The former Nigerian goalkeeper made history in the most followed football continent in the world last weekend
KF Tirana coach Ndubuisi Egbo has described becoming the first-ever African coach to win a title in Europe as “unexplainable”.
The former Nigeria international made the historic feat after the Albanian capital club defeated Flamurtari 2-0 last Saturday to go seven points clear of second-placed Kukesi with two rounds left to play.
Egbo’s accomplishment sent Nigerians and Africans into joyous mood with congratulatory messages flowing from different corners.
Tirana’s league triumph was their first in 11 years and their 25th overall as Albania’s most successful club. They also have a cup final against Teua Durres on August 1 and have also booked a berth in the next season’s Champions League from the first qualifying round.
“It’s unexplainable,” Egbo told ESPN.
“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.”
Tirana faced the agony of relegation during the 2016-17 season after finishing ninth in the 10-team Albanian top-flight. They gained promotion back in 2018-19 and Egbo admits it had not been an easy ride for the team he played with during his playing career.
“They were completely down and knocked out, and you can’t imagine the psychological work that we did just to get them back,” Egbo continued.
“I played for this team, and in two out of the three years we won the league, the cup and Super Cup; we needed to bring that winning mentality back, and that is what we did.
“You need to put fear in opponents, and when you get into a game, you have to enter like a king into the arena. It’s your arena, and no one else should command it apart from you.
“[This is the] winning mentality every team should have, and this is the mentality and culture of this team, KF Tirana. This is a team that when they go away, they go to get a win and not a draw because draw away is like a loss.”
Egbo has been with Tirana since 2014 and has taken on the managerial role on an interim basis on multiple occasions, saying he turned down offers to take on the job permanently as he believed he was not qualified enough.
Despite turning the fortunes of the club around, the former goalkeeper narrates racial discrimination shown towards him in some quarters at the club. Egbo’s name is ringing at a time when calls are being made for more inclusion of black managers in European leagues.
“They attacked me many times, saying things like ‘he doesn’t have experience,’ ‘he is just a goalkeeper coach,’ even though I took the UEFA Pro Licence [the highest coaching certification] before some of them that are analysing me,” Egbo said.
“They have other local coaches that are coaching in the league, but they don’t attack them the way they attack foreign coaches.
“They have an Italian coach in one other team and same thing is done to him, but because he is European, his attacks aren’t as much as mine. Because I’m a Black man, the attack is more because they can’t accept it.
“These are the things that make it very difficult to be able to work. You need patience, you need endurance, you need the grace and will of God to succeed.”
Egbo also cited former Super Eagles coach Christian Chukwu and assistant Joe Erico as having a big influence on his managerial career.
“When I took over this time, I felt like I had got the experience passing through many coaches, learning from all the coaches that I have worked with in the club, coupled with everything I have learnt from my career and all the coaches I worked with — especially back home,” he said.
“Coaches like Christian Chukwu and Joe Erico, one of the best coaches I have gone through in my career, who taught me more than just about football. And his lessons got me to where I am today.
“Also, his playing pattern. They used to say back then that if you don’t come to the stadium on time, you won’t see our first goal. That is the way I have my team playing here. We attack as a team and defend as a team.”
Egbo is keen to take Tirana into the Champions League group phase, something no Albanian team has been able to achieve. He is also hopeful the mark he has made will give room for more African coaches to have more opportunities.
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“First of all, our objective is to reach the group stage, and from there, we would set another objective for ourselves,” Egbo said.
“Because no Albanian team has been able to do it. So we are expecting that we can go into the group stage. That would be a huge achievement for an Albanian team.
“I hope this achievement isn’t only for me, but it will help other African coaches to be given opportunities to showcase what they can do and to be an encouragement to push them to do more for themselves.”