Belfast Telegraph

New Chelsea assistant is product of a classic rags-to-riches story

When Michael Emenalo left Nigeria as a teenager to pursue his dream of an education in the United States he could not have imagined that more than 20 years later he would find himself as the assistant manager of one of English football biggest clubs — and a friend to its billionaire Russian owner.

The rise of Emenalo — appointed Chelsea's assistant manager by Roman Abramovich — has been rapid since he joined the club as head opposition scout three years ago.

As the dust settles on a chaotic few weeks at the club, and with Carlo Ancelotti's future far from certain, it is Emenalo who has emerged as a powerful figure at Chelsea.

Emenalo was one of the first African players to star in US college soccer and he was so successful as a student that before embarking on his professional football career he considered becoming a lawyer.

He played for Nigeria against Diego Maradona in the 1994 World Cup finals. And as an agent he was central to ensuring that it was Chelsea whom his compatriot John Obi Mikel joined after his disputed transfer with Manchester United.

Emenalo has also endured great personal tragedy in the death of his first wife. Like so many who earn a living outside football's elite he has had to deal with the uncertainty of a journeyman footballer's life playing in six different countries.

Those who know him all say that he was an intelligent, popular figure. He left Nigeria for America in 1985 having played as a teenager in his country's failed qualification campaign for the World Cup finals the following year.

There were two Nigerian footballers at Boston University at the time and Emenalo, a teenage international, came highly recommended.

There wasn't a professional league then in the States and he had an offer from Belgium club Molenbeek which he took.

The managers who have gone back for him do not just include Avram Grant whom Emenalo played for at Maccabi Tel Aviv and who took him to Chelsea in October 2007. In the 1997-1998 season, Emenalo played for Lleida in the second tier of Spanish football. Their manager was Juande Ramos who later tried to recruit Emenalo as a coach when he took over at Tottenham in 2007.

When Emenalo was at a pre-season training camp with San Jose Clash in 1996, his wife died while pregnant with their second child. Emenalo, who has since remarried, was left to care for his daughter.

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