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.
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.
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.
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.”