It is 28days to the world cup and we will be running a series on past players of the Nigerian Football Team who have stood out in one way or the other.
We will kickoff with Augustine Azuka Okocha aka Jay Jay Okocha.
In 1990, he joined Enugu Rangers. In his time at the club he produced many spectacular displays including one where he rounded off and scored a goal, against experienced Nigerian goalkeeper William Okpara in a match against BCC Lions.
Later that year, he went on holiday to West Germany, the country that had just won the 1990 FIFA World Cup, so he could watch German league football. His friend Binebi Numa was playing in the Third Division for Borussia Neunkirchen, and one morning Okocha accompanied Numa to training, where he asked to join in. The Neunkirchen coach was impressed with Okocha’s skills and invited him back the next day before offering him a contract. A year later, he joined 1. FC Saarbrücken, but stayed only a few months with the 2. Bundesligaside before a move to the 1. Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Eintracht Frankfurt (1991-1996)
Okocha joined Eintracht Frankfurt in December 1991, where he linked up with many well-known players including Ghanaian international striker Tony Yeboahand later Thomas Doll. He continued to shine for the German side, one highlight being a goal he scored against Karlsruher SC, dribbling in the penalty box and slotting the ball past goalkeeper Oliver Kahn even going past some players twice. The goal was voted Goal of the Season by many soccer magazines, and also voted as 1993 Goal of the Year by viewers of Sportschau (an ARD German TV sports program).
Okocha joined Turkish club Fenerbahçe for approximately £1 million following Eintracht Frankfurt’s relegation to the 2. Bundesliga. In his two seasons with the team, he amassed 30 goals in 62 appearances, many of them coming from direct free kicks, which became something of a trademark for him at the club. While at Fenerbahçe, he also became a Turkish citizen as “Muhammet Yavuz”.
Paris Saint-Germain (1998-2002)
In 1998, French side Paris Saint-Germain spent around £14 million to sign Okocha, making him the most expensive African player at the time. During his four-year stint with PSG, he played 84 matches and scored 12 goals. He has also served as a mentor, at the time, for young Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho during his time in Paris.
Bolton Wanderers (2002-2006)
Okocha joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer after leaving PSG in the summer of 2002 after the FIFA World Cup. His debut season, despite being hampered by injuries, made him a favourite with the Bolton fans, with the team printing shirts with the inscription “Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice”. He steered the team away from relegation with seven goals, including the team Goal of the Season in the vital league win against West Ham United. This was voted Bolton’s best Premier League goal in a fans vote in 2008. The next season saw Okocha receive more responsibility as he was given the captain’s armband following Guðni Bergsson‘s retirement. As captain he led Bolton to their first cup final in nine years where they finished runners-up in the 2004 Football League Cup to Middlesbrough FC.
In 2006, he was stripped of the captaincy – something he said he had seen coming, as there had been a change in attitude from some staff members. This had probably been due to his proposed move to the Middle East, which had been growing in speculation. At the end of the season, he refused a one-year extension in order to move to Qatar.
Following Bolton’s relegation from the Premier League in 2012, Okocha stated that his time at the club was now rendered a waste of time, because the club had not invested and improved on the foundations that was laid during his time there.
Hull City (2007-2008)
After just one season in Qatar, Football League Championship side Hull City signed Okocha on a free transfer in 2007, after the player had been linked to Real Salt Lake and Sydney FC. It was a move he made saying that “God had told him to do so”. He however was not able to contribute greatly to Hull’s promotion campaign due to fitness and constant injury problems, playing only 18 games and scoring no goals. Hull still succeeded in winning promotion to the Premier League, for the first time in their 104-year history. At the end of the season, after changing his mind on a proposed retirement due to Hull’s promotion, he was released by the club, which ultimately sent him into retirement.
On 21 February 2015, Okocha was elected as the Chairman of the Delta State Football Association.
In April 2015, Okocha expressed his interest in becoming the Nigeria Football Federation president; and he is vigorously pursuing it.
Okocha never won the African Player of Year award. He did however win the inaugural BBC African Footballer of the Year and the successive one, becoming the only player to retain the award and win it more than once. In 2004, he was listed in football legend Pelé‘s FIFA 100 (a list of the greatest 125 living players of all time). In 2007, he was voted number 12 on the greatest African footballers of the past 50 years list, on a poll conducted by CAF.