Former Everton striker Daniel Amokachi remains a cult hero at the club. Adam Bate caught up with the Nigerian to discuss his memories of Merseyside, his hopes for his old club and why he is enjoying his coaching career in Finland… for now.
Amokachi only made 43 Premier League appearances for Everton but memories of the Nigerian forward linger on Merseyside. Upon his latest return to the country to play in the Star Sixes tournament in London, he enjoyed a predictably warm reception. “It is always good to come back home,” Amokachi tells Sky Sports.
“There are a lot of Everton fans who have been in touch on Twitter and they were there at the hotel too. It was good to see them. It was a lot of fun.”
Amokachi always had that sense of enjoyment in his game. The celebrations that greeted his goal in Nigeria’s opening game against China at the Star Sixes were reminiscent of his two efforts all those years ago at the 1994 World Cup – performances that persuaded Everton to pay £3m to Club Brugge to bring him to the Premier League that summer.
His first season at Goodison Park was a successful one. Famously, Amokachi brought himself on as a substitute in Everton’s FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham while Paul Rideout was off the pitch receiving treatment. “Daniel wandered onto the pitch, the fourth official held up the board, and that was it,” said manager Joe Royle afterwards.
Amokachi promptly scored twice and Everton went on to beat Manchester United in the final. It remains the club’s most recent major trophy win. “I know we have not won anything since 1995 but we have been in two finals,” says Amokachi. “That’s just football.”
With his twin sons both having had trials at Everton’s academy, the ties between the former player and club lasted long after his 1997 departure. Amokachi remains a fan. “Ronald Koeman has come in and the chairman is spending a lot of money to bring in quality players,” he adds. “Hopefully we can get into Europe and into the Champions League.”
Amokachi’s subsequent playing career took him to Turkey, the United States and back home to Nigeria. But perhaps the most surprising move has come since embarking upon his coaching career. He is currently working for Jalkapalloseura Hercules, a semi-professional outfit operating in Finland’s lower leagues.
It has been a challenging experience. At times, he has been paid little more than expenses, having to cope with an amateur approach that has seen players miss matches due to unusual reasons such as pre-booked holidays and friends’ weddings. Even the spectre of match-fixinghas haunted the league and the team. But Amokachi prefers to be positive.
“Things are good in Finland,” he says. “I have taken over the technical director role and left my coaching position there. Of course, it is semi-professional level so you just have to manage them and get the best out of them. But I am really enjoying it. The new role also helps me to be flexible and come over here too.”
Amokachi has spoken of his interest in the Nigeria national job in the past, having previously served as both assistant coach and interim boss. But could there also be an opportunity to revisit another passion of old and return to Everton? It would mean a reunion with ex-strike partner Duncan Ferguson, an unannounced attendee at his 1995 wedding in Tunisia.
Amokachi smiles at the prospect and he is not ruling anything out. “The big man is still there and it’s good to see him on the bench and making an impact with the young players,” he adds. “I definitely would like to come back too. It is all about timing. When the opportunity comes then why not? Life is a beautiful thing.”
Amokachi scored 13 goals in 44 international appearances for Nigeria