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Coach Ndubuisi Egbo Makes History in European League

Coach Ndubuisi Egbo Makes History by doing two things. He pulled out an Albanian professional league club from the cliff of relegation, And then, he led them to climb  a steep mountain and reach the zenith of victory. As the American news channel ESPN put it, “the Nigerian coach guided Albania’s KF Tirana to top flight triumph in their centenary year. … (He) has made history as the first African coach to lead a European team to a league title, and qualification for the UEFA Champions League — or any European competition, for that matter.”

For some inexplicable reason, Enugu appears to be unaware that a native son has performed a football coachng miracle in Europe. This feat is being talked about all over Africa. It is the story of Nigerian international, Ndubuisi Emmanuel Egbo, who makes history as the first African coach to win a European Local League and qualify his team for the first time for the playoffs of the UEFA Champions League. The story reads like a fairy tale, the stuff for which legends are made.

Not even Lion Building, the seat of power in Enugu, could muster the will to exploit this golden opportunity for positive narrative – a story that draws historical parralels!

There is a similarity in the story of Coach Ndubuisi Egbo and a Portuguese explorer named Vasco da Gama. da Gama is credited as the first European to reach India by sea, his trip being the first to link Europe to Asia by an ocean route. Ndubuisi Egbo, is no da Gama. His football exploration in Europe is nevertherless of historical significant.

His career took off as as a goalkeeper with NITEL Vasco da Gama FC in Enugu. From Enugu, he transferred to two other Clubs in Lagos (NEPA FC and Julius Berger FC), before relocating to Egypt as an international. He played for only one Club in Egypt, El Masry. In case you do not remember, El Masry is the same Club that prepared Enugu Rangers International for its eventual knock out with emphatic wins in this year’s CAF Club Competition.

Like the Portuguese, Egbo crossed over from Cairo in Africa to Albania in Europe, overflying the Mediterranean Sea and the country of Greece on a 6-hour flight to Tirana, the capital. The explorer da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, was not a native of Albania where Egbo migrated to on 1 July 2001 to play for KF Tirana. However, Albania lays claim to a bigger historical figure who also made a famous trip to India. And posted a greater, world-acclaimed impact.  That Albanian was the nun, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known to the rest of the world as Mother Teresa.

From Nkanu to the World

Nigeria’s Egbo, the Amurri native from Nkanu West of Enugu State signed on to play for Tirana. After 19 years of plying his trade as an international player and coach in both Egypt and Albania – the only two countries outside Nigeria that he worked -his place in African coaching history was secured.  

How a Nigerian Coach Made History in European Football – by ESPN

He took over a relegation bound KF Tirana and unbelievably shepherded it to win the 2020 league crown, posting an incredible string of 15 straight victories and one draw along the way! He is now celebrated all over Africa as a football voyager who has connected African coaching talent to football management in Europe.  It is no mean feat, the story of the stone which the builders rejected that turned out to become a cornerstone.

Born in Aba, Egbo was never selected as Nigeria’s first choice goalkeeper. He also did not represent his country beyond a couple of continental games in Africa. Today, however, he has become something of a folk hero in Egypt when they heard the news of his exploit in Europe. He is also considered a miracle worker in Albania for magically transforming a weak team to become a champion.

Journey to Fame

After leaving Julius Berger in Nigeria to sign on with Al Masry in July 1998 as first team goalie, he made the fateful trip to Tirana in 2001 and stayed with the Club until 2004 when he decided to return to his beloved Egyptian Club. He was in Egypt for four years, from 2004 before he headed back to Albania to join KF Bylis, another professional league club based in Ballsh, Mallakastër District, as first choice goalkeeper.

It would be correct to say that it took a stint in Albania for his organizational skills to be discovered and that the two clubs – Al Masry of Egypt and KF Bylis of Albania – have been central to his development as a player and a coach. His talents as a manager were however discovered in Europe when he went to play for Tirana. After he pulled off his gloves as goalkeeper, KF Bylis promptly retained him as an assistant coach. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and, not long after, he consolidated on his succeeding career by qualifying as a UEFA Certified Grade A coach.

His career as a coach took off in 2009, as an assistant manager with Bylis. He eventually rose from assistant manager to goalkeeping coach and from there to full manager of KF Bylis in 2013. The following year, his old club in Tirana came calling, and he was happy to downgrade as assistant manager at FK Tirana on 13 August 2014.

In the six-year period that he has worked for the Club, he has been a goalkeeping coach and a 3-time caretaker manager until December last year when the Club owners decided to make him full manager after firing their third manager in five years.

How Coach Ndubuisi Egbo made history

This was how the American sports channel, ESPN, captured the moment:

Egbo was asked to fill in, once again, on a three-game basis when yet another manager was fired, after a run of poor results left the club languishing in eighth place and contemplating the real threat of relegation.

His first game in charge was a derby against Partiziani last December, a team that Tirana had not beaten in six years.

“Everybody thought we were going to lose, like, 5-0,” Egbo recalled.

“We played at the national stadium, and it was a big occasion; the atmosphere was great, the stadium had just been renovated with new grass and all. It made me feel like I should go back to being a player again. So, I told my players they needed to show that they could play with the best, and win.”

Win they did, recording a 2-1 victory after a late goal; they also won the other two games under Egbo, and, the ship steadied, he was ready to hand over the reins to whomever the new coach would be.

The club had other ideas, however; Egbo was asked to stay on, and he accepted the position “after speaking with my family and my spiritual adviser.”

Divine guidance or not, Egbo guided the team to a 16-game unbeaten run, with just one draw, that took them from the relegation playoff positions to within touching distance of the title, nine points ahead of second-placed Kukesi.

The rest, as they say, is now history. Egbo is now looking forward to taking his team to the UEFA playoffs. To the big league

The goalkeeper that Nigeria needs

Coach Ndubuisi Egbo Makes History

“I have seen some recent Super Eagles games. Goalkeepers are not like football players. Give one an opportunity and start using him, just like they did with Enyeama, for me  the best goalkeeper Nigeria has produced. 

Akpeyi is a good goalkeeper. Nigeria, sometimes, don’t have patience. We need to have confidence in our goalkeepers. We should not crucify them when they make mistakes because they are human beings.

A striker can score one goal from 20 chances and become a hero while a goalkeeper can make 19 saves and concede a goal and he becomes a villain,” Egbo concluded.