The two former Nigerian stars went to Europe as relatively unknown on the international scene but became vital members of the enterprising Ajax side that lifted the club’s last UEFA Champions League trophy twenty-five years ago
Mark Overmars has lauded Ajax’s scouting network that produced Nwankwo Kanu and George Finidi, with the former Arsenal forward doubting whether it is still structurally possible to discover such gems from scratch.
Manager Louis van Gaal assembled one of the most talented side ever seen in Europe in the early nineties and completed the puzzle by adding two Nigerian youngsters.
Both Kanu and Finidi arrived in the Netherlands in the summer of 1993, having been scouted playing on the domestic scene with Iwuanyanwu Nationale and Sharks of Port Harcourt, respectively.
Finidi quickly sealed his place as Ajax’s leading right-winger, while the younger Kanu earned his spot among the team’s established forwards.
Together, they transformed Ajax into an unstoppable winning machine, lifting eight major trophies in three years, including the 1995 Champions League.
Now working as the director of football at Ajax, Overmars is responsible for the club’s transfer policy, and he is still full of admiration for the system that yielded the Nigerian heroes.
“I thought it was very clever that Ajax got two Nigerians, who almost literally came from the jungle. Kanu had never played football in a stadium, did not even know the rules well,” said Overmars, as quoted on the Ajax official website.
“It is so great that you get those two and that they have become so important to Ajax.”
The former Barcelona winger, however, believes that the scouting network is no longer how it used to be in days of Kanu and Finidi. And he maintains that Ajax may no longer get to pull off such transfer stunts in present times.
He added: “The time is different, of course. Tonnie Pronk was the only scout in Nigeria at the time. In the matches where he watched Finidi and Kanu, there was no one else.
“If there is now a youth tournament in South America, there will be complete trips for scouts organized by agencies. Then there are 400 people there; hotels are blocked, buses are arranged.”