Jay Jay Okocha was Africa’s answer to Lionel Messi.
This was a man who brought fame even to the defenders who took the rather hangdog act of marking him. When Jay-Jay Okocha was on the ball, sticking out that torso, body quivering, dancing on the balls of his feet, there was something devastatingly epic about the way he moved opponents in times of yore. It would sap your strength out wondering how one man could craft so many ridiculously good touches. He would make you swear and not worry as if swearing was OK because you had used up every other word and nothing else reasonably hit the spot. He would make you chuckle, express amusement, sniff your sins away, shake your head and then swear some more. He scored the kind of goals you would normally see only tried on a computer game. Okocha did not do tap-ins. What the Nigerian did was drop his shoulder, slalom through the often hostile opposition defence, accelerate, go sluggishly down with his dribbles, pick up the pace again, go round the goalkeeper and put a good finish to a move so sweet. Nobody ever attacked a defence more thrillingly, with such relentless, brilliant fury. Nobody left so many opposition fans staring with such horrified admiration. Bet against Okocha inventing the art of dribbling but he took it to its highest level; the height that many of his peers and the next generation were and are finding hard to imitate.
Honours: African Football of the Year runner-up in 1998 and 2004. Two-time winner of BBC Footballer of the Year awards in 2003 and 2004. Names in Pele’s list of 125 greatest footballers. Oberliga Südwest: 1991, Saarland Cup: 1990, 1992, Fuji-Cup: 1992, Chancellor Cup: 1998, Atatürk Cup: 1998, Trophée des Champions: 1998, UEFA Intertoto Cup: 2001, Football League Cup: Runner-Up: 2004, Premier League Asia Trophy: 2005, Football League Championship play-off: 2008, African Cup of Nations: 1994, Afro-Asian Cup of Nations: 1995, Olympic Games: 1996, 2005 Bolton Wanderers footballer of the year. Nigerian footballer of the year: 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.