Finidi wants to follow in De Boer’s footsteps

Finidi wants to follow in De Boer’s footsteps

Twenty years after his debut at Ajax, Finidi George is back in the Netherlands. The 41 year old Nigerian, who stole many hearts in Amsterdam between 1993 and 1996, is following a coaching course and is doing an internship at PEC Zwolle.

“I’m doing well”, says George in good Dutch. “I haven’t spoken Dutch in sixteen years, but I still understand it. Speaking is another story. Fortunately everyone here speaks English, so it’s not hard to communicate”, says the former right winger, who has been living in Mallorca since 2000. “I had a few great years there after my career, when I mostly lay around at the beach and barely thought about football at all”, laughs the former player from, among others, Real Betis, RDC Mallorca and Ipswich Town, exposing his lovely white teeth. “Now, I want to be involved again in football and I’m trying to complete the course.”

Interestingly enough, it’s his former team mate Frank de Boer who was unwittingly at the root of George’s potential career as a coach. “I watch a lot of football on tv in Mallorca. When I saw De Boer as a coach, it was an extra motivation for me to do the course. In addition to that, several former team mates of mine in Spain are following the course.”

It’s no coincidence that George chose the Netherlands as his home base to do his training. “It’s the country where I started my career. I also like the Dutch way of playing football, and coaches from the Netherlands are very much in demand, and liked. The level is higher than elsewhere. Even Barcelona and the Spanish national team have copied the Dutch way of playing attacking football.”

It was last year that Finidi gathered his courage and called several members of the KNVB. “At that time it really wasn’t possible”, explains the African. “But I tried again this year and I got in.” The fact that the 62 time international has ended up in Zwolle has its roots in practicality. “I obviously can’t fly up and down every day, that’s too expensive. I have a good hotel at my disposal in Zwolle, which I pay for personally. That was the least expensive option for me.”
Fortunately for George, his family was on board with his going to the Netherlands for three months. “It’s tough for me to leave my family in Mallorca, but my wife sent me. She said: if it’s good for you, it’s good for me too. Maybe I can fly back to Mallorca during an interland period.”
Although George left Amsterdam seventeen years ago, he still tries to follow the club as closely as possible. “I can sometimes watch matches at home”, says the former winger with the velvet passes. “For example when Ajax played against PSV. Although Ajax is still among the top teams in the Netherlands, they’re having a tough time in Europe. I watched the last Champions League match against Real Madrid. They did well, but it wasn’t enough. Compared with before, it’s harder now to compete with the big clubs.”

George is filled with pride that he and his team mates managed to conquer Europe and win the Champions League in 1995. “It was a great time. And fantastic timing; from the time I arrived at Ajax, things went well and we won prizes”, he says, with his tongue firmly in his cheek. “We had good players, but most of them ended up leaving”, he says, referring to Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger and fellow countryman Nwankwo Kanu, among others. When asked about his personal highlight, George doesn’t need to think about it for long. “That was my goal against Bayern München”, he says, referring to his great long distance shot which brought Ajax to a 2-1 lead in the Champions League semi-final. “If I think of Ajax, then that’s the moment I think about.”
Today in 2013, it’s practically unthinkable that a player from the Nigerian competition could effortlessly join a team which is playing in Europe for prizes. But George did it. “It went really quickly, but I adapted easily”, he says, his thoughts returning to twenty years ago. “I came for six weeks on an internship during the pre-season, and I took a good look around and after six weeks, I earned a contract. Louis van Gaal was satisfied and gave me a chance.”

Under Van Gaal’s leadership, George won the national title three times in a row, among other things. De Boer has the opportunity to match that achievement this year. “Frank’s doing a good job”, says the Nigerian. “I’m not surprised and I saw more of a coach in Frank than in Ronald. He was more serious and a true leader who put everyone on the team in his place. Ronald was more relaxed.” Edwin van der Sar’s new job in management hasn’t escaped George’s attention, either. “I’m happy for him”, he says of the keeper with whom he shared joys and sorrows in the locker room. “It’s better to have former players in the club than outsiders. They have so much knowledge, which helps the club. Moreover people get older and wiser, and their way of thinking changes. If anyone had told me seven years ago that I would be following a coaching course, I would have said they were crazy.”