Golden Goal: Hugo Enyinnaya for Bari v Internazionale (1999)

Golden Goal: Hugo Enyinnaya for Bari v Internazionale (1999)


t approximately 6pm on 13 July 1985, Dire Straits took to the stage at Wembley Stadium. This was no ordinary concert: it was Live Aid, and they were one of the key acts: Brothers in Arms had been released two months earlier to the day, and was on its way to becoming Britain’s biggest-selling album of the decade; they started their short set with Money for Nothing, which had been released as a single the previous week and was rocketing towards the top 10. Mark Knopfler, their singer and guitarist, believes the band “never sounded better”. They walked off after their designated three songs with soaring spirits and soggy headbands.

You don’t hear much talk about Dire Straits’ Live Aid performance these days, perhaps because the next band on stage were Queen, whose set was by general consensus performed with such elan and wild showmanship that it simply blew their rivals’ away. Not only was a move-by-move recreation the emotional highlight of the recent film Bohemian Rhapsody, that reconstruction was good enough to land an best picture nomination at the Oscars. Sultans of Swing continues to await such treatment.

On 17 December 1999, Hugo Enyinnaya became – bear with me here – the Dire Straits of football. Making his full debut for Bari against Internazionale at the age of just 18 he scored a wonderful, memorable goal, one apparently destined for highlights videos and incessant replays. And then someone else scored a better one.

In the final minute, with the game at 1-1, a 17-year-old by the name of Antonio Cassano emphatically and permanently stole the spotlight from Enyinnaya. Other than the youth of the scorers and the colour of their shirts the two goals could hardly be more different: one was a wicked, zinging, dipping long-range shot over the goalkeeper and into the top corner; the second was a dribble from the halfway line – begun with what might well be the greatest first touch in the history of football – a teenage tyro leaving famous if ageing defenders, Christian Panucci and Laurent Blanc among them, bewildered before finishing stylishly. Cassano became famous; Enyinnaya was forgotten.

“In that moment, I was reborn,” Cassano later wrote. “Everything from that day was different. In a way, I have two birthdays: 12 July 1982, when my mother gave birth to this little madman, and 18 December 1999, when the rest of the world discovered him.” Enyinnaya’s goal arouses very different memories in its scorer. “I don’t like to watch it or even think about it,” he said in 2009. “It’s a love/hate thing. Love, because it made me feel happy at the time. Hate, because there are also other memories. I still see Cassano play in Serie A, and I’m happy for him but sad for myself. I think about what my destiny might have been, and what happened instead. I made too many rash decisions, and I paid for them.”

The two scorers were as different as their goals. Cassano was born in Bari, in the shadow of the Stadio San Nicola; Enyinnaya came from Warri, a town in Nigeria about 400km south-east of Lagos, and had made his way to Italy via Molenbeek in Belgium. Naturally, the city took particular delight in the success of its offspring. As Cassano came home that evening, to the flat he shared with his mother in Via San Bartolomeo, deep in the old city, he found the street thronged with people. “It was one o’clock in the morning, and my life had just changed,” he wrote in his autobiography, Dico Tutto. “It took an hour and a half to get back to my house. It was madness. The closer we got the worse the traffic became, and when we got to the little alley where I lived it was impossible to go any further. The whole city was there for me.”

There were few celebrations in Bari for Enyinnaya. He was 18, full of joy and hope, and had just announced himself with a phenomenal goal in a high-profile, televised match. “I thought,” he later said, “that after that day nothing would be the same for me.” And in a way, it was true. He would never enjoy those sensations again. The hope would fade, the fame would disappear, and his career would become a tale not of goals, glory and riches, but of injuries, rejection and broken promises.

In Bari’s next game Cassano scored again in a 3-1 defeat at Roma, then Enyinnaya came off the bench to get his second league goal in a 3-0 victory over Venezia. It was his last in Serie A. He suffered a series of injuries, and Bari were relegated at the end of the following season. Cassano moved to Roma, and then Real Madrid; Enyinnaya stuck it out in Serie B for a year, then moved on loan to Livorno, also in Serie B, and then Foggia in Serie C. In 2004 his contract at Bari ended, and he was offered a trial at Debrecen, then the top team in Hungary. “I used to dream of being rich and famous, and actually I got pretty close,” he said. “But suddenly I was unemployed, and happy to accept a contract of €2,000 a month. But I kept on making mistakes.”

Debrecen offered him a three-year deal, which he rejected having been told that he could still get another club in Italy. None volunteered, and he ended up signing a contract, written entirely in Polish, with Gornik Zabrze. “I didn’t understand what I was signing,” he said. “They told me they would pay €10,000 a month, but I didn’t see a cent. After two months and three games I left. The fans threw bananas at me from the stands. They were animals.”

His finest goalscoring form, such as it was, would come in that country, during spells at Odra Opole – where he peaked with eight in a season – and the now-defunct Lechia Zielona Gora in the second division. He returned to Italy in 2009, was passed around a succession of amateur, fifth-tier sides for a while and in 2011, aged 30, gave up and went home.

The peak period of Enyinnaya’s career lasted about three seconds, the time it took for him to control the ball, turn, spot Angelo Peruzzi edging off his line, and send the ball arcing wickedly over the Italian’s head from 40 yards. It was brief, to be sure, but what a peak it was.