African legend Okocha picks between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
What's the story?
Nigerian legend Jay-Jay Okocha has waded into football's eternal debate, making his choice between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. In an interview with FIFA's official website, the former Paris St-Germain and Bolton Wanderers superstar tried to be circumspect but ultimately chose Messi saying "I have to be diplomatic here, especially as I’ve a lot of Portuguese friends, but I tend to lean towards Messi. He’s a more natural talent. Ronaldo is a fantastic player, one of the best I’ve ever seen, but he’s been a bit unfortunate to be of the same generation as Messi. Consequently, they have to share the limelight."
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Okocha came to the limelight with his performances in the Bundesliga, following which Paris St-Germain made him the most expensive African player of all time in 1998, parting with £14 million for his services. The Nigerian then moved on to Bolton Wanderers after the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he quickly became a cult-favourite for his dribbling and free-kicks. Internationally, Okocha participated in 3 World Cups and won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1996, while also lifting AFCON in 1994 with the Super Eagles.
The heart of the matter
Despite Cristiano Ronaldo being favoured to win his second Ballon d'Or in a row, Okocha has prioritized Messi's individual skill over Ronaldo's team being successful, which is perhaps a window into how Okocha played himself. However, the Nigerian noted that the player who he most resembles currently is Paris St-Germain's record signing, Neymar.
The African legend explained his reasoning, saying "I’d say the player whose style most resembles mine would be Neymar. That’s because I played with a sense of joy and you can see that he feels the same and really enjoys his own play. He doesn’t play for himself or just to entertain the fans – he plays for his team. He uses his quality and skill for the good of the team."
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Okocha was perhaps as gifted as Neymar, but wasn't afforded the same chances to perform at the highest level. The Nigerian believes the Brazilian will soon be the best in the world, saying ""Messi and Ronaldo have dominated world football for a decade and, given the nature of football, at a certain point the baton will have to pass to someone else. I think Neymar has a great chance of filling that role."
It's not much of a surprise that Okocha has picked the more naturally skillful Messi over Ronaldo, given he was a player that preferred skill to efficiency himself. The eternal debate rages on, and even Okocha's contribution will not end this argument.