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On This Day - Jay-Jay Okocha is born

Bolton legend Jay-Jay Okocha turns 44 today: a look back at his time there under Sam Allardyce


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Augustine Azuka "Jay-Jay" Okocha

When Jay Jay Okocha travelled to the 2002 World Cup, he was without a club. His contract as Paris Saint Germain had ended, and there was no chance he was going to be hanging around Parc des Princes when he came back from Japan.

Okocha was man of the match when Nigeria drew with England in the Nagai Stadium in Osaka. 

It was June 12th and their final Group F game. It was also their only point and the end of their tournament.

The future looked bleak for Nigeria’s captain, the player had moved from Fenerbahce four years previously for £10m; making him Nigeria’s most expensive footballer ever. 

But on £80,000 a week and PSG in desperate need to trim their outgoings, they offered him a new deal, but on reduced wages. Unsurprisingly he rejected and traveled to Japan.

Six days after his country’s elimination, Okocha signed for Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers. The deal wasn’t as straight forward as might have been expected, considering he was allowed move for free from PSG. 

His wage demands at the time were reported to be in the region of £3.3m a season. A deal was eventually struck though, and he signed a two-year deal.

He had it on good advice, what he was coming into in the Premier League. International teammates had plied their trade there and were able to offer insight. Taribo West had a sojourn there in the early 2000’s. Nwankwo Kanu was a cult hero at Arsenal.

So when Jay Jay Okocha, who turns 44 on Monday, moved to Bolton, he knew what he was walking into. And he also knew he was more than capable of fitting in.

Allardyce had assembled a team of apparent cast-offs. Ivan Campo came in on loan from Real Madrid. Youri Djorkaeff, adroit and capable, had come in from Kaiserlautern, the same year he retired from French international duty. 

For all the flair that such players brought there was genuine steel too. Midfielder Stig Tofting protected his defense with energy and edge. Underrated players like Gareth Farrelly, added balance to the flair that Allardyce had introduced.

In Okocha’s case, it was more than his dexterity and vision that he added to the set-up. Experienced, smart and with a genuine football mind that could anticipate as well as react, he stood out. But he was also an individual who knew the relevance and importance of contributing to the teams cause.

Deeply religious – he was given his own hotel room when the team traveled so he could pray without distraction - he was always quick to focus on the collective. In an interview ahead of the 2004 League Cup Final against Middlesbrough {which they lost} he said "When I was in Paris I was at a big club in a major city, but nobody really cared about each other. It didn't have that family feeling, I didn't see any team spirit. Here, everyone gets along. There are different people, different departments, but all working together with a common aim."

That Okocha won little silverware, comes secondary to the memory of a player who was capable of getting out of dead-end situations on the pitch with adroit touches that were imaginative.

But more than imagination, he worked at his game. And one other trait that is often related to Okocha is his smile. Always smiling. Always working. Always giving to those around.

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