Jay-Jay Okocha: Tales of dribbles into fame, fortune

Okocha

Call him Augustine Azuka Okocha, most people would be lost with that name. Convey him with Jay-Jay Okocha; the name resonates even beyond the shores of Nigeria.

 Mercurial Okocha is one of Nigeria’s greatest football exports, nay Africa. His dazzling skill mesmerizes opponents. Describe him as a master dribbler; it fits him perfectly. Nigeria is yet to have another player in the mould of Okocha.

 Skilful and a delight to watch when he possesses the ball. He does it so naturally that sometimes, he seems to play to the gallery.

 In one instance, while at Eintracht Frankfurt, the coaching crew had their heart, their mouths, as Okocha, in a match against Karlsruher SC, dribbled past some players. Finally dribbling the keeper with an empty net in front of him, turned back to dribble the keeper again before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.

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 programme).

 At another instance, former Nigerian coach, Clemens Westerhof, warned Okocha not to send him to the hospital with such displays in one of the Super Eagles crucial matches.

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As long as the history of football is concerned in Nigeria, Okocha’s name is to be reckoned. Back in the day in Enugu City, it was his brothers that were known to be footballers in the family. His brother, James, who started playing football first passed down the name Jay-Jay to him. His immediate elder brother, Emmanuel was also called Emma Jay-jay.

 Jay-Jay Okocha, who started playing football on the streets, mainly with makeshift, began his football career with the Enugu Rangers in 1990. One of his highlights playing for Rangers was where he rounded off and scored a goal against experienced Nigerian goalkeeper William Okpara in a match against BCC Lions of Gboko.

 The former Super Eagles captain made his first professional career in Germany with Third Division Borussia Neunkirchen in 1990. A year later, he joined FC Saarbrücken but stayed only a few months with the Second Division. He joined top-flight Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt in 1992, where he announced his skills to the world. Okocha and some key players had issues with the club coach, prompting other players involved to leave the club. Okocha stayed until the end of the season.

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 On relegation of Eintracht Frankfurt in 1996 to the second tier of the German league, Okocha moved to Turkey to ply his trade with Fenerbahçe. In 1998, he signed for French side Paris Saint-Germain for around £14 million making him the most expensive African footballer at the time. He moved to the English Premiership where he played for Bolton Wanderers, on a free transfer after leaving PSG in the summer of 2002.

 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. He left for the Middle East, where he had a stint with Qatari club, Qatar SC. He returned to England, where he played for the Championship side Hull City, where he retired just after a season.

Okocha, who appeared in three FIFA World Cups from 1994 to 2002, made his official debut for Nigeria in their 2–1 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifier away loss against Ivory Coast in May 1993. He was a member of both the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and 1996 Olympic gold-winning side at the Atlanta Games, later nicknamed the Dream Team. Okocha continued to play for Nigeria until he decided to retire from the game in 2008.

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 For his sizzling skills and breathtaking performances, Okocha never won CAF, African Player of the Year Award, but was twice voted BBC African Player of Year Award in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, he was listed in football legend Pelé’s FIFA 100 (a list of the greatest 125 living players of all time).

 He is the only Nigerian on the list, and one of five Africans. The seven times Nigeria Footballer of the Year was in 2007 voted number 12 on the greatest African footballers of the past 50 years list, on a poll conducted by CAF to coincide with their 50th anniversary.

 Okocha is married to Nkechi Okocha. The union is blessed with two children, Daniella and A-Jay.

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