Africa waits on for the next shining star to get more commentators the world over fired for lacking patriotism.
It was in September 2004 and the Nigerian Super Eagles had come to Zimbabwe with their incomparable superstar, the one and only Jay Jay Okocha, “So good they named him twice”. Zimbabwe’s veteran commentator, Charles Mabika was behind the microphone in the Zimbabwean television studios. Mabika had risen from radio commentary to being Zimbabwean football commentary royalty. His love for the country’s national team could not be disputed as he openly wept during a live commentary in 1987 after Senegal outclassed Zimbabwe with a Jules Bertrand Bocande hat-trick in the Dembra Diop Stadium. Zimbabwe’s hopes of taking part in the 1988 were dashed and Mabika could not help himself. This was not to be the only time he would have an emotional meltdown for his national team but in 2004, instead of going berserk, he watched on in gleeful childish delight as the wizardry of Jay Jay Okocha and his team took centre stage. Mabika was described as being “biased and unpatriotic” by the Zimbabwean national broadcaster’s executives for heaping praise on Okocha and he was fired. Such was the mind-boggling brilliance of Jay Jay Okocha, so good they named him twice. He made a man lose his job in 2004!
Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha was a Nigerian professional footballer playing in the attacking midfielder position. His skills were the totality of natural talent, intelligence and a passion for the sport. In his own words, he said, “…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!” It is from these humble beginnings that Okocha rose to find himself in Germany at Borrusia Neunkirchen from where he rose to the 1.Bundesliga side, Eintracht Frankfurt after a brief stint with FC Saarbrucken. At Eintracht Frankfurt, he immoratilised himself in the memories of fans by scoring a magical score preceeded by an unbeatable dribble in the penalty box. This goal was Goal of the Season in many magazines and a German TV sports program crowned it its 1993 Goal of the Year.
After the Bundesliga, Okocha moved to Turkey where he joined Fenerbache for a brief two season tenure before going to Paris Saint Germain where he spent four years. PSG parted ways with almost $24 million, a record for most expensive African player at the time. A highlight of his career was his mentorship of one of the immortalised soccer magicians, the phenomenal Ronaldinho. With various fitness complications and a Ronaldinho who may have been a player from the same make, Okocha left PSG and went to Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer. His performance there makes him one of the best performing free transfers in English Premier League history and it earned him the adoration of fans who would shout, “Jay-Jay so good they named him twice”. His career ended at Hull City in 2008 after a short spell with Qatar Sporting Club. Okocha was part of the much acclaimed “Dream Team” which won Nigeria an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, 1996. He had been a part of the 1994 African Cup of Nations winning squad for his country. Okocha did not once win the African Player of the Year award but instead got the BBC African Footballer of the Year Award.
The modern footballing landscape of Africa is now largely less explosive as compared to what it was with people like Okocha on the pitch. Commenting on the tactical make that has in a way subdued individual moments of brilliance, the veteran himself said, “I see African countries playing more like European ones. That’s the only way to become competitive. It’s a pity it’s at the expense of flair because fans want to enjoy their money and see good football. If you could combine the flair with goals it would be great.”
His thinking was and still is that people deserve to be entertained and if there is a possibility to entertain them, why not? In March this year, Okocha paid a visit to Paris Saint Germain and he exhibited the reason people love and revere him much to the delight of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the referee. The age of such play makers who made the 90 minutes of a football match feel like seconds seems to be gone by but this makes the legend, Okocha the more special. Not winning the African Footballer of the Year will not stop many Africans from considering him as one of the greatest the world as a whole has ever produced. Africa waits on for the next shining star to get more commentators the world over fired for lacking patriotism!
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