Born Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha on the 14 August 1973 is a Nigerian former professional footballerwho played as an attacking midfielder. A quick and skillful playmaker, who is widely regarded as the best 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. Due to his skill, he was described as being ‘so good that they named him twice’ a line immortalised in a terrace chant while Okocha played for Bolton Wanderers. He is a dual citizen, having acquired Turkish citizenship as “Muhammet Yavuz” while playing for Süper Lig team Fenerbahçe.
Okocha was born in Enugu, Enugu State. His parents were from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State, Nigeria. The name Jay-Jay was actually passed down from his elder brother James, who started playing football first. His immediate elder brother, Emmanuel was also called Emma Jay-jay, but the name stuck with Okocha instead. He began playing football on the streets just like many other football stars, usually with a makeshift ball. In an interview with BBC Sport he said, “As far as I can remember, we used to play with anything, with any round thing we could find, and whenever we managed to get hold of a ball, that was a bonus! I mean it was amazing!”
In 1990, he joined Enugu Rangers. In his time at the club he produced 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. Later that year, he went on holiday to West Germany, the country that had just won the 1990 FIFA World Cup, so he could watch German league football. His friend Binebi Numa was playing in the Third Division for Borussia Neunkirchen, and one morning Okocha accompanied Numa to training, where he asked to join in. The Neunkirchen coach was impressed with Okocha’s skills and invited him back the next day before offering him a contract. A year later, he joined 1. FC Saarbrücken, but stayed only a few months with the 2. Bundesliga side before a move to the 1. Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt. Okocha joined Eintracht Frankfurt in December 1991, where he linked up with many well-known players including Ghanaian international striker Tony Yeboah and later Thomas Doll. He continued to shine for the German side, one highlight being a goal he scored against Karlsruher SC, dribbling in the penalty box and slotting the ball past goalkeeper Oliver Kahneven 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 were all involved in a feud with manager Jupp Heynckes, which led to their departure from the club. Yeboah and Gaudino later left for England, while Okocha stayed until the end of the season when Frankfurt were relegated to the 2. Bundesliga, before signing for the Istanbul club Fenerbahçe. Okocha joined Turkish club Fenerbahçe for approximately £1 million following Eintracht Frankfurt’s relegation to the 2. Bundesliga. In his two seasons with the team, he amassed 30 goals in 62 appearances, many of them coming from direct free kicks, which became something of a trademark for him at 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 to sign 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 also served as a mentor, at the time, for young Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho during his time in Paris.
Okocha 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 injuries, made him a favourite with the Bolton fans, with the team printing shirts with the inscription “Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice”. He steered the team away from relegation with seven goals, including the team Goal of the Season in the vital league win against West Ham United. This was voted Bolton’s best Premier League goal in a fans vote in 2008. The next season saw Okocha receive more responsibility as he was given the captain’s armband following Guðni Bergsson’s retirement. 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. In 2006, he was stripped of the captaincy – something he said he had seen coming, as there had been a change in attitude from some staff members. This had probably been due to his proposed move to the Middle East, which had been growing in speculation. At the end of the season, he refused a one-year extension in order to move to Qatar. Following Bolton’s relegation from the Premier League in 2012, Okocha stated that his time at the club was now rendered a waste of time, because the club had not invested and improved on the foundations that was laid during his time there. After just one season in Qatar, Football League Championship side Hull City signed Okocha on a free transfer in 2007, after the player had been linked to Real Salt Lake and Sydney FC. It was a move he made saying that “God had told him to do so”. He however was not able to contribute greatly to Hull’s promotion campaign due to fitness and constant injury problems, playing only 18 games and scoring no goals. Hull still succeeded in winning promotion to the Premier League, for the first time in their 104-year history. At the end of the season, after changing his mind on a proposed retirement due to Hull’s promotion, he was released by the club, which ultimately sent him into retirement.
On 21 February 2015, Okocha was elected as the Chairman of the Delta State Football Association. In April 2015, Okocha expressed his interest in becoming the Nigeria Football Federation president; and he is vigorously pursuing it. On the International scene, Okocha made his official debut for Nigeria in their 2–1 1994 FIFA World Cup Qualifier away loss against Ivory Coast in May 1993. It was not until his second cap and home debut that he became a favourite with the Nigerian supporters. With Nigeria trailing 1–0 against Algeria, in a match they needed to win, he scored from a direct free kick to equalise, before helping the team to a 4–1 win, eventually securing qualification to their first World Cup. In 1994, he was a member of both the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and the World Cup squad that made it to the second round before they lost in a dramatic match against eventual runners-up Italy.
In 1996, Okocha became a key member of an arguably more successful Nigerian side, their Olympic gold winning side at the Atlanta Games, later nicknamed the Dream Team by the Nigerian press after the USA 1992 Olympic gold winning basketball team. In the 1998 FIFA World Cup hosted by France, Okocha played for a disappointing Super Eagles side who failed to live up to expectations again reaching the round of 16, albeit with less impressive performances save for their 3–2 opening win against Spain. This did not destroy interest in Okocha, who had entertained fans with his trademark skills and dribbles and went on to be named in the squad of the tournament. Okocha again joined the Super Eagles in the 2000 African Cup of Nations co-hosted with Ghana. He scored three goals in the tournament, two in the opening game against Tunisia, and then given a standing ovation by the nearly 60,000 attendance when he left the field. He made a return to the Super Eagles in his testimonial against an African select side in Warri. The game featured former players Daniel Amokachi, Alloysius Agu and John Fashanu, as well as players Benjani and Sulley Muntari. Nigeria won the game 2–1 with Okocha scoring the winning goal after appearing for the side in the second half. In March 2004, he was named one of the top 125 living footballers by Pelé. Okocha never won the African Player of Year award, becoming arguably the best player never to win the award despite coming second twice. He did however win the inaugural BBC African Footballer of the Year and the successive one, becoming the first player to retain the award and win it more than once. In 2004, he was listed in football legend Pelé’s FIFA 100 (a list of the greatest 125 living players of all time). In 2007, he was 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. He also captained the Nigerian Side where he still mesmerized everyone with his skills even making an opponent Samuel E’too to request his substitution.
The following are his individual achievements ·
7 time Nigerian footballer of the year ·
1 time Nigerian footballer of the year runner up
2 time African Footballer of the Year runner up ·
1998 FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (Reserve) ·
2 time BBC African Footballer of the Year ·
April 2003 Goal of the Month (England) ·
November 2003 Premier League Player of the Month ·
2004 African Cup of Nations: Golden Boot ·
2004 African Cup of Nations: Best Player ·
2005 Bolton Wanderers footballer of the year
He was known for his numerous hairstyles and was the captain of the super eagles for quite some time with his assistants Nwankwo Kanu and Joseph Yobo. His older brother Emmanuel was also a former international for the Nigerian team. Okocha is from Anioma, a subgroup of Igbo ethnic derivative. His nephew is international footballer Alex Iwobi. The super eagles have qualified for the 2018 FIFA world cup in Russia. With the World Cup just a few days away, Okocha has joined the legends team in a competition where the hopes of Nigerians are high.