Football fans in Ebonyi have joined others across the globe to celebrate a former Super Eagles skipper and talisman, Augustine Okocha who clocked 48 on Saturday.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the dribbling wizard, known as ‘Jay Jay’ by fans around the world and affectionately called ‘Pa Jay’ by those in Enugu where he grew up, was born on Aug. 14, 1973.
NAN also reports that the AFCON 1994 gold medalist, Olympic Games 1996 gold medalist, AFCON 2000 silver medalist and AFCON 2002, 2004 and 2006 bronze medalist, meritoriously represented Nigeria from 1993 to 2006.
The fans, who spoke with NAN in Abakaliki on Saturday, described Okocha as a skill workshop whom the iconic Pele of Brazil touted as one of the world’s greatest footballers.
Ndudi Okonkwo, a Football Historian, recalled that Okocha took the nation’s football by storm in 1993 after a scintillating performance for the Flying Eagles at the African Youth Championship in Mauritius.
“I was inside the National Stadium, Lagos on July 3, 1993 when Jay Jay made his home debut for the Super Eagles in a USA ‘94 World Cup qualifier against Algeria.
“He kept fans on the edges of their seats with a scintillating performance, capped with an awesome free kick-equaliser for Nigeria and an audacious overhead dribble of the Algerian left full back,” he said.
Nobert Okolie, Media Officer of Okocha’s boyhood club, Enugu Rangers International FC, said that the club would always be proud of the mercurial midfielder.
“Pa Jay played for Rangers before leaving Nigeria in 1990 for Germany where he made his mark with Borrussia Neunkirchen and Eintracht Frankfurt.
“He played alongside his elder brother, Emma, and will be best remembered for his stupefying goal against defunct African Continental Bank (ACB) of Lagos, off a shot from the centre circle,” he said.
Franklin Anosike, a former student of Nike Grammar School, Enugu, where Okocha also attended, wished him God’s blessings and continued success in life.
“Okocha brought the school to the forefront of sports in the country and had a fabled tale about him stuffing oranges as football inside his school bag, while knocking around any round object.
“He tutored the great Ronaldinhio of Brazil in PSG of France when Lionel Messi, whose move to the club is currently being celebrated globally, was just 11 years old,” he said.
Mrs Angela Obi, a Financial Expert and Soccer Enthusiast, also felicitated Okocha and commended him for his responsible conduct during his active days.
“Okocha was not engrossed in any off-field controversy during his playing days and married Nkechinyere, his long-time heartthrob, instead of a foreign lady.
“He, alongside players like Kanu Nwankwo and few others are still financially stable, unlike other celebrated stars, who did not plan properly for the rainy day,” he said.