In the summer of 1996, the Spanish giants Real Madrid were preparing their squad for an assault on La Liga and the UEFA Champions league. They went on to acquire Roberto Carlos, Pedrag Mjatovic, Davor Suker and Clarence Seerdorfl. One player that could have joined that list was Nigerian winger Finidi George, then of Ajax.
“I met with (Fabio) Capello, he told me he wanted me in his team.” Finidi says to aclsports.com. “I spoke with the directors of the club and we agreed personal terms”. So what happened? “Real were given a time schedule by Ajax by which they had to complete the transfer; by that they meant pay my club’s asking price for my services. Unfortunately, that time came and elapsed with them not meeting it. That was it.”
Finidi who had won three league titles and the UEFA Champions league with the Amsterdam giants still ended up in Spain. “Betis found out that Real could not meet the deadline Ajax asked and came in quickly. They paid it and we discussed terms which I was fine with, then I signed. It was very simple.” Surely Real offered more personal money, no? “Of course!” He replies immediately with a raucous laughter possibly at the memory of that period.
“I enjoyed probably my best football period at Real Betis and in Luis Aragones, I played under the best trainer of my entire career. So, even though I would have earned more at Madrid and perhaps been in the team that won the Champions League in 1998, I have no regrets”.
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It is hard to argue with him on the no regrets bit. At Ajax “I won 3 league titles, the Champions League, the Inter-Continental Cup. With Nigeria I won the Nations Cup, won silver and Bronze and played at 2 world cups scoring in one. I have a lot to be grateful about and nothing to regret.”
Possibly only John Obi Mikel of the Nigerian players in Europe in the last 10 years can have more than Finidi accumulated in a sterling career.