Widely regarded as one of the most gifted players to have ever come out of the continent of Africa, the former Paris Saint Germain attacking midfielder has shed lights on why he was never considered for the biggest individual awards in the world.
Austin Jay-Jay Okocha revealed that he was unlucky to play at a time when strikers were more likely to claim the CAF and FIFA Best Player awards. The former Nigeria international is convinced that had he moulded his career as a goal-getter and not a goal-creator, he would have made it to the top of the football pyramid.
A 20-year-old Okocha shot to international prominence in 1993 when his audaciously brilliant goal against Oliver Kahn was named the Goal of the Year in Germany.
And within ten years, the former Bolton Wanderers skipper won the Nigeria Footballer of the Year Award a record seven times.
However, despite his confidence on the ball, his technique, his creativity, his dribbling skills, and his rating as one of the best African players of all time, Jay Jay never bagged the CAF Best Player award.
The closest Okocha came to winning Africa’s top prize was in 1998 when he finished as runner-up to Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji.
Closer observation shows, though, that between 1995 and 2005 when the former Fenerbahce icon was at the peak of his powers, all the winners of the African Footballer of the Year winners were strikers. The likes of Nwankwo Kanu, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o even claimed the honours more than once.
Okocha, who banged in 34 goals in just 62 league games for Fener, believes that had he pushed to play as a striker, he would have turned out pretty good. Good enough to even win the FIFA Ballon d’Or a couple of times.
“In my time, it is true that the number 10 position was prestigious, but if you wanted to become the best in the world you had to play in 9,” the former Super Eagles skipper was quoted by Afrique Sports.
“I am certain that if I had played higher, I would have won at least two gold balls, not African, but the gold ball which recognizes the best player in the world.
“It is not pride, but just an observation. I think I had the ability to play 9, however, I preferred the position of No. 10 because it allowed me to unleash all my creative genius.
Okocha, though, won the BBC African Footballer of the Year award twice and was also named the Best Player of the Tournament at the 2004 African Cup of Nations.