I was in Nigeria to see my mum who was sick at the time. The president of the club tried all he could  to get me back so he had to send me a private jet which landed in Kaduna to come and pick me. After several clearance in different countries, we landed in Istanbul played the match and won.

The president of the club who was a very young man and my friend too asked me if I wanted to have one and I said why not. Then he promised to call his friends who ran airline business in America. He did and said to me ‘ you guys can discuss’.

I got in contact with them and we got talking. At the end of the day it was mine.

He paid?

We did our own portion.

I know it must have been expensive…

Yes. That was why I gave it back to the company as soon as I stopped playing football because it was like suicide. I wasn’t feeling it that much when I was making money.  At least,  I was sure my account would be credited on weekly basis but when it wasn’t coming as it used to, I had to give it back to them. Just to fly over a country to get clearance is money, to take care   of it is money,  to leave it overnight is money. Believe me everything about me is grace of God because if it wasn’t His grace I’ll stay without a dime. If I had left the plane, it would have been seized at the end of the day.

At what point did you give it back to them?

I gave it back to them when I realized I couldn’t continue in the year 2000 – 01 through a clean negotiation and everybody was happy.

Now your journey in Belgium, as an energetic and enthusiastic young man, how did you fit in Belgium?
We were just playing this game for the love of it, we didn’t care about the money. When they came for me I told Keshi about it and he advised me to go join them. Two clubs came. Westerhof said I should opt for Club Brugge because they were big and always the rival club to Anderlecht then.

So Westerhof was like a father to you….

Not just me but all of us. He went round the country to pick us from different places, and backgrounds. The level of discipline he instigated in us contributed to the success of not just people in the team but all the players of that generation.

When we finished the cup of Nations I was just sixteen years and in Europe you’re not allowed to live alone at that age. So they gave me   foster parents whom I stayed with till I was an adult.

When did you earn your first real pay?

In Belgium, I was about the second highest paid because I hit them like a storm. I was training and playing with their reserve in my first year. The second year we went to Holland for an under seventeen championship and I came back as the youngest most valuable player, the top scorer, scoring about fifteen goals in just one tournament. Two days after we came back the new coach at Belgium asked me to come for training.  I went and trained with two other players and a keeper where I was doing the shooting and scoring goals. After that the coach called me and said “young man,  you are playing tomorrow, no more benching for you.”

The next match was incredible as we won 5-1.  I scored four goals. From then I was scoring goals and we won the championship. The next season, they renewed my contract sharp sharp and when they gave me my money I picked a posh convertible car. The highest paid payer in my club (Belgium) was driving the same  car.

What was your relationship with Keshi like each time your   teams met?

Nothing, we all played but Keshi would jokingly warn me not to score against them( Laughing).
You said Westerhof made sure there was strong bond amongst the players, how was he able to achieve that?

Like I said before,  he didn’t only change the face of Nigerian football. He was part of the achievements we made in Europe. Then we stayed in camp together like students, we knew each other in and out, we were like brothers so that bond was there.

The generation we have now has changed. I was with Eguavoen in Egypt in the last cup of Nations before Ghana. The level of relationship and discipline I saw in the players was nothing compared to ours

You had a very tight relationship with the likes of Okocha, Taribo West and Kanu….

Of course Jay Jay is my main man in football. Before Jay Jay there was Jay (Emma Jay) All the Jays are my pals. Jay Jay is not just a friend but a brother and Taribo is another mad person that you cannot do without but Kanu is always the reserved one. You have to make him come out real. Kanu is the only surviving member of the team and the only face in that team who is respected. But let me tell you what I have never told anybody.

During  my last phase of rehabilitation , in Germany Jay Jay called me on phone to tell me that my bills had been taken care of (About 45,000 Dutch mark then before it was changed to Euro) which was huge money then. It was a surprise because I didn’t know how he   located  the hospital and paid the bill.

You know sometimes people don’t know what it means to be friends but Jay Jay showed me true friendship. And as friends you don’t need to swear at each other when you receive help so I never even called to thank him but I know it and appreciate him in my heart.

So what was your reaction to  the disagreement between Okocha and Etim Esin?

I never discussed it with him. The accusations were childish. Esim was doing his own thing, Okocha was doing his own thing and the media was busy hyping stories whether true or not.

There are things I could call Jay to talk about not that sort of thing.

So what are the kind of things you  called Jay to talk about in the past?
There are things that should be talked about not this type. I’m one person who doesn’t believe in he say/she say stuff.

There was a time you attended T.B. Joshua’s church, why did you stop?

Don’t forget that the Bible made us to understand that “a lot of people will come calling my name but they’re not mine.  They are also going to do a lot of miracles by calling my name but still they’re not mine”.

I don’t go to church because of miracle but when I went to Synagogue I did see miracle with my eyes but I never received any. The good thing was that I came out of that church knowing that Jesus exists.

Do you mean you got to now about Jesus Christ from the church?

I Could have learnt that from any other church but I went there seeking  miracles which I’ve watched in tapes, CDs and so on but I didn’t get any.

Was there any positive thing you got from Synagogue?

Judging from the life style I had in the past, for me to have Jesus Christ from there was a positive thing for me. And it was a turning point in my life. But you see when you’re desperate so many things can happen. I was even conned because I was desperate to treat my injury.

What do you mean when you said you were conned?

I was duped in Kaduna not in the Synagogue church. When I was still in Istanbul, I got a call from a friend who introduced me to another set of miracle workers. So I told him I would see them when I would be home.

(Laughing) It’s incredible the kind of gifts people have in this country. I came back and met these people, my experience with   them was amazing. If only our people could use their talents positively. They said they  knew about   my  injury and told me they could heal it.

I was happy because football was my life and without the leg, I couldn’t continue and I  said okay. They asked me to get a white handkerchief and one egg which I did. I bought them myself. Nobody made contact with them before getting there.

When I gave the handkerchief and egg to their leader  he asked me to hold them. He then told me to put the egg in the handkerchief and cover it. He ordered me to rub it on my knee and I was rubbing it until he said I should keep it on the floor.

He then asked me to squash the egg with my foot.  He said I should loose the handkerchief and when I did that the handkerchief was blood. There were fetish things there when he used a stick to open it. He said the small pieced of fetish things I saw were the type of things in my knee. I had to believe the nonsense he said because I bought the hanky and that I rubbed on my leg myself.

He told me he’s been praying for me but that God was  not happy with me. I got scared and asked him what I had done wrong.

And he said “Ah! You’ve not been paying your tithe.  I thought back myself and recalled  that I had never paid tithe.  I tell you my brother that was when he got me finally.

I told him I’ve never paid tithe but I feed a lot of people – Oh in Kaduna they know me for that because I would bring trailer of rice, Beans, maize and so on to distribute to people in Kaduna which I was known for. And I asked him if that wasn’t enough? He replied and said “yes, they knew me in Kaduna for those things  but that’s not tithe.” Giving 10% of your earnings to God is called tithe and I agreed and asked for the solution which he told me to pay my tithe immediately. I went to my house and started packing money, my wife rushed in to inquire where I was taking all that money to. I told her “Ah! Solution has come” I took 12 bundles of US dollars (120 thousand US dollars). You know when I calculated al the years I never paid tithe I saw Hundred and twenty thousand dollars as nothing. Believe me if I had more in the house I would taken all of them to them because it was still not up to the tithe . So I took $120,000 to them.

So how many were they?

It can’t be just him, he had syndicates. At about the next day my gateman came knocking on my window and said somebody wanted to see me. I said Ah! The only thing I wanted to see was death and not human being. By then I had realised that I’ve been duped.

My security man continued and said the person who wanted to see me  came to tell me that the people I was dealing  with were not genuine. At that point I came out.

When I met the man, he narrated his own ordeal to me too ( he was also duped). The man told me that some of them have  been caught and one of them mentioned that I’m also a victim. But that I should pretend Iwas not aware yet because they would still be in the neighbour hood (That is, the fake miracle workers).

So we went to the barracks and explained to the commander and who gave us some military intelligence  to work with and we caught them.

Did you recover the money.

We got some cars but they were of no use to me. We gave them away.

Now lets go back to the Super Eagles, do you see them qualifying for the World Cup?

Yes. There are two reasons why they should be there. First,  they were not in Germany. Secondly, the World Cup is being hosted in Africa, and there’s a big possibility that the cup will not leave Africa whether they like it or not.

They have to do everything possible to be there and possibly win the cup because in football everything is possible. We have Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire. At any day or time Cote d’Ivoire can win a World Cup. Same as  Nigeria, or Cameroun. So I believe that cup is not leaving Africa.

The Egyptians are not ruled out too but they have something we don’t have. Their players are all from the academy. Discipline wise,  they are sound so they are equally sound off pitch. I’m hinting on the black Africans. Sometimes we lose our concentration and deviate from what the coach wants.

In Korea/Japan we saw how the Senegalese turned big heads after getting beyond second round. We had similar problem in USA ‘94. What is wrong with Africans?

It’s because we cannot run away from our primitivity. Even as we’re talking, you and I may have exhibited a primitive act. That’s why I pulled out the black Africans from the whites. For example if an Egyptian team is camped in a particular place, you can hardly know it. They’ll come out when it’s time to train or eat but to see them roaming is difficult. But if a Nigerian or Cameroonian or Senegalese team is camping anywhere, everybody will know they’re there. I just think it’s a black thing. We know the goal in front of us but we don’t make life easy for us to achieve that goal.

How did you feel after the match at Maputo (Mozambique)?

I told Amodu that the critics will surely come. I personally damn critics because I’ve never flipped through any paper or magazine that has to do with football. This is because I don’t want to see or hear something I don’t like.

As a footballer, I know what I want that’s why some journalists refer to me as an arrogant person. And I must say that I’m comfortable that way. I also believe that if every footballer will have that attitude, they can achieve what they want. Critics, will always come. Show me anywhere in the world where a coach will play seven games, win six and draw one, then you are asking for his head. It’s not done anywhere as far as football is concerned.

I think it’s the name (Amodu) that people do not want there. A lot of people are lobbying for that same position and that’s the problem.

People only talk when we lose a match, nobody talks about the sacrifices we make to achieve good results. 
When a player is so much criticized, he has problems,  likewise the coach. If Amodu is not strong, he would have been crippled.. The bad thing that happened in Maputo is the way we played.  The game was crowded.

We know that, the boys know that and the whole world also saw it. I want to say here that we did not play well and the only solution now is to move forward.

Nobody is happy with the team right now. Our target now is to focus on the next game  and make sure we win. All he (Amodu) needs now is our support and not cutting his head for a foreign coach.

I was in Ghana when I was called to mention those who could handle the team. I mentioned Shaibu Amodu, Stephen Keshi and others. And they asked why I didn’t mention my name. I told them I believe those people could move the team forward. I felt they were better than me so why would I not go with them. I want the best for the country not myself.

Looking at the formation of the Maputo, it was like you played a (4-2-4,) formation or what happened?

The formation that day was (4,3,3,) which was a normal one. The only problem that day was,  instead of using a defensive midfielder, we used an attacker. That is why we ended up with Osaze, Uche, Martins, then Nsofor in a place a midfielder should be. But in other games that we’ve played, we used midfielder or Kanu Nwankwo in that position because he can distribute the ball very well and score at the same time.

So why didn’t you put him this time?

When you go into camp as a coach, the first thing to look out for is the strength of the  team. That day we noticed the strength was the attack. Believe me the way things were going on in camp that time, nobody would believe that match would end the way it did. It was really a bad day for us because the way we trained and the sacrifice we put in should have given the right result.

In Nigeria coaches are not given enough time and support to groom the players. We’ve gone to Maputu and all the players are back to their clubs. Few days before the next match they’ll all gather again and still we’ll have less time to prepare for Kenya.

The only thing that is certain now is that we have players who can win championship anywhere, any day.
We’re also going to invite Etuhu to join the team.

What’s this thing about you that makes women go crazy about you?

(Laughing) I’m a handsome guy you know.

I don’t think I can really explain it. It’s something that has put me into trouble so many times.

I have a very beautiful wife who also knows that so many eyes are on me. Not necessarily because of who I am but may be the charisma that I’ve got. Naturally,  there’s something in every person that is heaven sent and we don’t even know what it is.

I know that a lot of women admire me but the reason is what I don’t know. I only know that I’m a beautiful creature. When we go to club (myself and my wife), she just has to let other women take over me for that moment because she knows she is in charge. As a player, you cannot run away from mingling and dancing with women.

Are you also a professional in …?

I’m a married man and I don’t know what you’re talking about. As a professional footballer, I took my job very serious. I was always minding my own business, no distractions.

By Vanguard