BY KUNLE SOLAJA
One of the globally acclaimed footballers to have come from Nigeria is Austin Okocha who is better known as ‘Jay Jay’.
Pelé at one time, named him among top 125 living footballers in the world. Significantly, only five players from Africa made the list.
He is easily the first Nigerian to captain an English Premiership side when Sam Allardice handed him the skipper’s armband at Bolton.
His magical international career began on this date 2 May, 30 years ago when Super Eagles manager, Clemens Westerhorf handed him a starter’s shirt in a World Cup qualifier against Cote d’Ivoire at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan.
He played for 58 minutes before he was substituted with Isaac Semitoje, a defender. That was probably to enable the team defend its single goal lead attained since the fifth minute when Rashidi Yekini found the net.
Cote d’Ivoire eventually levelled up through Abdoulaye Traore’s 70th minute penalty. Five minutes later, Ahmed Ouattara scored another goal to give Cote d’Ivoire a 2-1 win.
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 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.
The high-point of his career in the Super Eagles was the scoring of the historical 1,000th goal of the Africa 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.