Augustine Azuka ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha
by Tom Davis ( @tomdavis212)
Born: 14/08/1973, Enugu, Nigeria
Clubs: Enugu Rangers, Borussia Neunkirchen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahçe,
Paris Saint-Germain, Bolton Wanderers, Qatar SC, Hull City
International: Nigeria (73 caps, 14 goals)
Jay Jay ‘so good they named him twice’ Okocha’s arrival in European football was
a romanticised affair that is becoming rarer in the modern world of superstar
pre-teens pre-contracts. Already playing for his local club Enugu Rangers in
Nigeria, he travelled to visit a friend playing for Borussia Neunkirchen in the
German third division. Invited to join in a training session, he impressed and was
A skilful, creative attacking midfielder with dazzling footwork, Okocha adapted
to German football fast, scoring 7 goals in his 35 games for the club, and soon
enough Eintracht Frankfurt came in for the young player.
Okocha linked up alongside fellow flair icon Tony Yeboah at Frankfurt, and
he soon became well known for his audacious skills, including a particular
slaloming run capped by a cool finish past Oliver Kahn, then of Karlsruher SC.
After a reported fall-out with manager Jupp Heynckes, Okocha moved on to
Fenerbahçe as Frankfurt were relegated to the German second division.
During his two year stint by the Bosphorus, Okocha took up Turkish citizenship,
and was part of the team who recorded a memorable 1-0 victory over
Manchester United at Old Trafford. In 1996 he represented Nigeria at the
summer Olympics, scoring against Japan in the group stages and again in the
quarters against Mexico, with Nigeria going on to win the tournament.
His jinking runs and spectacular free kicks alerted Paris Saint-Germain, who
parted with a fee in the region of £17 million for his services, making him the
most expensive African player ever at the time.
His time in the French capital was equally successful, and he netted 12 goals in
84 games. However, after again falling out with his manager, Okocha chose to
leave the club on a free transfer at the end of his contract.
His next move is what makes Okocha, for me at least a true flair icon. Moving to much unfancied Bolton,
he teamed up with a number of other fading geniuses such as Youri Djorkaeff and
Ivan Campo. He took his place in one of the most fondly remembered squads
in the last decade, and brought pinpoint long passing, incredible skills and a
general sense of excitement to a team with a reputation for playing unnatractive,
direct football. He didn’t care that he was playing for Bolton, and showed little
respect towards his supposedly superior opponents (brilliantly encapsulated
in his rainbow flick over a bemused Ray Parlour). As an aspiring but atrocious
young midfielder, he inspired me and undoubtedly many others to try running
past players instead of listening the dull pleas of our school P.E. teachers, and I
even once owned a pair of his Reebok ‘laceless’ boots (although unfortunately mine cost a tenner and were from Sports Direct, which is definitely the reason I never made the team).
He finished his first season in England as Bolton’s joint top scorer and won the goal of the season award with an incredible effort against West Ham, a goal which went on to be voted as Bolton’s best goal during their time in England’s top division in 2008. Another three seasons as Bolton’s captain followed, and his popularity and hard work ensured his place as a club legend.
In 2006 he moved to Qatar SC, where he played 41 games for the club, scoring
6 goals. In 2006 he set a world precedent, claiming that god had told him to
move to Hull. Beset by injury and fitness problems he managed only 18 games
in the northeast, but nonetheless contributed to Hull’s historic promotion to the
Premier League. He departed at the end of the season, focussing on charity work
amongst other things.
Recently however, the footballing world was dealt a miraculous second coming,
as it was announced that Okocha will be one of the players auctioned off
between the six clubs of the brand new Indian Premier League. Alongside Fabio
Cannavaro, Fernando Morientes, Robbie Fowler, Robert Pires and several others,
Okocha will return to the field and hopefully inject the same excitement he
bought to the Premier League to the much hyped league.
Okocha never played for a top club in Europe, but his bewitching skills, runs
and passing (demonstrated in numerous Youtube videos) made him one of the
most enjoyable players to watch over the past two decades, and his calm, smiley
demeanour endeared him to countless fans.