The Big Interview: Henry Makinwa

Henry Makinwa, former footballer and UEFA licensed coach, reflects on his career, management experiences, and memorable moments like scoring against Roma in the UEFA Cup. In an exclusive interview with SportsBoom, he discusses the challenges of breaking into Nigeria's national team, his coaching journey.

Henry Makinwa

Henry Makinwa has laid bare to why he found it difficult breaking into the Super Eagles setup, explaining that the array of talents at the disposal of the national team handlers at the time had hampered him. Yet, the former Vitoria Setubal marksman has no regrets.

Speaking exclusively to SportsBoom from his base in Madrid, Henry reminisced on his career as a sportsman including that memorable goal against Roma in the UEFA Cup, now the Champions League, life in management in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Finidi George's appointment and how close he was to playing for Nigeria.

The early years in management

Back in the 2019/2020 campaign in the NPFL, Henry and Katsina United were on the brink of something quite sensational, the CAF Champions League qualification having sat sixth on the league standings. But then, the corona virus epidemic struck.

"We were headed towards that [qualification] but COVID-19 struck and few games to the end, the league was stopped. Saddening, you know. But time has passed, and the pain has healed.

I left shortly after then, because there was this call they wanted an indigenous coach to take over. Then, the management later got in touch for any possibility to come back. I was so busy then with some Uefa coaching courses that I couldn't come."

Having lifted the Liga 1 title in 2003 with Rapid București in the Romanian top-flight during his playing days, Henry who admitted earning invitations a couple of times for national assignments feels the battle for spots in the national team was an uphill task due to the likes of Kanu Nwankwo, Daniel Amokachi, Victor Ikpeba who were ahead of him in the pecking order.

"Yes very few times. When the likes of Kanu, Amokachi, Ikpeba were there, it was hard. But I don't regret it. I still feel proud I got in with the team a couple of times. And now, I am a professional licensed coach by UEFA. Last two years I was immersed in updating myself with UEFA courses. I have visited colleagues around Spain training in the top-flight to understudy them.

"You see, I have learnt a lot. In coaching, you must learn from those that are higher than you. Michel of Girona FC Barcelona was my mate at Rayo Vallecano. I have learnt from him too. I was in the UK — West Bromwich last months to learn their methodology."

Leaving Fabio Capello red-faced..

Fabio Capello will probably not forget Henry Makinwa in a hurry. Having taken his Roma side to Portugal to face Setubal in the second leg of their tie in the UEFA Cup, the Lagos-born striker stunned their visitors with a sizzling strike in the 79th minute, to snatch a 1-0 victory on the night.

Picking up a pass from skipper Helio Sousa from just outside the area, he reacted quicker than his markers to send a low drive into the bottom left corner. The dismay on Capello's face as he sat amongst his technical crew on the bench said it all. However, the goal and the eventual victory will only amount to little as the visitors had won 7-0 in their first match-up. But to Henry, it meant a lot up to this day. Quizzed on if he would have wagered getting on the scoresheet that day, he said,

"Yes of course, why not? As a professional when you play against a big opponent like that, it's always good to play well against it was a fantastic feeling to score against Roma and Capello then. The Champions League is a special football competition (that makes you feel on top of the world.We lost badly in Rome. But to score the only goal against them at home, it was a great moment then in my life, man."

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We lost badly in Rome. But to score the only goal against them at home, it was a great moment then in my life, man."

Henry Makinwa

Image Credit:s wikipedia

Image Credit:s wikipedia

Sharing his thoughts on George's Nigeria appointment

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) had recently appointed former Ajax Amsterdam star Finidi George as the head coach of the senior national team, and Henry is of the opinion the Super Eagles is in safe hands with that move.

Having understudied erstwhile manager José Santos Peseiro for the country at the last African Cup of Nations, the legend is now tasked with overseeing Nigeria's qualification to the 2026 FIFA Work Cup tournament with games against South Africa and Benin Republic coming up.

"I sincerely commend The NFF giving Finidi the job. I must say that is a very good move, and makes sense for all parties involved. He will definitely perform", he said.

"His 20 months experience working with José will so much help him. The team knows him already, and they [the technical crew, the medical team, the players, the management] know he will demand nothing short of perfection."

He also added in a Nigerian pidgin English slang "Naija must run her programmes by Naija" — which is meant to translate that the choice of an indigenous man at the helm was the best, and George ticked all boxes. 
"I say, a very big kudos to the NFF for the choice of an indigenous coach."

When asked if he knew George personally or if they had ever crossed paths in the past, he said simply,

"Yes, he's great guy. He's of a calm mien and a peaceful man."