Jay-Jay Okocha, the captain of the Nigerian Super Eagles (football team), must be rubbing his hands with glee. If anything, he's had a remarkable year, and things look set to get better and better. He was recently named the Premiership player of the month for November, with his manager, Sam Allardyce picking up the award for manager of the month. (Story here)
This, after being named Nigerian footballer of the year for 2003 (but who else would have won it?). He has been enjoying rave reviews in the English press following his outstanding performances at Bolton, and is largely credited with keeping them in the premiership last season, resulting in him being named captain of Bolton. All this coming on the back of an 'average' world cup performance, in which Nigeria, for the first time ever, did not advance past the group stage of the competition (2002). (At least England couldn't beat us !!)
Okocha arrived in European football almost by accident. He had flown to Germany at the age of 17 to visit a friend who played football in Neunkirchen. Okocha, who had already played in the Nigerian first division with Enugu Rangers, went along to train with the local club and was immediately persuaded to stay. From Neunkirchen, he went to Saarbrucken and then quickly on to Eintracht Frankfurt in December 1991, still before his 18th birthday, where he exploded on to the Bundesliga stage.
A fallout with the coach saw him depart for Fenerbahce in Turkey, where the attention lavished on high profile players sometimes got the better of him. Okocha once lashed out at a photographer trying to take pictures of him strolling with his fiance in a high publicised incident. Okocha got his first taste of big-time European football in his first season at the Istanbul club in the 1996-97 Champions League and featured in Fenerbahce's shock win against Manchester United at Old Trafford. This was really historic, as it was the first time ever Manchester had been beaten at home in a European match.
After this came France 1998, and when Nigeria lost 4-1 to Denmark in the second round, Okocha forgot all about the team, and effectively 'marketed' himself to the world, with a dazling display of dribbling and skill. After that he became the most expensive African footballer with a $ 17 million transfer to PSG after the tournament, where his fortunes were mixed.
It was very much the same case in the player's first season with Bolton. He began very poorly and looked to be struggling with the pace of the English game. But he came good in the second half of the season, turning in a string of superb performances to save Bolton from relegation as finish as the club's joint top scorer with seven goals. The pick of the bunch was his fine solo goal to earn the vital victory over West Ham United in the relegation six-pointer at the Reebok.
The fact that his official website is still only available in French (English translation coming soon) shows that he must have had some success in Paris(www.jayjay-okocha.com). However, at the end of his contract with PSG, he wanted to move to England, and he signed for Bolton Wanderers after the 2002 world cup.
One might wonder how a 'small' club like Bolton might manage to sign a player like Okocha. It takes a trip to the Reebok Stadium to see why. Bolton's home ground is one of the most modern stadia in the world, in England, the only stadium in England that can compare to it is the Stadium of Light in Sunderland. This is why it is constantly being used to host concerts and other special events, like the football match organised by the Kanu Heart Foundation. While Manchester United and Liverpool can boast of large stadia with a lot of history and tradition attached to them, Bolton's tiny, but ultra modern arena can easily impress the likes of Okocha, Mario Jardel, Youri Djorkaeff and Ibrahim Ba, people who haved played at the highest level and will all tell you that there is something special about the Reebok and the fanatical fans that fill it every other weekend.
Anyway, back to the main topic for this post. And that is Okocha's recent statements about renewing his contract. He has caught the eyes of the biggest clubs in football with his mercurial performances at Bolton, and has not ruled out leaving Bolton in the summer when his contract runs out.
People who know Nigerians, and know Igbo people (Okocha's tribe) know that they are businessmen, and will know that they will jump at any oppurtunity, and they also feel they are very smart, but that's another story for another day. Anyway, Okocha's Igbo nature has come to the fore once again in his career as he 'skillfully' did not rule out leaving the club at the end of the season. His exact words were:
"I am still a Bolton player and have a contract until the end of the season. "Hopefully I will extend my contract. Without any doubt I am happy at Bolton. I have settled in quite well and that should be my first priority.
"But you never know what is going to happen in football and my door is always open for any other club."
Bolton boss Sam Allardyce has already warned he will resist all bids for Okocha, who has been linked with a number of high-profile clubs. However, Okocha will be free to talk to other clubs starting from January, which 'coincidentally' is when he will be away playing in the Nations Cup for Nigeria. I think we will see another 'France 98' performance from Okocha, as he once again 'markets' himself to prospective clubs. Read about this here.
Okocha's mouth has 'dribbled' so many times in the past, that I wouldn't advise anyone to take anything he says seriously. His list of offences are outlined below (and each one has evidence, with a link to the related news story):
1. Before the World Cup, he refused to confirm his signing for Bolton, in case any bigger club was going to make an offer. They didn't, and so he signed for them. He might have been thinking he would play very well in the World Cup, and attract the eyes of the large clubs, but Nigeria's poor showing meant this didn't happen.
2. After the World Cup, he announced that he was retiring from the National Team. Until he got to Bolton, and found out that if he did that, he wouldn't qualify for a work permit. So what did he say? He said that the junior team, the flying eagles, persuaded him not to retire. Yeah right.
3. When it looked likely that Bolton could be relegated, Okocha quickly declared that he would leave if the club went down. And when they didn't go, he was quick to declare his loyalty to them when he was appointed captian of the side.
4. This summer, after pressure from his manager, he annouced that he was going to concentrate on playing for his club, and would not be non-competitive matches for Nigeria. And when he snubbed Nigeria for the friendly against Japan in August, he showed that he meant it. However, the prospect of playing against Brazil was too tempting for Jay-Jay, and he captained his side to a 'glorious' 3-0 defeat on the 11th of June this year. This frustrated the Nigerian FA, who were trying to get his help in building a strong squad ahead of the Nations Cup, and his manager, who was trying to keep him fresh for club matches, as he was clearly playing both sides.But he's off for the Nations Cup in January.....Naughty, Naughty........
5. When Roman Abramovich brought his millions to Chelsea, and began to splash the cash, Okocha was quick to issue a 'come-and-get-me' plea. "I'm still ambitious," said Okocha. "I have a year left at Bolton and I'm happy there - but I can't say I won't accept an offer from Chelsea. "They are a better team and will be playing in the Champions League while our main target at Bolton would be to stay up." When the move failed to materialize, he was again quick to say he was 'happy at Bolton' on the club's official website."I'm quite settled here and very happy here, and happy I made the decision to stay in the Premiership. If we can learn from our mistakes, I think we can make things more comfortable for us than last season."
6. He was 'misquoted' by an English Newspaper, when he mentioned that he would like to play for Manchester United one day. Howeevr, I can't find any evidence of this on the Internet (But it happened, I can still remember it like it was yesterday). So the jury should please disregard that statement.............
A word of advice to Sam Allardyce, or the way things are looking, whoever is managing the team that holds the signature of the great Jay-Jay come next season. Something my mother told me as a little child, and I have come to realise the wisdom of this statement with every passing day.
NEVER TRUST AN IGBO MAN !!!
The prosecution rests.