Africa and Nigeria’s soccer legend Austin “Jay jay” Okocha turns 46 today. Okocha made his Super Eagles debut in 1993 against Cote D’Ivoire in Abidjan during a world cup qualifier game. He played for Nigeria 73 times scoring 14 goals in an international career that spanned about 14 years and ended in 2006. He became the Super Eagles captain just before the 2002 world cup. Okocha won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria in his debut tournament in Tunisia and also won the Men’s Soccer Goal Medal at the Atlanta Olympics with Nigeria U-23 team in 1996. In 2004, he won the the African Cup of Nations Golden Boot and Best player awards in Tunisia.
The mercurial midfielder known for his deft soccer skills is an alumnus of National Grammar School Nike, Enugu where he honed his soccer skills in the Coal City. He played for Enugu Black Rocks (a team mostly made up of his Alma Mater players) that represented Nigeria in a youth competition in Minnesota USA in 1989 where they won the tournament. In 1990, Okocha joined Enugu Rangers International FC where he played alongside his older brother, Emma “Jay Jay” Okocha (who is also an ex Super Eagles player himself). Later that year, he later went to Germany where he joined Borussia Neunkirchen in the German third division. He also went on to play for FC Saarbrücken in the second division and also joined Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga in 1991. A particular highlight of his time in the German Bundesliga was a goal he scored against Karlsruher SC, dribbling in the penalty box and mesmerizing German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and his defenders before slotting home. The goal was voted Goal of the Season by many football magazines, and also voted as 1993 Goal of the Year by viewers of Sportschau (an ARD German TV sports programme) Okocha went on to play for Fenerbahce in Turkish league where he scored 30 goals in 62 appearances. In 1998, Paris Saint-Germain signed Okocha for £14 making him the most expensive African player at the time. He announced his arrival to the French Ligue 1 with a thunder of a long range goal against Bordeaux and would go on to score 12 goals in 84 appearances. In 2002, Okocha joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer and brought mesmerizing soccer skills into the English premiership to the delight of many football fans and which also made him a darling of Bolton fans. In return, the team printing shirts with the inscription “Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice” and made him the captain in his second season. In 2006, Okocha moved to the Middle East where he played for Qatar Sports Club but returned to England in 2007 to join Hull City in the English Championship. He was part of the Hull City team that gained promotion to the English premiership for the first time in their 104 year’s history. Okocha retired from professional football after a season with Hull City. Okocha is a two time winner of BBC African Footballer of the Year. Surprisingly, he did not win the CAF African Footballer of the Year but came second once and third, twice. Okocha was named in The FIFA 100 which is a list of the world-renowned Brazilian striker Pelé’s choice of the “greatest living footballers”. Unveiled on 4 March 2004 at a gala ceremony in London, England, the FIFA 100 marked part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body of football. The figure 100 refers to the 100th anniversary of FIFA and not the number of players listed, which is actually 125. Pelé had been asked to select 50 active players and 50 retired players, for a total of 100 players, but found it too difficult to limit the number of former players to just 50. The list contains 123 professional male and 2 female players. At the time the FIFA 100 was selected, 50 of the players were still active, with the remaining 75 retired from the game. Okocha is the only Nigerian player to make this list of soccer greats.
Happy Birthday Jay Jay Okocha, the midfield master.