Finidi George: Wing Wonder

Finidi George: Wing Wonder

Player Profile: Finidi George

Date of Birth: 15/4/1971

Height: 1.91 m

Position: Winger

National Team: Nigeria

International Caps: 62

International Goals: 6

Club Career

Finidi George never had a problem with timing – his crosses, famous for finding the right man at the right time, are proof of that. That timing was visible off the field too. Finidi began his career at precisely the right time. He was part of the early wave of African footballers who not only moved to top European leagues but showed everyone that they belonged there.

After spending the early part of his career playing for various Nigerian clubs, Finidi arrived at Dutch giants Ajax alongside compatriot Nwankwo Kanu in 1993. The duo would have a memorable spell at the club. Finidi slotted straight into the starting eleven shortly and scored four goals in his debut season. His impact was plain to see as Ajax ended their four-year title drought and won only their second title in nine years. 

With Finidi, Kanu and a group of promising Dutch youngsters including Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids, manager Louis van Gaal had an immensely talented group of players at his disposal. Ajax would prove unbeatable during Finidi’s stay in the Netherlands. They would win the next two league titles as well and finished the 1994-95 season unbeaten.

However, Finidi’s most significant achievement at Ajax came when he was part of the team that won the Champions League in 1995. He started the final against AC Milan, and Ajax went on to win the match 1-0. Finidi and Kanu became the first-ever Africans to win the Champions League.

The next season, he had the chance to repeat that feat with Ajax marching to the final once again. The Nigerian started the final once again, but this time, disappointment was in store as Ajax lost the final to Juventus on penalties.

In 1996, Finidi’s exploits at Ajax had some of Europe’s big guns racing for his signature. At one point, it appeared that La Liga giants Real Madrid would win the race for his signature with Finidi admitting later that he was close to Los Blancos. In the end, he got his move to Spain but with a different Real — it was Real Betis who finally brought him to Spain.

The Nigerian had had an impressive stint with the Spanish side, taking his goals tally to double figures with every season he spent with Betis. His first year was a success with Betis finishing fourth in the league. However, by the end of his time there in 2000, Betis had suffered relegation. Finidi stayed in Spain for one more year with RCD Mallorca before moving to England.

It was Ipswich Town who won the race for his signature and Finidi’s move raised the hopes of many fans. The season before, Ipswich had finished fifth in their first season back in the league, and the expectation was that they would kick on from there. However, he did not have a good season, a fact that he would later blame on a string of injuries. Just like at Betis, Finidi suffered relegation with Ipswich in 2003. He had one more stint at Mallorca, helping them finish eleventh in the league and after the 2003-04 season, he hung up his boots.

International Career

Finidi George is regarded as one of the greatest players ever to play for Nigeria and represented the Super Eagles in two World Cups. He made his debut for his country in 1991 when he was still an unknown youngster playing in the Nigerian league. His first international match was quite the memorable one with Nigeria defeating Burkina Faso 7-1 in an African Cup of Nations qualifier. In the 1992 edition of that tournament, Finidi was part of the Nigeria squad that finished in third place.

However, he had a much more memorable outing two years later as Nigeria triumphed in the 1994 tournament. After finishing second in their group and beating Zaire in the quarter-finals, Nigeria faced rivals Ivory Coast in the semis. After finishing 2-2 in regular time, the match went to penalties and Finidi converted the first penalty for Nigeria. They would go on to win the shootout 4-2 and then beat Zambia 2-1 in the final.

Finidi never won the African Cup of Nations again but went pretty close on a couple of occasions. He was a member of the Nigeria squad that finished second in 2000 and then, third in 2002.

The 1994 World Cup was a memorable tournament for Finidi and Nigeria. After being slotted into a tough group alongside Diego Maradona’s Argentina, eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria, and Greece, Nigeria stunned everyone by topping the group. They lost a tightly-fought encounter to Argentina and then beat both Bulgaria and Greece. Finidi scored a magnificent lobbed effort in their last group game against Greece, which confirmed their status as group winners. After scoring, he celebrated by imitating a peeing dog, a celebration which would be part of the World Cup highlight reels for years to come.

Unfortunately for Nigeria, they ran into eventual finalists Italy in the Round of 16. Although they were able to stretch Roberto Baggio and co into extra time, the Italians won thanks to a 101st-minute goal, sending Nigeria out of the World Cup.

Finidi was part of Nigeria’s 1998 World Cup squad as well. They once again found themselves in a difficult group alongside Spain, Paraguay and Bulgaria. As was the case four years ago, Finidi’s team ended up finishing top of their group thanks to victories over Spain and Bulgaria. But once again, they lost their Round of 16 fixture against Denmark.

By the time the 2002 World Cup came along, Finidi was approaching the end of his career and announced his intentions to quit after the World Cup. However, he did not end up making the Nigerian squad for the tournament.

Where is Finidi George now?

After his playing career, Finidi acquired his coaching badges. His first administrative job was the Director of International Football at Real Betis. He then spent a brief period as a youth coach with Mallorca. Despite reports that he was being considered to take over one of Nigeria’s youth teams nothing has come to fruition so far. Finidi has also expressed interest in coaching clubs in his homeland if the opportunity arises.

 Did you know?

 – Finidi’s parents had high hopes for their son. His name in Nigeria apparently means ‘future full of sun’.

– Football runs in Finidi’s family with two of his 11 brothers also going on to become professional footballers. However, one of them — Iginaware George — was shot dead during a match by unknown assailants.

 – Finidi always knew he was going to become a winger. From a young age, he would practice crossing the ball and hitting specific targets to improve his skills.