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Nigerian Football

Behold, it’s Jay Jay Okocha’s anniversary as international footballer

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

One of the globally acclaimed footballers to have come from Nigeria is Austin Okocha who is better known as ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha.

He belongs to the acclaimed Golden Generation of the Super Eagles which dazzled the continent and the world from 1994 to 1996. Okocha was pivotal and a central performer in the squad.
  His illustrious career in the squad with which he made 68 appearance started on this day 31 years ago on 2 May.

He made his first appearance for the Super Eagles in a World Cup qualifying duel with Cote d’Ivoire in Abidjan. Nigeria lost 2-1. Since then, Okocha has had 68 caps.

He remains one of Nigeria’s most iconic footballers as his fame cut across the continent.

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At Eintracht Frankfurt he remains one of the most revered players to have worn the German club’s colour as the fans still have fond memories of him, even over two decades since his departure.

His skill with the ball was a beauty to behold. Even other accomplished players confessed they were inspired by Okocha’s skills.

From being a midfielder he rose to become the captain of not just his English Premier League club, Bolton Wanderers, but also of the Super Eagles.

In March 2004, the legendary Brazilian football icon, Pelé named him among top 125 living footballers in the world. Significantly, only five players from Africa made the list.

    When he moved from Fenerbache of Turkey to 1998 French Cup winners, Paris St. Germaine at a record fee of $17 million transfer fee, the amount sent into the archives the two most expensive transfers earlier made in French soccer history, when Olympic Marseille paid $12.6 million each for Italian international Fabrizio Ravenelli and former Metz star, Robert Pires.

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  Okocha’s sign-up was regarded as a bid at rebuilding the club to recapture the French League. His languid skill and deceptive pace already made him a favourite among French fans who watched him played four World Cup matches. His creative spark was the most noticeable feature of the erratic Super Eagles at the France ’98 World Cup.

   Okocha’s career  begun at home while playing as a 16 year old for Enugu Rangers. But a chance encounter whilst on holiday in Germany launched his international career. He tried out for fourth division club, Borussia Neunkirchen and they snapped him up.

   In 1992 Okocha began his ascent in the German league, joining first division club Eintracht Frankfurt and signing professional terms. It was at Frankfurt that he first began to excite German crowds with his dazzling dribbling skills and drew the attention of European agents.

  A £1million move to Turkish outfit Fenerbahce was the result in 1996 and Okocha helped his new side to the league title in his first season, but just two seasons later he was on the move again in a staggering $17million switch to Paris St. Germain, making him the most expensive Nigerian footballer ever.

   After seeing out his contract with the French giants, Okocha was available on a free transfer – hence the rumoured £3.3million-a-year wages he was reported to be demanding from Bolton Wanderers. It is testament to Sam Allardyce’s negotiation skills that he was able to convince the midfielder to drop his high demands and join the English Premiership outfit.

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  At Bolton, he was like a cult hero. “Jay Jay Okocha – so good they named him twice”, was a common chant by Bolton fans. This was the attitude of  fans towards the gifted Nigerian after the skilful midfielder played the lead role in securing the Trotters Barclaycard Premiership status in his debut season at the club. The Nigerian helped Bolton to one of their most successful seasons ever during the 2003/04 campaign. For 131 years, Bolton Wanderers had wandered in the wilderness.

   The 2003/04 was undoubtedly the best season the club ever had. Okocha was part of that historic moment. In the past, it was common to see Bolton Wanderers slipping into relegation almost every other season. Before Okocha’s arrival at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton Wanderers hardly ever spent three consecutive seasons in the top division.

   After a slow start to his Bolton career Okocha came into his own in the second half of the season, thrilling crowds with his tricks and pleasing Sam Allardyce with his match winning performances. Bolton’s Player of the Season had many memorable moments throughout the 2002/03 campaign, but his most important contribution was the winning goal against relegation rival’s West Ham at the Reebok.

  As if to prove his talent, Okocha was honoured with the BBC’s African Player of the Year award for two consecutive seasons. The player who once featured for Nigeria at Mauritius ’93 African Youth Championship moved to SC Qatar at the close of the 2005/06 season.

  At the close of the 2006 season, he ranked next to Muda Lawal in the number of international appearances for Nigeria.

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  The high-point of his career was the scoring of the historical 1,000th goal of the African Cup of Nations.  This he did at Monastir, Tunisia, when he converted a penalty kick to put the score-line at 2-0 in a 4-0 defeat of South Africa.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

Nigerian Football

Osimhen blasts Finidi

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Super Eagles’ arrowhead striker, Victor Osimhen has called out Finidi George who just resigned his position as Nigeria’s coach.

A livid Osimhen in a life post on Facebook, said that the erstwhile Nigerian coach lied about him and his commitment to the Super Eagles. He thereafter rained invectives on the coach and those who share the former Super Eagles’ point of view.

He remarked that he got injured in his club’s last Serie A match against Lecce and went to see his doctor.

After the report came out, Osimhen said he called Finidi to inform him of the injury and that he video recorded the conversation.

 He said he opted to still come to camp, but Finidi refused asking him to stay away and recover. He is however angry that Finidi reportedly doubted his commitment to Super Eagles.

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Nigerian Football

Ikenne town gets second club in Nigeria Premier League

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Ikenne, the home town of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the immediate past vice president, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, has entered the record books as the smallest community to have two clubs at the elite Nigeria football league, the NPFL. 

Next season, the town will have two clubs in the Nigeria Premier Football League following the promotion of Beyond Limit FC from the second tier Nigeria National League (NNL) after the play-off in Enugu.

Beyond Limit FC now join Remo Stars, strong contenders of the Nigerian league title in the past three seasons.

Also promited to the Premier League are Ikorodu City FC,  Nasarawa United and El-Kanemi Warriors.

The four teams secured promotion to the NPFL from the Nigeria National League (NNL) play-offs in Enugu.

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Nasarawa United and El-Kanemi Warriors are returning to the top division.

The teams clinched the top two spots in the Northern and Southern Conferences of the NNL.

In the Northern Conference, Nasarawa United of Lafia beat Sporting Supreme 2-1, finishing first with nine points.

El-Kanemi Warriors defeated Sokoto United 4-1 to take second place with six points.

Both Nasarawa United and El-Kanemi Warriors were relegated from the NPFL last year after finishing bottom of the league’s Group A but they have bounced back impressively at the first time of asking.

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In the Southern Conference, Beyond Limits topped the group with seven points after a 1-0 win over Inter Lagos. Ikorodu City beat Madiba FC 2-0, securing the second promotion spot with five points.

Beyond Limits, Football Academy etched its name in the history books after becoming the first African team to win the prestigious Viareggio Cup in Italy.

Each team in the playoffs played three matches, with the top two teams from each conference earning promotion to the NPFL.

Ikorodu City was established just two years ago.

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Nigerian Football

Leaders Rangers, Fall to Shooting Stars

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Nigeria League leaders, Enugu Rangers, were on the losing side on Wednesday as old rivals, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, picked the maximum points before a capacity home crowd.

Dumte Christian Pyagbara’s header in the 12th minute earned the Shooting Stars three points and consolidated their quest for continental ticket  next season.

In the other matches, defending champion, Enyimba of Aba dropped to third position following a disappointing 1-1 scoreline with visiting Bayelsa United.

Alade Balogun put the home side in front in the 20th minute but relegation threatening Bayelsa side restores parity in the 35th minute through Ekeson Okorie.

The result pushed Enyimba to the third position following Remo Stars’ comprehensive 4-1 win over Heartland of Owerri at the Remo Stars Stadium in Ikenne.

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An early goal from Stanley Joseph in the 14th minute and Franck Mawuena in the 38th minute gave the home side respite till the end of the half.

Joseph pushed further with the third goal in the 69th minute just as Jide Fatokun scored another dip into injury time to make Chukwu Emeka’s consolatory goal earlier in the secured inconsequential.

Kwara United won 2-0 at home against Kano Pillars while Niger Tornadoes won 3-2 against Lobi stars and Plateua United compounded Sporting Lagos’ relegation battle with a 2-1 win away in Lagos.

While Bendel Insurance were 2-1 better against Rivers United at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin just as Akwa United enjoyed a 3-1 win over Katsina United and Abia Warrious won 3-1 away at Gombe United.

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