Blast from the Past no.30: Daniel Amokachi

Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…

A cursory glance at the stats reveals that Daniel Amokachi’s Everton career was a letdown. Two seasons, 14 goals and – when he left Merseyside for Besiktas in 1996 - a hefty loss on the £3m the Toffees paid for him following his misleadingly explosive displays at the USA 1994 World Cup.

But none of this matters. Even if Amokachi had scored only two goals, left on a free transfer and drawn a comedy penis on the Dixie Dean statue on his way out of Goodison Park, he would still have departed a hero.

Everyone who watched USA ‘94 wanted to sign Amokachi – the 21-year-old Nigerian forward nicknamed “the bull” who demolished the world’s defences like the proverbial farmyard animal in a shop full of expensive crockery as the Super Eagles dazzled America’s slightly confused soccer audiences - but only one person could, and that piece of good fortune fell to the serene, silver-haired Everton manager Mike Walker.

Three months later, Walker was sacked with a win ratio of 17.14 per cent and Amokachi was consigned to the subs’ bench. As new boss Joe Royle guided the side towards Premiership safety, the striker remained on the margins – an expensive flop doomed to an inconsequential role in Toffees history.

It was from within this funk that Amokachi observed the first 71 minutes of Everton’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham at Elland Road. The Blues were rank outsiders against a Jurgen-Klinsmann inspired Spurs team that seemed destined for Wembley, having initially been banned from the tournament for financial irregularities, and Amokachi had taken up his familiar place on the bench.

But fate had another role for him.

With the game finely poised at 2-1 to Everton, and Spurs in the ascendancy having just pulled a goal back through a Klinsmann penalty, Blues striker Paul Rideout went down injured. While he was receiving treatment on the touchline, Amokachi ambled onto the pitch as his replacement.

There were a couple of issues with this. Firstly, Everton’s physio had just given Rideout the nod to continue playing and secondly, Royle - never the most flamboyant of managers – had no inclination to bring on a wayward striker while his team was under the cosh, especially one who hadn’t scored for the club since his home debut seven months earlier.

But Amokachi had sensed an opportunity. Once the fourth official had raised the substitution board and he had entered the field of play, Royle was powerless to stop the Nigerian potentially ruining Everton’s biggest game in years - as an exasperated flap of the manager’s arms on the touchline testified. Without a doubt, Amokachi’s self-substitution was one of the most audacious and irresponsible acts in FA Cup history.

It goes without saying that the striker found the net not just once, but twice – tripling his goal tally in English football within 20 mad minutes as the Toffees triumphed 4-1.

And that’s why today, 21 years later, nothing else he could ever do matters.

“Decides to bring himself on. Scores two goals. A huge grin and a nodding head,” was how one fan on the Grand Old Team site recalled Amokachi’s moment of glory - which came complete with an idiosyncratic goal celebration.

“All the talk about it being 'Spurs’ year’ and the absolute media love fest for them and Klinsmann just made it a whole lot sweeter,” beamed a fellow Toffee.

“I have a recollection of looking at him running on, thinking I’m not sure you’re meant to do that and Royle realising it was too late to stop him. And then enormous elation at what came next. Forever a cult hero. Remember nothing else about his career,” said another.

As majestic as that occasion was, it’s a shame that the rest of Amokachi’s achievements seem to have been forgotten.

Aside from his success at USA '94, where he scored twice as Nigeria topped their group before a narrow knockout defeat by Italy, Amokachi also netted for the Super Eagles in their 1996 Olympic gold medal victory against Argentina.

Even more impressively, he scored the first ever Champions League goal - a 17th-minute strike for Club Brugge against CSKA Moscow in 1992. That’s one record Lionel Messi can never break.

Amokachi also somehow found the time to become a qualified lawyer, marry a supermodel and carve out a secondary career as a male model - which it seems was mainly for the benefit of his army of female fans.

“I know that a lot of women admire me but the reason I don’t know. I only know that I’m a beautiful creature. As a player, you cannot run away from mingling and dancing with women,” Amokachi once said.

At the peak of his powers he flew to games in a private jet, an excess that ended when he lost millions in the Indonesian stock market crash of 1998.

He scored a few more goals for Everton too, including a brace against Newcastle five days after his cup semi-final heroics, plus a last-minute winner in a Cup Winners’ Cup match in Reykjavik. But by that point, Amokachi was only getting a game because first-choice striker Duncan Ferguson was in prison for headbutting someone.

Overall, Amokachi’s bombastic pledged to Shoot magazine when they asked him on signing if he hoped to emulate club legend Dean - “60 goals in a season? No problem!” - never quite came to fruition.

But Evertonians’ love for him is just as unconditional, as demonstrated by the time they mobbed him in streets outside Wembley Stadium before the 2009 FA Cup final. He is also still credited for “breaking barriers” after becoming the first black player of his generation to sign for the club.

“Those semi-final goals will always ensure he’s got a place in our hearts,” concluded one Everton fan.

“Even though he did his best to miss them,” pointed out another.

But what Amokachi’s story shows us is that football heroes are not only made through consistency and good stats. The football fan experience is not defined by the weekly grind, but by a handful of moments you will never forget. Sometimes, a player only has to create one of those to become a legend.

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