… Former Nigerian int’l makes history as first African to coach UCL side
… Says he won through Nigerian spirit
NIGERIAN coach who guided Albania’s KF Tirana to top flight triumph in their centenary year, Ndubuisi Egbo, 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 a team that has now won the Albanian league title 25 times — more than any other club in the country — Tirana being crowned champions again was a huge achievement and a relief, given they were nearly relegated the season prior.
Additionally, their triumph is unexpectedly resonating across Africa, and for good reason.
Egbo is still coming to terms with the achievement — especially given that he had taken over as manager with the side in perilous waters in late 2019.
“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. Many people from Nigeria, Egypt — where I played before — and other places have been reaching out. It’s unexplainable,” Egbo told newsmen.
But Egbo’s success might easily not have happened.
In 2014, the former Nigeria goalkeeper joined the club for whom he had played as goalkeeper trainer and assistant coach.
He was asked five times thereafter to step in on an interim basis when a manager was sacked upon taking the reins he took the team top of the league.
He declined previous offers to take the job on a full-time basis, saying he told them it is a big job, he would wait for the right time to get more experience.
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.
“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. Everybody thought we were going to lose, like, 5-0,” Egbo recalled.
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.
Egbo says he dug into his Nigerian roots to turn things around.