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The first African coach to win a league title in Europe and a Champions League game, meet the Nigerian, Ndubuisi Egbo making history in Albania

   Ndubuisi Egbo is making a name for herself in Albania where he has led his side to a league title (Instagram/FT Tirana)
Ex-Nigeria internationals who have undergone their coaching courses often face the criticism that they only wait for national team jobs from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). In truth, this narrative is further fuelled with their rhetorics when they get to talk to the media.
Their constant fault-finding of a foreign manager for the Super Eagles and Super Falcons positions has xenophobia feel to it while an air of entitlement can be felt from how they think they automatically deserve a coaching job from the NFF because they played for Nigeria.

Only a few have chosen a different path. Former Golden Eaglets coach Emmanuel Amunike started his coaching career in Saudi Arabia before he got the U-17 job and has since coached a club in Sudan, the Tanzania national team and an Egyptian club.

Sunday Oliseh is another example. He started his coaching career as a sports director in Belgium and got a job in the Netherlands after his short and chaotic stint with the Super Eagles.

From all the available examples, Ndubuisi Egbo, a former Nigerian goalkeeper has found the most success.

The beginning
Ndubuisi Egbo (right) pictured here with Kanu Nwankwo had just 12 caps for the Super Eagles (Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)
Egbo started his career in Nigeria where he played for a host of clubs including NITEL VASCO Enugu, NEPA Lagos and Julius Berger before he moved to Egypt. He then played in South Africa before he moved to Albania where he has found a home since 2001 when he first joined TF Tirana.

He wasn’t a popular name during his days with the Super Eagles with just 12 appearances which came majorly in African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and FIFA World Cup qualifiers but he is also satisfied with how his international career with Nigeria went.

“Every player would want to play more for his country, but if you get the opportunity to serve your country once or twice or four or ten times, I’m satisfied. In a country of 200 million, it’s a milestone,” he told The SuperSub.

“During my time, we had very good goalkeepers that were playing in some of the biggest teams in Europe, while I was in Egypt. Ike Shorunmu was playing in Switzerland and after that, he went to Turkey so… Willy Opara made his name already in South Africa, winning the Africa Champions League with Orlando Pirates. I didn’t have that.”

Coaching career
Ndubuisi Egbo first joined TF Tirana in 2001 as a player and returned there as a goalkeeping coach before he became the coach  (Instagram/FT Tirana)
His coaching career started in Albania with Bylis, where he ended his playing career. His first stint in coaching didn’t go well as Bylis were relegated from the Albanian top-flight under his watch. In 2014, he joined another of his former side FT Tirana as a goalkeeping coach and later an assistant coach.

All through his time as goalkeeping coach and later an assistant coach, Egbo saw FT Tirana go through terrible patches. He was there when the club suffered their first relegation from the top flight in 2017 although they got back the following season.

Before he became head coach permanently, Egbo had been temporary coach of FT Tirana five times. He was once offered the job to take over permanently in 2015 which he rejected because he did not feel ready at the time.

It was different in December 2019 when he took over as interim coach again but after three wins in three games, including a win in the derby against Partizani-a first in six years-he accepted to take over permanently.

A 16-game unbeaten run followed which got them out of the relegation play-off spots to within a touching distance of the title. They did win the title, their 25th, to continue their domination in Albania.

But to understand the impact of Egbo-led success, this title win is their first since 2009 and it also came on the 100th anniversary of the club.

Aside from helping TF Tirana back to their place as the best side in Albania, Egbo also got himself into the record books as the first African coach to win a league title in Europe.

"I am still trying to let it sink in because I didn't know how huge the success of what God used us to do was until I started hearing I'm the first African coach to achieve this feat,” he told ESPN.

'One of them'
Ndubuisi Egbo is now a citizen of Albania and has a full grasp of the language and culture  (Instagram/FT Tirana)

This has further certified Egbo’s legendary status in Albania. Having been in the country since 2001, the 47-year-old has a full grasp of the language and culture which he said helped him as a coach.

“One of the factors that helped me to succeed is I know the culture. I’m one of them, I can speak the language fluently, so it makes it very much easier for me,” he told The SuperSub.

“When you are a foreigner and you speak your language, then they need to translate. It makes it more difficult for you to do your job perfectly because when you are the one explaining to the players, you explain directly what you want and then they can understand it immediately.

“When it goes through another, it can be misinterpreted. What you could have explained in a second, you need about five seconds to explain. Football is time and space; you have a fraction of a second to make a decision and if someone has to translate to you, you lose the time and space and it’s finished.”

Egbo is a huge fan of Jose Mourinho although he has admitted to being ‘Italian school’ influenced.

“He’s the kind of coach that can go to any team,” the 47-year-old told The SuperSub of Mourinho.

“He doesn’t care about the kind of player they have, he goes there to try to take a maximum 100% from every member of the team that he has. And that’s what exactly I and my staff tried to do here.”

Although TF Tirana caught the eyes with their explosiveness, it is the defensive solidity associated with the Italians that he built his side with.

“During our coaching courses, they sent Italian coaches to come give us the courses from Coverciano (the headquarters of the Italian Football Federation),” Egbo told The SuperSub.

“We had coaches that have coached the likes of (Antonio) Conte, (Roberto) Mancini. We learnt a lot from them.

“Albanian football is a mixture of Italian football and power. There are more tactical games; some teams, when they score one goal, the game is over.”

This has been the philosophy with which he built the title-winning side.

His team, built around a lone striker, plays with a lot of grit which allows them to dominate especially against teams down the table.

“That is one of the things that gave us the championship. When you play, especially the teams in the relegation zone, who are down, they are the most difficult teams to play,” he also told The SuperSub.

“When a team plays parking the bus behind, then it’s difficult to play against such a team because they tend to use the counterattack. But when you play the teams in the top, they play open football.

“So when playing teams in the bottom half, we approached them with maximum respect and motivation, and we won all. The team in second lost points against two of those teams. That is why we are champions. Every game for us is a final and that is what helped us achieve what we did.”

Egbo also said some of his influences come from the Nigerian coaches he worked with in the past.

“Coaches like Christian Chukwu and Joe Erico, one of the best coaches I have gone through in my career, who taught me more than just about football. And his lessons got me to where I am today,” he said to ESPN.
Champions League record
Ndubuisi Egbo has made Champions League history as an African coach but is hoping for more records in the competition (Instagram/FT Tirana)
Ndubuisi Egbo has made Champions League history as an African coach but is hoping for more records in the competition (Instagram/FT Tirana)
On Wednesday, August 19, 2020, he made history again by becoming the first African coach to win a Champions League game. TF Tirana beat Georgia’s Dinamo Tbilisi 2-0 away in the first qualifying round to progress to the next round where they will face Red Star Belgrade.
He’s eyeing more records and hopes to lead TF Tirana to the group stage.
“First of all, our objective is to reach the group stage, and from there, we would set another objective for ourselves," Egbo said to ESPN.

"Because no Albanian team has been able to do it. So we are expecting that we can go into the group stage. That would be a huge achievement for an Albanian team."

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