Amokachi in from the cold

OULU. — A black footballer’s road to the top coaching positions in Europe can be rocky — or icy, if you are former Everton and Nigeria striker Daniel Amokachi.

The former assistant coach of Nigeria’s national team, Amokachi is running a semi-professional team in Finland in what he calls a “sacrifice” for his future career.

It was a bitterly cold day near the end of January when Amokachi arrived in Oulu, just a two-hour drive south of the Arctic Circle, to take on his new job as head coach of second division team JS Hercules.

“I remember when I landed, it was minus 32 Celsius, after flying from a country that is 35 to 38 degrees (-25 and 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit),” Amokachi (43), who is known as “the Bull”, said, comparing the mercuries in his native Nigeria and in Oulu in northern Finland.The town’s outdoor football fields are currently covered in snow, so Amokachi ran morning training under a heated dome.

A handful of players took shots on goal on an artificial turf.

The rest of the squad were at their day jobs.

Amokachi’s new troop— just promoted to Finland’s second division — is entirely amateur.

While conditions in Oulu are not what the former football star is used to, Amokachi is determined to see out his year-long contract.“The most important thing (about this job) is the challenge. The challenge of being an African and you know why? Because we Africans, it’s very difficult to get jobs in Europe as coaches,” Amokachi explained.While black players from Africa, the Caribbean and South America dazzle on European pitches, Amokachi is one of the first blacks to take on coaching duties in Finland.The first, and so far only, African to coach a team in the Finnish premier division Veikkausliiga was Zambia’s Zeddy Saileti, who co-steered the league’s northernmost squad RoPS in Rovaniemi in 2009.But the team ended up embroiled in a game-fixing scandal and Saileti fled the country.

JS Hercules refused to let one scandal affect the reputation of a whole continent and hired their first Nigerian coach, Oladipupo Babalola, in 2010.With black coaches such a rarity in Europe, racism is widely suspected.

In American football, the National Football League established the Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coach positions.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has called for a similar practise to be adopted in England, but the idea has yet to find much support in Europe.

Amokachi said he encourages aspiring African coaches to forget about jobs in the English Premier League or German Bundesliga, and start out at smaller clubs.

“When you talk about discrimination, yes it’s there, but there’s another group who doesn’t care, they understand, they just want a coach.”

When the training session ended, Amokachi pulled on a thick, warm coat to walk down the snowy street to a nearby gym.

Kids on skates giggled and waved at him from inside an ice hockey rink.

In Finland, where ice hockey is the number one sport, salaries for second division footballers are a token amount.And his own financial conditions are a far cry from what he enjoyed during his playing career at Club Brugge in Belgium or when he was signed to Everton in 1994 for £3 million.

At Hercules he is the only salaried employee, and the team’s budget for the year is between 80 000 and 120 000 euros.

“Financially of course they cannot handle my wages so you have to sacrifice a lot. But at the same time they are giving me more in my coaching career also. It’s a platform and that’s what I need, that’s what we African coaches need,” he explained. — AFP.

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