Jay-Jay Okocha is an ex-Nigerian attacking midfielder and former ex-professional soccer player. Apart from playing for Nigeria’s national team, he played for clubs in England, Germany, France and Turkey in his distinguished 18-year career.
Fast and very skillful, Okocha is best remembered for his confidence, technique, creativity, sharp-shooting and dribbling skills, as well as his use of feints, and mostly the stepover.
Considered to be among the one of the greatest players of all time and one of Nigeria’s most-capped player, Okocha gained a significance in soccer that remains remarkably sparse. The legendary ex-player is widely regarded as the best Nigerian player of his generation and in fact, one of the greatest African players of all time for his great goal-scoring record.
The sublime talent who spent a large part of his career at Nigeria’s national team, winning 74 caps for Nigeria after making his debut in 1993, was part of his country’s 1996 Olympic gold medal-winning side and was in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cup squads.
Okocha was born in Enugu State Nigeria. His parents were from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State, Nigeria. Born as Augustine Azuka, Okocha’s brother James who started playing football first passed down the name Jay-Jay to the ex-player. His immediate older brother Emmanuel was also called Emma Jay-jay, but Okocha got stuck with the name.
Just like many other footballers, Jay Jay Okocha started playing football on the streets, mainly with a cobbled-together ball. He revealed in an interview that they played football with just about anything they could get a hold of.
In 1990, he joined Enugu Rangers where he made 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.
A few months later, Jay Jay Okocha visited West Germany to watch German league football. While in Germany, he stayed with his friend Binebi Numa who was playing in the Third Division for Borussia Neunkirchen.
On one of Numa’s training days, Okocha tagged along and was asked to join in the training. His skills attracted the attention of Neunkirchen coach who told him to join the next day before offering him a contract.
The revered player then enjoyed a meteoric rise from being an amateur footballer to an international player and tormented defences with his range of tricks.
A year later, he joined 1. FC Saarbrücken, but played awhile with with the 2. Bundesliga side before a transfer to 1. Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt.
The ex player continued to sparkle in the German side, one notable highlight being a goal he scored against Karlsruhe, taking the ball forward in the penalty box 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).
In 1995, Okocha, Yeboah and Maurizio Gaudino had a serious argument with manager Jupp Heynckes, which forced them to leave the club.
The two moved to England, while Okocha stayed until the season ended when Frankfurt was relegated to the 2. Bundesliga, before he transferred to Istanbul club Fenerbahçe.
JJ Okocha, joined Turkish club Fenerbahçewhere he was received about £1 million. In his two seasons with the team, he scored 30 goals in 62 appearances of which vast majority of them came from direct free kicks, which made him standout in the club. While at Fenerbahçe, he also became a Turkish citizen as “Muhammet Yavuz”.
In 1998, French side Paris Saint-Germain spent around £14 million on JJ 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.
Okocha then 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 injury, made him a favourite with the Bolton fans, with the team printing shirts with the inscription “Jay-Jay.
During his time at English club “Bolton Wanderers” where he played for four seasons, fans of the club sang “Jay Jay is so good they named him twice” for the iconic former-player – the line was used to confer an enduring praise upon him in a terrace chant.
Till date, Jay Jay Okocha remains a hero to Bolton Wanderers, where the Nigerian rescued the club from relegation with a series of glorious goals and mesmerizing performances. He won club player of the year in 2005. Scorer of some of the greatest ever Nigerian goals in 1990s, Okocha also won the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria in 1994 and played in the World Cup the same year.
He played one season for Qatar, Football League Championship side before he was signed by Hull City on a free transfer in 2007, after the player had been linked to Real Salt Lake and Sydney FC. He retired from international football after Nigeria lost to Ivory Coast in this year’s African Cup of Nations semifinals.
Okocha was never named the African Player of Year award even though he is arguably the best player who never got bestowed with the award coming second twice in 1998. However, he won 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 named in football legend Pelé’s FIFA 100 (a list of the greatest 125 living players of all time). In 2007, he took the 12th on the list of greatest African footballers of the past 50 years, – a poll done by CAF to mark their 50th anniversary.
Also, in 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 Okocha won Nigerian footballer of the year.
The ex- fantastic soccer finisher and a terrific goal-scorer was also decorated with the following titles:
- 1998 FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (Reserve)
2. 1998 African Footballer of the Year runner up
3. 1996 Nigerian footballer of the year runner up
4. 2003, 2004 BBC African Footballer of the Year
5. November 2003 Premier League Player of the Month
6. April 2003 Goal of the Month (England)
7. 2005 Bolton Wanderers footballer of the year
8. FIFA 100