Daniel Amokachi

Daniel Amokachi burst onto the International football scene during the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Aged just 21, he scored in the group games against Bulgaria and Greece and attracted interest from clubs across Europe. Born into poverty in 1972, he did what other local children did and kicked around anything they could in order to play football and hone their ball skills. He was playing for Nigerian side, Ranchers Bees in 1990 when he was picked for the national team by coach Clemens Westerhof. He was a member of the Nigerian team that won the African Nations cup in 1994 and reached the knockout stages of the World Cup later that year. An Olympic Gold Medal winner in 1996, he was forced into retirement at the early age of 28. To this day, I’ve never met a fellow Everton fan that doesn’t have affection for the man we called “Amo”. This is his story, to Everton and beyond…

The backdrop

It’s January 1994 and after a run of six defeats in seven games for Everton under the stewardship of caretaker manager Jimmy Gabriel, A seven-year decline from Champions to final day relegation candidates is well underway. All that is required is a managerial appointment, misguided enough to seal the deal. It’s hard to sense the atmosphere that led to Mike Walker’s appointment at the time given what ultimately happened. Everton were drifting aimlessly around mid-table when Howard Kendall resigned over the refusal of the board to sanction a bid for Dion Dublin. A month and six defeats in seven games later alarm bells were ringing and Mike Walker entered Goodison.

Although a 6-2 win over a very poor Swindon side gave Walker the best possible start, it papered over the cracks in what was a team lacking confidence and direction. Four months later and the “great escape” on the last day of the season with a 3-2 win over Wimbledon closed the doors on a desperate season for the blues.

Walker had been chosen with the Everton tradition of attractive football at the forefront of the decision. Guiding Norwich City into 3rd place and a place in the UEFA Cup impressed many. The defeat of Bayern Munich in their own backyard impressed more. So much so that he was even considered as a replacement for Graham Taylor as England boss in some circles.

Fast forward to the end of August 1994 and with Tony Cottee on his way out of the club and early Walker signing Brett Angell proving to be a dud, something needed to happen quickly. The embarrassment of Brazilian Muller walking away from the club after agreeing to terms but forgetting he had to pay tax was still fresh in the memory. Taking a gamble on an unknown Nigerian striker was always going to be a risk. Maybe less of a risk given he scored the goal of the World Cup only two months earlier against Greece. In the game that qualified Nigeria for the knockout phase, he scored the second goal. Picking the ball up inside the Greek half, he rode two sliding tackles before unleashing a right foot 60 mph drive into the top right-hand corner. The football world began to take notice.

Enter “the Bull”

Amokachi had already created history when he had scored the first goal in the newly formed Champions League back in 1992 against CSKA Moscow, when with Club Brugge. Together with his World Cup exploits, he was accustomed to top level football. Terms agreed, a fee of £3 million was paid to Club Brugge and Daniel Amokachi was signed, having turned down Juventus, to become only the second black player in Everton history.

It was clear early on that Daniel, also known as “the Bull” would be a favourite with Everton fans, who gave him the nickname him “Amo”. Hard working, powerful, an eye for a goal and with a great right foot he was just what the blues needed to kick-start their stuttering season. He made an immediate impression. Wearing the #11 shirt, he scored on his home debut in a 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers and the future looked positive. The team, however, continued to struggle with their worst start to a season, without winning in any of their first 11 games.

In and out of the side during this period, fans took to his hard work and powerful runs, however, his weaknesses also came to the fore. He had a tendency to run around without apparent purpose, often out of position and seemed unpredictable at times. The pace of the Premier League often seemed to pass him by. There was always a chance when he got the ball, however, that he may do something special, with memories of the previous summers World Cup still fresh.

Enter Joe Royle

Mike Walker ultimately lost his job and Joe Royle took over. Amokachi despite appearing in Joe’s first game, the 2-0 victory over Liverpool, spent more time out of the team than in it. His most famous moment in a blue shirt is well known of course but the day he brought himself on as a substitute in the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs will never be forgotten. At the time it seemed to pass without controversy. I’m not sure how much those of us on the sidelines knew that Paul Rideout was being assessed before being taken off. One way or another, Daniel Amokachi managed to bring himself on with the game delicately poised at 2-1 for the blues. His two goals gave the scoreline the match deserved and it was later revealed the true extent of his “self-substitution”. Who will ever forget that trademark nodding head as the net bulged? Nobody cared about his substitution as, despite his very mixed start as an Evertonian, the fans were always behind him. He put a shift in and played with a smile on his face you see.

Four days later he scored both goals in Everton’s 2-0 win over high flying Newcastle and hope was resurrected that his time had come. Sadly, it was only a flash of genius in a season of inconsistency. Everton had hauled themselves off the bottom of the table and got themselves to the FA Cup Final with a strike force combination of Paul Rideout, Duncan Ferguson and Graham Stuart. There was little opportunity for an honest, enthusiastic but inconsistent Amokachi in those circumstances.

He did have one final high point in that season, coming on as a 69th-minute substitute for Anders Limpar in the FA Cup Final victory over Manchester United. He will forever be remembered by fans for his celebrations wearing a distinctive royal blue beret alongside Duncan Ferguson wearing his blue nose.

The 1995/96 season

Daniel played 25 games in the Premier League that season scoring six goals. A further goal was added when he scored the winning goal in the European Cup Winners Cup tie in Reykjavik. The problem was, he still wasn’t consistent enough. He missed chances and was very erratic at times. It must have frustrated the rest of the team, especially as he was so popular with fans and players alike. His last game was in a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at the end of the season. He had scored 14 goals in 42 games. Sadly, he left the club at the end of the season to join Turkish side Besiktas, but not before he added an Olympic Gold medal to his collection. Nigeria beating Argentina 3-2 in the final. Amo, of course, scored!

Besiktas and beyond

Amokachi stayed three years at Besiktas scoring 17 goals in 77 appearances. He continued to play for the Nigerian national team up until the World Cup in 1998 where he only made one appearance before he succumbed to a knee injury. Following Besiktas, in 1999 he was due to sign for 1860 Munich but failed his medical. This was to be a recurring theme from then on as he failed a medical at Tranmere Rovers and was released by French Division 2 side US Créteil-Lusitanos after a trial, due also to injury. He made one last attempt to resurrect his career with MLS side Colorado Rapids but injuries again closed the door on him. Ultimately, despite opinions from several surgeons, his cartilage in his knee had gone. Even modern advancements in surgical techniques couldn’t help him.

Amo had a Jet!

With being a professional footballer comes wealth. Even in the late 1990’s top division footballers, weekly wage in England was around £5,000-£10,000 per week. Amo was playing at Besiktas and by his own admission was on good money, but enough to have a jet?

It turns out that he was due to play an important match in Istanbul but was in Nigeria, with his mum who was sick. The President of Besiktas offered to send a jet over so that he could play. Amokachi duly arrived in Istanbul and Besiktas won. The young President obviously overjoyed at the victory offered Amo his own jet. He would be able to use it whenever he wanted, all he had to do was call and it would come and collect him. “Why not,” he thought and his name was passed to the airline and they discussed a deal. Amo paid his ‘own portion’ towards it and a weekly payment was set up. Unfortunately, with a jet comes huge bills. Even though he could afford it while he was playing and under contract, getting clearance to fly, flying to his current location, keeping it at an airport all cost money. Ultimately, he had to give it back when he stopped playing in the 2000/01 season.

Off the pitch

During his playing days, he kept himself very busy off the pitch. He was awarded a scholarship in 1990 to go and study Law in Texas. He left however after one year to sign for Club Brugge. Whilst he was playing for both Brugge and Everton he dabbled in the stock market and was also a model. It’s suggested he lost a lot of money in a stock market crash of 1998. He also met his Tunisian wife, Nadia at a modelling show in Paris, where she was also modelling. Married in 1995 they have twin sons and a daughter.

Since finishing playing football he has had spells coaching a number of Nigerian clubs including assistant manager of the Nigerian National team. His last managerial role was with Finnish club JS Hercules. He also currently runs business projects in Kaduna, Nigeria where he has set up a foundation to help the homeless and single mothers. He is also involved with sponsorship of Schools and Universities.

The Everton link refuses to go away

Amokachi’s twin sons are hoping to follow in their fathers’ footsteps in more ways than one. Kalim and Nazim are currently on the books of Besiktas, one a midfielder and the other a forward like his father. They intriguingly had an extended trial in 2009 at Everton’s academy as 13-year-olds but did not get taken on.

Memories of being at Everton

Amo returned to Everton in September 2017 and met up with a number of his old teammates. It was clear he still loved the club, describing it as “home”. He also subscribed to the “Once a blue always a blue” line saying it could never change and acknowledged a two-way affection with the fans. He went on to say that even though he only played two seasons for the blues he felt like he’d been there forever.

Their discussion inevitably surrounded the season Joe Royle took over and the run to the FA Cup Final. The incredible team spirit was in evidence and promoted by positivity in the manager Joe Royle who, when asked by the chairman whether Everton could get a point in his first game against Liverpool replied “I’m looking to win chairman”, which they did 2-0. Amokachi’s effervescence and personality lit up the dressing room and he would often dance before games to tunes such as “Jump around” by House of Pain. Sadly, being behind Paul Rideout and Duncan Ferguson in the pecking order, together with his inconsistency meant he only lasted two years on the pitch.

Everton, however, will clearly stay in his heart forever.