14th August – Jay-Jay Okocha

Jay-Jay Okocha is one of the greatest Nigerian players to have ever graced the world of football and he lit up every pitch he stepped foot on.

His smile was also seen by many and you could just tell that he loved playing football and enjoyed every minute on the pitch. His skills were wonderful to watch and he was such a good influence on other players including the Brazilian Ronaldinho.

Okocha started his career in Nigeria in 1990 joining Enugu Rangers. While on holiday in Germany visiting a friend he ended up going to a training session at Third Division side Borussia Neunkirchen and impressed the manager enough to sign the midfielder. He stayed for one season scoring seven times in 35 league games and this caught the attention of other clubs and initially he signed for FC Saarbrucken but after just a few months he joined Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.

Augustine Jay Jay OkochaFussball Eintracht Frankfurt

He continued to shine in Germany and scored some amazing goals during his four year spell at the club, including one against Karlsruher, where he dribbled into the penalty area, beating some players twice before slotting past Oliver Kahn. Unfortunately towards the end of his time at the club he fell out with manager Jupp Heynckes and with the club being relegated Okocha knew he had to leave.

In 1996, Fenerbahce signed Okocha and once again was an instant success, delighting fans with his skills and his free kick ability. During his time at the club he played 62 games and scored 30 goals which alerted the attention of PSG. The French side paid £14 million for the Nigerian, making him the most expensive African at the time. It was during this time that he became a mentor to Ronaldinho and in his four year stint he scored 12 times.

Okocha PSG

After the 2002 World Cup, Okocha made the move to Bolton Wanderers. Despite injuries he played a key role in helping the club avoid relegation and his seven goals, including their goal of the season against West Ham, made him a fan favourite. The fans printed shirts saying ‘so good he was named twice’. In the following campaign he was named club captain and led them to the final of the League Cup.

Okocha BW

He played over 100 times in the Premier League but he left the club under a cloud. He didn’t think they had built on the foundations that he had helped lay and went to play in Qatar for a season. Afterwards he returned to England signing for Championship side Hull City. Due to injuries he didn’t reach his full potential but he did help them get promoted. He was then released at the end of the season and retired.

The final word can go to Sam Allardyce. “On and off the field he was the captain you looked for. He sorted the odd scuffle out in the dressing room. Then there was outstanding ability on the field. He became an iconic figure at Bolton Wanderers.”

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22nd July – Dirk Kuyt

Dirk Kuyt will go down in history as one of those players that put his teams needs before his own as he played in many different positions and performed admirably.

Kuyt started his career at Dutch side Quick Boys and after some impressive performances he was signed by Utrecht at the age of 18. He started his time there on the wing but during the 2002-03 season he was used a striker and scored 20 league goals and also scored in the KNVB Cup final.

Kuyt Utrecht

This convinced Feyenoord to sign Kuyt and he was an instant success, scoring 20 goals in his first season and in the opening game of the 2004-05 season he scored his first hatrick against De Graafschap. He would continue his good form and 29 goals meant he finished as the Eredivisie top scorer. More goals followed but even more remarkably during his seven seasons at the club he only missed five games. But on 18th August 2006 he joined Liverpool.

Kuyt Feyenoord

The fans quickly took to him and would score his first goal for the club against Newcastle United. He played a key role in helping the team reach the Champions League final and scored in it but unfortunately they were defeated by Milan. The second season was a little more difficult but he did score twice against Everton. It was during this time that he was more often than not played on the right wing.

He had also started to become known as a big game player and would pop up with some very important goals. During the 2008-09 season he had his best return of 15 goals as the team finished second. By the end of the next season, Everton fans were getting sick of Kuyt as he scored in both fixtures and in the second game his goal was his 50th for the club.

Once again he showed why the Liverpool fans loved him by scoring a hatrick against Manchester United in a 3-1 win and would later become the first player since John Aldridge to score in five consecutive games. He would finish the season as the club’s top scorer but the following campaign saw him have less of an impact but he did become only the fifth player to score 50 goals for Liverpool in the Premier League.

Kuyt Liverpool

After 208 league games and 51 goals he joined Fenerbahce in 2012. He managed to score on his league debut and had three successful years at the club, scoring 37 times but it was time for him to return home and he rejoined Feyenoord. He continued to score goals but even more remarkably he led them to their first Eredivise title since 1999 and he scored a hatrick to clinch the title.

The final word can go to Kenny Dalglish. “Dirk is the Liverpool player of choice. He never gives up, fights with everything and he is simply a good footballer. He scores goals and often in major competitions or at crucial moments.”

24th October – Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney will divide opinion as he had the potential to become one of the best in the world and some say he has reached that in his career whereas others say that he has failed to live up to expectations.

The striker is 29 and if he doesn’t pick up any serious injuries he will become Manchester United’s all time top scorer and also beat Bobby Charlton’s 49 goals at international level. With 43 goals for England in 99 games it is a good record but he has largely failed in the main competitions which has left England fans more frustrated with him than any other.

He started his career at Everton and made his debut against Tottenham Hotspur in 2002. His breakthrough moment was when he scored a last minute winner against Arsenal on the 19th October and followed this up by scoring the winner against Leeds United. In December he was named BBC’s Young Personality of the Year, scored another winning goal against Blackburn Rovers and then received his first red card against Birmingham City. He ended his first season with eight goals and in the following campaign and he remained very consistent, scoring nine times throughout the season.
Rooney Everton
Rooney signed for Manchester United in August 2004 but had to wait to make his debut and he scored a hatrick in a win over Fenerbahce in the Champions League. Despite scoring 17 goals and being named the PFA Young Player of the Year, the club did not win a trophy. Rooney would go on to win his first trophy in the following season as they beat Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the League Cup final, with him grabbing two. The 2006-07 season was an interesting one for Rooney as he went 10 games without scoring but managed 14 goals and picked up his first Premier League winners medal. In June 2007 he was given the number 10 shirt and despite missing game time in the opening half of the season he recovered to help the club retain the title and also win the Champions League.
England v Ireland - International Friendly
He was never prolific until the 2009-10 season. On the 22nd August 2009 he became the 20th player to score 100 goals for the club when he scored twice in a win over Wigan. During the season he was particularly good at scoring with his head and did this in the final of the League Cup against Aston Villa to help his side win the game. An injury against Bayern Munich slowed him down but he finished the season with 34 goals. After the season there were reports that Rooney wanted to leave but he made a U-turn and signed a new deal.
Despite not hitting the same standard as the previous season he still scored his 100th Premier League goal and helped the team win the title. He returned to his brilliant best in the 2011-12 season and started fantastically, scoring consecutive hatricks in the early weeks against Arsenal and Bolton. By the end of the season he had scored 34 goals.
Rooney MU7
After the signing of Robin Van Persie, many felt that Rooney was no longer the main man and despite them combining well and helping the club win another title, Alex Ferguson revealed that Rooney had handed in a transfer request. New manager David Moyes convinced the striker to stay and he did his best for the manager, scoring 17 goals and providing 10 assists but it was a disappointing season. Under Louis Van Gaal, he was named the club captain and scored on the opening day against Swansea City but a red card against West Ham has put doubt on whether he is the right man for the job.

The final word can go to former captain Peter Schmeichel. “What I really like about Rooney is his attitude towards playing for United. Wherever the manager tells him to play he will do that with a smile on his face. He realises his importance to the team. So I think he’s the obvious choice for the captaincy.”

9th September – Alex Song

West Ham pulled off what could be the signing of the summer when they loaned defensive midfielder Alex Song from Barcelona and he will certainly add a lot to the team.

Although he is more known for his tough tackling and strength, what is underrated is his passing ability and being able to spot a pass from a deep lying position. It is not surprising that Robin Van Persie and Song had a very good partnership at Arsenal and the striker profited from Song’s vision and Van Persie knew if he made a run then Song could find him. But at West Ham he will definitely be loved and could play a part in getting them a top half finish.

Song began his career at French club Bastia and in the 2003-04 season he became a part of their first team, playing both at centre back and holding midfield and made 34 appearances in all competitions. After his impressive rise he was being linked with a lot of clubs around Europe and it was Arsene Wenger who decided to sign him, initially on a season long loan.
Song Bastia
He made his Arsenal debut in a 2-0 win over Everton on the 19th September 2005. He only played a further eight times over the course of the season but he did enough to convince Wenger to sign him permanently in June 2006. During the 2006-07 season he scored his first goal in a 6-3 win over Liverpool in the League Cup. For the second half of the season he was loaned out to Charlton Athletic and although he performed brilliantly in his 12 games he could not help them avoid relegation.

After returning to Arsenal he still could not become a first team regular, and whenever he did play he was mostly used as a centre back. Finally his breakthrough came in 2008-09 season as he quickly became an important member of the team, forming a great partnership with Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield. He played 48 times in all competitions and scored his first Champions League goal against Fenerbahce and then his first league goal against Wigan Athletic.

His career blossomed from there and was rarely left out of the Arsenal team when he was fit. He will also go down in history for scoring the 1000th Arsenal Premier League goal under Arsene Wenger in a 4-1 win over Bolton Wanderers on the 11th September 2010.
Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Arsenal v Everton - Emirates Stadium
Fabregas departed Arsenal in the following summer and many wonder where their creativity was now going to come from and it was Song that stepped up the most. In his 34 Premier League games he assisted 11 goals, with many of these falling onto the left foot of Robin Van Persie. After 217 appearances for Arsenal he was signed by Barcelona for £15 million on the 20th August 2010.
Song Barca
In his first season he helped the club win La Liga but he did not get enough game time over the two seasons he spent at the club, appearing just 65 times and it was not a surprise to anyone that he was leaving the Spanish giants this summer, however not many expected him to join West Ham.

The final word can go to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “Song wants to get forward. Sometimes defensive midfielders just want to defend. It’s not just his main role. He does it well in fairness. Song has improved his engine. He doesn’t need a breather now when he goes and comes back.”

6th September – Joseph Yobo

Joseph Yobo holds the honour of being David Moyes’ first signing at Everton and went on to be a very good player for the club and also holds the record for being Nigeria’s most capped player.

He has now retired from international football after competing in the 2014 World Cup and after not being in the starting 11 for the first game he was brought into the squad to help them qualify from the group and helped keep a clean sheet against Bosnia. They were knocked out of the tournament by France with Yobo unfortunately scoring an own goal but he did help his country win the African Cup of Nations in 2013.
Yobo Nigeria
Yobo started his career at Belgian side Standard Liege and made his first team debut in 2000 and went on to make 46 appearances for the club, scoring twice in that time before moving onto France, signing for Marseille. He only played 23 times for the club before being loaned out to Everton in July 2002. He impressed during this loan spell and Everton took up the option to sign him permanently in the following summer and became a very consistent member of the squad.

The 2006-07 was one of the best for him personally as he formed a brilliant central defensive partnership with Joleon Lescott. Both players played every single minute of the Premier League campaign. Yobo was rewarded with a new contract, despite being linked with moves away from the club he stayed loyal to the team that brought him to the Premier League.
Yobo Everton
On the 15th April 2007 he broke another record at Everton, becoming the record appearance holder for an overseas player and he held this until early 2012. Later in the year on the 25th October 2007, he also became the first African player to captain the club in a UEFA Cup game against Greek side Larissa as normal captain Phil Neville was out injured.

Over the next few years Yobo was not always first choice and on the 31st August 2010 he joined Fenerbahce on loan for the season. He played 30 times and scored one goal, helping them win the Turkish league title and this led to his loan being extended for another season. With more impressive performances his transfer was eventually made permanent on the 4th August 2012.
Yobo Fener
After 114 appearances for the club he returned to England on loan as he joined Chris Hughton’s Norwich City on the 30th January 2014 to help them battle against relegation. His debut was against free scoring Manchester City and many expected Norwich to be blown away by Man City’s attacking talent but Yobo and his new teammates stood firm and managed to grind out a 0-0 draw. Unfortunately he could not help them stay up at the end of the season and his move was not made permanent.

Just before the start of the 2014-15 season his contract was terminated by mutual consent and he is still looking for a new club.

The final word can go to David Moyes. “Joe was liable to making a mistake when he first got here but he has continued to develop and now has a real authority about his game. He has captained us and he is also captain of his country, so he knows what it is about.”

26th August – Colin Kazim-Richards

Colin Kazim-Richards was once dubbed the ‘Coca Cola Kid’ after the company ran a competition for football fans to sign a player for their club.

Kazim-Richards was the player that Brighton signed after a fan of their club won the competition and the £250,000 was given to the club to sign a player. This is an extraordinary start to a career that just kept on getting more incredible as it went on with the striker travelling over Europe to play football and also represent Turkey’s national team despite being brought up in England but qualified for Turkey through his mother.

The striker started his career at Bury and after progressing through their youth team he was already attracting attention from bigger clubs at the age of 15. He broke into the first team in the 2004-05 season and scored three times in 30 appearances but his performances were very impressive for someone so young. It was at the age of 18 he signed for Brighton but as expected he played a lot from the bench in his first season at the club, however his still managed six goals, including their 5000th league goal.
Kazim Richards Brighton
He only stayed at the club for one season and submitted a transfer request which Brighton accepted and then sold him to Sheffield United for £125,000 on the 31st August 2006. He once again only lasted one season at the club and in his 27 league games he only managed one goal in a 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers.

On the 15th June 2007 he joined Turkish club Fenerbahce and in his first two seasons at the club he was in and out of the first team but he did manage to score in the Champions League quarter final against Chelsea on the 2nd April 2008. Despite his good performances when he was on the pitch he had a difficult relationship with the fans at times and was loaned out to French club Toulouse in January 2010 and scored on his debut in a 3-1 win over Le Mans.
Kazim Richards Fener
After 18 appearances and two goals he returned to Fenerbahce but after just another five games he was released on the 3rd January 2011 and joined local rivals Galatasaray and in his first half a season he scored five times including one against former club Fenerbahce. After a total of 35 games and seven goals and a short loan spell at Olympiakos, Kazim-Richards returned to England.
Kazim Richards Gala
Blackburn Rovers signed the striker on loan but his time at the club was blighted by a court appearance over an alleged homophobic gesture in a match away to former club Brighton. He managed to score five times in his 31 games but his loan was not made permanent and he signed for Bursaspor on the 4th September 2013 on a four year deal but after just one season he has joined Dutch side Feyenoord on loan.

The final word can go to former Blackburn manager Steve Kean. “He could be a real versatile player for us as he can play through the middle or he can play out wide. He’s got great power in his right foot and technically he has improved dramatically having played with some top players out in Turkey.”