The Dancing Maverick Who Made Football Smile: Jay-Jay Okocha Turns 44

by Samuel Abasi Posted on August 14th, 2017

“So Good They Named Him Twice” was the chant heard around the world from Bolton Wanderer’s fans every time the team’s captain, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha stepped on the field of play. The most famous product of Nike Boy’s Grammar School Enugu State Nigeria, Former Nigeria International, Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha (born 14 August 1973) turns 44 today and the ether is filled with birthday wishes from his fans around the world. In his playing days, Jay Jay Okocha plied his trade as an attacking midfielder.

A quick and skillful playmaker, who is widely regarded as the most skilled Nigerian player of his generation and one of the greatest African players of all time, Okocha was known for his confidence, technique, creativity, and dribbling skills, as well as his use of feints, in particular the stepover.

Brazil and Barcelona legend, Ronaldinho has spoken of his admiration for former Super Eagles skipper, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha. The 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year winner hailed Okocha as the “only 10 shirt I’ve always admired”, when the two men met in Bahrain, venue of the 67th FIFA Congress. Ronaldinho was Okocha’s protégé at Paris Saint Germain before the Nigerian left for Bolton Wanderers.

Liberian legend George Weah has said that former Nigerian midfielder, Austin Okocha is the most skillful player to ever come out of Africa.
He even said Okocha is more skilfull than Pele.Weah compared Okocha to one of Ghana’s greatest players Abedi Pele, saying Okocha is the most talented player on the African continent.

George Weah, the former AC Milan and Chelsea forward said ‘Jay Jay’ is more skilled and claims that he, himself, came nowhere close to the Super Eagles legend.

“Abedi is a strong player, he’s a creative player but Jay Jay is more skillful. Even me, Jay Jay has more techniques than me,” said Weah. “All the things that Jay Jay does on the field, we don’t even do one percent of it. “So Jay Jay is a legend when it comes to that; he is very creative, he is very smart and he knows how to do tricks.’ ”For me I don’t do tricks, I will score a good goal and when I am squeezed up, I know how to run around. But to put the ball on the ground and play with it, I give it to Jay Jay; he is an entertainer,” adds the 50-year-old.

Jay-Jay Okocha’s rise from poverty to footballing glamour is well documented, and it follows a familiar story – on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, he learned the flowing brand of football most fans of freestyle football will be familiar with.

On a trip to Germany with his friends to watch a few Bundesliga games, having been enamoured by the German national team at the 1990 World Cup, Okocha was taken to a training session at Borussia Neunkirchen, a third division club. The Neunkirchen coach was stunned by this young and as yet undrafted youth, immediately offering him a contract. The player’s talent far outstripped the limited ambitions of the club, though; after spending a further few months with second division side 1. FC Saarbrücken, he soon earned a move to the top flight with Eintracht Frankfurt.

In 1995, Okocha departed for Turkey and Fenerbahçe. He scored a remarkable 30 goals in just 62 appearances for the Turkish club, many of them stunning free-kicks from all sorts of angles. It was enough to convince Paris St. Germain to sign him for £14 million ($24 million) in 1998. During the four years he spent at the French club, however, he could not quite assert himself, or fulfil the potential he had shown in Germany and Turkey.

Jay-Jay Okocha Performing His Magic At Bolton Wanderers

Okocha was improbably snapped up by Bolton Wanderers at the end of the 2001/02 season and at Bolton, the showstopper had arrived.

During the four seasons he spent at the Trotters, he tallied up 124 appearances. His 14 goals might pale in comparison with his time in Turkey, but there was far, far more to his time at the Reebok Stadium than the stats portray. He was the lynchpin of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton side, and even though his first season in England was marred by injuries, he generated an instant cult following. The official Bolton store started selling shirts with the slogan “Jay-Jay, so good they named him twice”.

With audacious tricks that are considered more at home in Sunday league football than the top flight of England, Jay-Jay lit up the Premiership with his refreshing style of play and his sheer determination to not succumb to the physicality of English football. For his brief time in England – and four years is far too brief to enjoy this man’s skillful mastery of the game – he was idolised in the north-west of England, if not up and down the country.

He captained that Bolton Wanderers team to an English League Cup final, led them to consecutive top-half finishes in the Premiership, and even took them to the last 32 in the UEFA Cup, where they were eliminated by Marseille, losing 2-1 on aggregate.

However, while he was performing (and ‘performing’ is indeed the word), there was no-one more fun to watch. He turned football into pure spectacle – the kind we would love to devour on a weekly basis, but, with high-stakes matches breeding tactical stalemates, we often end up finding only in YouTube compilations.

Okocha had a propensity to entertain, to capture lightning and unleash it on his opponents. It could be said that there has not been a player like him in the top flight since. His career was one that should always be celebrated, rather than swatted aside by the modern social media savvy fans as a “poor man’s Ronaldinho”.

There is an oft-repeated phrase in football: “he has magic in his boots”. For those lucky enough to follow his career at Bolton, Jay-Jay Okocha was the ultimate magician.

In today’s game, apart from exceptions like Lionel Messi, we rarely see flashes of skill or slaloming runs through the opposition midfield. We might see the occasional feint by Philippe Coutinho, or a couple of stepovers by Neymar. With Jay-Jay Okocha, however, the unorthodox happened almost every week.

Jay-Jay Okocha, who garnered 75 caps during his illustrious career, never won the CAF African Player of Year award as he was a runner-upon two occasions. He is a dual Nigerian-Turkish citizen, having acquired Turkish citizenship as “Muhammet Yavuz” while playing for Süper Lig team Fenerbahçe.

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