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Jay-Jay Okocha: The EPL Cult-hero

London – So good they named him twice. Jay-Jay Okocha was one of those rare talents that everybody loved, whether you supported his footbal...

London – So good they named him twice. Jay-Jay Okocha was one of those rare talents that everybody loved, whether you supported his football team or not.

A seven-time Nigerian Player of the Year, he’s best remembered, in this country at least, for his time at Bolton Wanderers. He helped save the Lancashire club from relegation and then took them to the final of the League Cup and into Europe after they qualified for the UEFA Cup.

He’s also remembered for a frankly obscene array of tricks that left scores of opposition players crying into their post-match beer.

“I love showing off my skills on the pitch,” he once said. “You can make opposing players look stupid.”

And boy did he do that. Okocha got his first big break in the game in 1990 when he was visiting his friend Binebi Numa in Germany.
Jay-Jay Okocha

Numa was playing for Borussia Neunkichen in the third tier of German football and when Okocha turned up to watch him train one morning, he asked if he could join in. The next day the coach offered him a contract. He was soon wowing fans in Germany.

Okocha’s promise was such that he was snapped up by Eintracht Frankfurt and it was with Die Adler that he scored a goal that is still talked about in the Bundesliga.

In a game against Karlsruher, he picked up the ball in the opposition penalty area and then humiliated three defenders and legendary German keeper Oliver Kahn as well.

After two seasons with Fenerbahce, Okocha signed for Paris Saint-Germain in 1998 and the fee of £14million was a record for an African player. It was during his time in the French capital that Okocha was asked to take a promising young Brazilian player under his wing.

Okocha was lured to Lancashire by then Trotters boss Sam Allardyce, who had seen him play in the 2002 Word Cup Finals for Nigeria and made a few calls. So Big Sam set up a meeting at Charles de Gaulle airport to try to convince Okocha to join Bolton.

“I started the usual spiel,” said Sam. “We’re not the most fashionable club . . . dah dee dah . . . but we have got Youri Djorkaeff.”

Okocha stopped him in his tracks. “I know, I want to come to Bolton,” he replied.

A deal was done at the airport but rather than hop on a private plane with his agents in tow, Okocha just jumped in his car and drove all the way to Bolton to sign his contract the following day.

His move to Bolton in the summer of 2002 helped Okocha fulfil his dream of appearing in the Premier League and, presumably, playing alongside Colin Hendry and Mike Whitlow.

He was an instant hit and scooped award after award, including the BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2003 and 2004 and the club’s 2005 Player of the Year.

He also won Goal of the Month in April 2003 for an amazing effort against West Ham where he ran from deep inside his own half, hurdling tackles, before lashing the ball past David James in the Hammers’ goal from 25 yards.

He loved a free-kick or two.

Take the League Cup semi-final first leg against Aston Villa in 2004 when the Nigerian curled in a corker in the first half and then, in the second, scored one of the greatest free-kicks you’re ever likely to see.

The goal – one of two Okocha scored in the game – stunned Allardyce, who later said: “I have been associated with this club for 17 years and I haven’t seen anyone better than him here.

“Jay-Jay’s second has to be the goal of the season. “He bent it from that angle around the outside of the wall with his right foot into the top corner of the net.

“Thomas Sorensen barely moved, it moved that quick. Jay-Jay’s talent is unquestionable and he has done us a magnificent job.” – The Sun.

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