The stories and achievements of Nigerian football can not be complete without mention of the contributions of the immensely gifted Austin “Jay-jay” Okocha.
Okocha was a big part player in Nigeria’s biggest moments of winning the 1994 African Cup of Nations as well as the first ever African Olympic gold.
Obayomi Adewale caught up with Austin Okocha and he relieved some of his magic moments with the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
I must say I can only be grateful to God for having such a wonderful Career without any serious injuries and I must say that I am enjoying myself a bit more now because it was not easy to be on top of your game for so many years, it took a lot out of your body physically now I am relaxing and enjoying what I have labored for.
SO GOOD THEY NAMED HIM TWICE
It all started when I moved to Bolton, they have probably never signed a player like me in their history, it was like I brought flair to that town and then they were like he’s even so good they named him twice, JAY-JAY, not once but twice.
FIRST STEP TO STARDOM
For me I never ever wanted to settle for second best, even at that early stage, even at that level so I was a bit stubborn because I believe that I was good enough to be in any team in spite of the fact that I was still a teenager because I really joined Rangers International immediately I finished secondary school, but the amazing thing was that I had started playing top football for Clubs even when I was still in secondary school so for me when I look back, I can say that was when I realized that yes, I am really talented to get to the very top, that I realized yes, the potentials are really there like everyone had observed, that I must really be so good to have been able to sign for a top side while still in secondary school.
FIRST GOAL FOR NIGERIA
When I learnt most Nigerians were surprised about the impact of my game against Algeria in Lagos when I scored my first goal in my first home game which was my second Eagles game I attributed it to the fact people were not following my progress in the German League as the German League was actually not being shown live on television in Nigeria as at that time like it is now week in week out. But for me it was a great opportunity to break through into the national team, we had so many players then, superb experienced players that I realized you only need one opportunity to have your place in the national team or else you might have to wait for years to be able to have that kind of opportunity again, so for me I had no doubt in my mind that I needed to prove myself that day.
WINNING NATIONS CUP GOLD
For me I didn’t realize how big the African Cup of Nations was, it was my first ever Nations Cup and for me as at that time all I really cared about was just playing football, I didn’t even realize how really important the trophy was until we got to Nigeria after winning, when the whole streets were packed with Nigerians really celebrating, that was when I really realized the impact of what we have done, that we have achieved something great here and I had thought it was easy doing this but now I have started realizing how tough it is winning the African Cup of Nations and qualifying for the World Cup, but back then I just wanted to play football.
PHYSICAL STRESS TO THE BODY
I really stressed my body physically all through my soccer career, It was not going to be easy playing for club and country and of course the level where I was playing I was doing so much to maintain that level which I will tell you about now, I used to train even on my off days when normally I am supposed to be resting but I just had to make sure that I stay on top, that I must always maintain top fitness state and remain competitive and that was what kept me among the best during my period.
RETIREMENT FROM INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL
For me I had paid my dues,, was playing for the national team for over 13 years, played five African cup of Nations, Played Three World Cups, won the Olympic Games, I didn’t want to hang on there, I don’t like being carried along, I have always liked to be the best or to be among the best and don’t want to waste all that I have achieved, all that I have worked for in the national team, I hate being disgraced, so it was one of the reasons why I said hey, it’s time to go, that maybe it’s the best time to quit because I don’t want anybody to disgrace me or mess up what I have worked hard for, of course we are very good at that you know, inviting you and then disgracing you, I didn’t want that to happen to me as I have seen that happened to lots of people before me.
By Obayomi Adewale