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Jay-Jay Okocha… Time To ‘Dribble’ Outside The Pitch



FORMER Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, is one uncommon football talent to emerge from the continent of Africa. In his playing days for both country and clubs across Europe, Okocha was adored for his dribbling skill and magical touch with the ball. He was nicknamed ‘Maradona of Africa.’ 

  Okocha helped the Super Eagles to win the African Nations Cup trophy at Tunisia ’94 and also the Olympics soccer gold medal at Atlanta ’96. He went on to feature for the Super Eagles at three FIFA World Cup finals – USA ‘94, France ’98 and Korea/Japan 2002.

   But years after his retirement from active football, Okocha is back in the saddle, this time, to play a part in football management.

  Jay-Jay, who hails from Ogwashi-Uku, was recently elected Chairman of Delta State Football Association (DFA). Okocha and Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi (Osun State), are the only ex-players to be elected state FA chairmen in Nigerian football history.  Jay-Jay took over from Amaju Pinnick, who is now the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

  For four years, Okocha served as vice chairman to Pinnick in the Delta FA, before his election as chairman two weeks ago.

   Okocha is among 17 Nigerian coaches and former international players currently in London for a capacity building programme, a package sponsored by Taleveras Foundation in partnership with the NFF, to ensure that science is applied in football in the technical areas.

  At the Murtala Mohammed Airport last week, Okocha caught the eyes of many travelers. They formed a circle around Jay-Jay in their bid to take photograph, while he was waiting to catch his flight to London.

  In his playing days, Jay-Jay was always busy, thinking of how to frisk the ball pass his opponents on the field of play.  He never spared time to entertain journalists, who always thronged to him for interviews. But things seem to have changed. 

   Despite finding time out of his busy schedule to satisfy the fans at the airport, Okocha was able to speak with The Guardian on issues centered on his life outside the football pitch. 

   “One thing is to win election to become a state FA chairman, but another is for such individual to live up to his responsibility,” Okocha told The Guardian. “My new capacity as Delta FA Chairman comes with plenty of challenges outside the football pitch. It is a different scenario compared to my playing days.”

  As a player, the attacking midfield guru was a delight to watch. Okocha was voted Nigerian Footballer of the Year in 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. He won the BBC African footballer of the year award in 2004 and 2005 and also emerged Bolton Wanderers footballer of the year in 2005. Okocha was voted African Nations Cup player of the tournament and joint golden boot winner at Tunisia 2004 African Nations Cup tournament, despite Super Eagles’ third place finish.

  To him, it might require extra energy from his board to match the record already set by Pinnick in Delta FA.

  “We have to really strive hard to consolidate on Pinnick’s legacies in DFA. It will require a lot of things, but the Jay-Jay you all know will try as much as possible to lift Delta football to a greater height. I know it will be challenging.” 

  The DFA, under Pinnick, was able to break new grounds by securing shirt sponsorship deal with Zenith Bank for Warri Wolves FC, the first by any bank in the country. The deal was worth N50 million each for the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 seasons. 

  Another remarkable achievement of the DFA, which Okocka and his new board must strive to surpass, was the sponsorship deal with Oceanic Bank (now EcoBank). The deal remains the longest football sponsorship in the Nigerian (FA) history. The draws for the 16th edition of Delta Federations Cup took place on Friday in Warri. The competition will hold in four venues, including the Jay-Jay Okocha Stadium, Ogwashi-Uku, Oleh, Otu-Jeremi and Ughelli Stadium. 

   The DFA also enhanced the capacity of its staff, with many affiliates of the body as direct beneficiaries. Coaches’ training at the National Institute for Sports (NIS) Lagos and the College of Physical Education, Mosogar, accounted for about 1,500 of them getting certified within five years, courtesy of Zenith Bank sponsorship.

  One immediate task before the Okocha-led DFA is how to raise fund from corporate organisations to support Warri Wolves in their bid to win the 2015 CAF Confederations Cup.

  Wolves qualified for the next stage of the competition last week by beating visiting Racing Bobo FC of Burkina Faso 3-0 in the second leg of their encounter to qualify on 4-0 aggregate, after winning the first leg 1-0 in Bobo Dioulasso two weeks ago.

  “The DFA don’t have monthly allocation from the state government and what that means is that we have to maintain cordial relationship with our existing sponsors and also work extra hard to secure new ones for our various programmes.” 

   The man Okocha took over from in DFA (Pinnick) was surrounded by ex-footballers in his tenure. Apart from Jay-Jay serving as his vice, others were appointed into key positions.

  They included, former Super Eagles winger, Victor Ikpeba.  Another ex-international, Edema Fuludu, headed Delta State League for four years, while another ex-international, Davidson Owumi, was named Chief Executive Officer of Warri Wolves FC. One of Nigeria’s longest serving FA Secretaries, Friday Onothoja, headed the DFA secretariat. There were also regular mid-season cooper and fitness tests for referees in the state.

  Okocha has promised to use his managerial skills to make Delta State’s school football the delight of all sport-loving Nigerians.

  Two years ago, Ogedegbe Primary School, Warri, won the National Channel’s Kids Cup, beating all opponents in Lagos. Few days later, the synergy between the DFA and the state’s ministry of education yielded fruitful dividend, when Warri City Stadium played host to the Governor’s Cup competition among public secondary schools.

 The committee for the 2013 Delta Governor’s Cup headed by Prof. Patrick Muoboghare had such ex-players as Austin Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, Davidson Owumi and John Omughele. The impact was massive.

   However, the euphoria that greeted the maiden edition of the Delta Governor’s Cup died shortly after the 2013 final, as the committee complained of lack of fund from the government to organize subsequent editions. The members complained that the honorarium even promised them by the government for their good job was never paid. Also, the foreign trip promised students of Comprehensive Secondary School, Ogwashi-Uku, for winning the trophy never came to reality.

   Okocha said one of his priorities is to go the extra mile to make the Governor’s Cup a regular competition for public secondary schools in Delta State. He is equally praying and hoping that another sports-loving governor emerge in the coming election so as to continue the good work, which Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan started. 

  “It is easy to assemble players who have made their mark for national or international competition, but you cannot beat your chest to say you paved the way for them to become somebody. But if you make it possible for a secondary school student to climb in his football career through competitions like the Governor’s Cup, such person could earn the respect of the player in the future.”

   Like many other Nigerian football stars, Okocha started his career on the streets, kicking anything round around him.

 “My administration will endeavour to dig deep into grassroots football because that is the key to the future of the game,” he told The Guardian. 

  Though Okocha hails from Delta, he was brought up in the Coal City, Enugu, where he started his career with the Flying Antelopes, Enugu Rangers, in 1990. 

  He made his official debut for Nigeria in the qualifiers for USA ‘94 FIFA World Cup, which the Eagles lost 1-2 to the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in May 1993. 

  Jay-Jay began his European football career in Germany, where he was handed a deal by third division side, Borussia Neunkirchen. He later grew to become Super Eagles captain in 2002, with his first challenge as skipper being the Japan/Korea 2002 World Cup. 

  Okocha led the team to Tunisia 2004 edition of the African Nations Cup and despite the Eagles settling for another bronze medal, he was able to win the hearts of many African fans with his breathtaking display, scoring four goals, including a superlative free kick against the Lions of Cameroun in the quarterfinal. Okocha also scored the 1000th goal in the Nations Cup history against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa.

  Among European clubs Okocha displayed his skills were Borussia Neunkirchen (1990-1992) and Eintracht Frankfurt (1992-1996). Between 1996 and 1998, Jay-Jay played for Ferierbahce, where he became the most expensive African footballer and a Turkish Citizen.

  He later featured for Paris Saint Germain (PSG), between 1998 and 2002, before switching to Bolton Wanderers in England, where he played from 2002 to 2006. His skills helped Bolton to their first Cup final, where they finished runners up.

  Okocha later played for Qatar SC in the 2006-2007 season, before returning to England in 2007-2008 season, featuring for Hull City.  He retired in 2008.

  To Okocha, the journey into a new sphere of football has just begun.

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