Augustine “Jay Jay” Okocha is arguably one of the greatest talents to come out of Africa and an audience with the former Nigerian superstar wouldn’t be complete without getting his views on football on the continent.
Yet, unlike when he was a player and was adept at dribbling his way past the opposition, Okocha was direct and to the point as he discussed matters ranging from Africa’s chances at next year’s World Cup through his beloved Super Eagles to what is ailing the continent’s football.
A former Olympics gold-medal winner, African champion and top scorer as well as a seven-time Nigerian Footballer of the Year, few are better equipped to dish out advice on what it takes to succeed at the highest level than the man who was so good they actually named him twice (Jay Jay).
Matshelane Mamabolo spent time with Okocha in Cologne and discussed a myriad of topics about African football.
ON AFRICAN COUNTRIES’ 2018 WORLD CUP CHANCES
It is very difficult to say which of the five countries will do best in Russia. But that’s the beauty of football. It is such that if you believe and get it right, you can achieve anything you set your mind on. But we always have the problem of preparation.
And secondly it is belief. We get easily contented. If we win one match or qualify from our group we receive a heroes’ welcome. All that needs to change for us to stand a chance to do well.
We need to look beyond just qualifying for the knockout stages and try to go all the way. We’ve got talented players and the teams going to Russia have what it takes to do well. But it will all depend on their attitude.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE SUPER EAGLES
Sometimes we go and watch to encourage the boys but it is not true that we (himself and the other legends) are there as technical advisors to the coach. We have to give coach Gernot Rohr the credit for the job he has done. He is the one who is in charge now.
We have taken a good step in getting back to where we used to be. It’s all about how we perform at the World Cup. I try to be as honest as I can and not get carried away and expecting a lot from the team.
We are looking good at the moment and the recent 4-2 friendly win against Argentina showed us that if we get it right on the day we can take on the best in the world. But friendly matches are very different from the World Cup and we have a lot of youngsters who don’t have the experience.
The good thing is that the kids now don’t have respect and they can go out there and just take everybody on.
And of course we have a very talented team, but they need more game time together because it is a team game and you don’t have to forget about our defence and just focus on our attack. They’ve played enough games together but they just need to gel at the World Cup.
ON HIS NEPHEW, ALEX IWOBI (of Arsenal and Super Eagles)
It was not too difficult to convince him to choose to play for Nigeria, when you have a role model you try to follow in his footsteps. Yes, he had the chance to play for England after he’d played for the under-17s and -19s.
But then I looked at the players England have who are the same age as him, that’s what I used. And I made him realise that the best chance for him to play at the World Cup was if he played for Nigeria and I’m glad that it has worked out very well.
But honestly speaking he was also thinking about it, so it wasn’t that difficult to convince him to turn out for Nigeria. As for his career, he has done very, very well.
He has exceeded my expectations so far because I was thinking maybe he’ll go on loan to gain experience, but the manager had so much faith in him that he’s sent him onto the field.
I’m very happy for him because he’s getting even better.
I think him playing for Nigeria has helped him too much because African football is very tough, it is not like here where you have everything provided for you. In Africa, you have to go through tough patches even before you get on the pitch.
ON AFRICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES
It is good that African players who are playing in other top leagues other than the English Premier League are getting recognised for their efforts. Because the over-publicity of the English Premier League makes everyone think it is the best.
And that’s why sometimes the African audience focuses more on the English League, but it is good that there are two players from the Bundesliga.
That is proof of just how high the standard is. And of course Aubameyang has won it before and I believe anyone who wins it deserves it because they’ve done very well over the year.
ON WHY HE HAS NOT TAKEN UP COACHING
Of course, not all of us (former players) can be coaches. Also I realise that our problem lies in the office, the administrative part of the game. It is still a big problem.
We’re not there yet to provide a soft ground for the coach to succeed. So I was thinking if I get involved, I am thinking more on the same of administration. But you never know. If Jupp Heynckes can come out of retirement maybe, there’s still time for me.
ADVICE TO YOUNG PLAYERS
I do give talks to youngsters at times and the main message I always share with them is that “nothing is impossible”. I tell them that if it is your dream to become a footballer, you have to dedicate your life to it. You have to give it your best.
And I can testify to that because football changed my life. And now it is easier because you can combine football with education. Then it was either ‘you are a footballer’ or ‘you are going to school’.
So I always encourage them to believe in themselves, to work hard because there’s no other way to success. You can have all the talent in this world but if you don’t work on it that talent is going to go to waste.
ON THE TOUGHEST OPPONENT HE’S EVER FACED
Of course there’s no easy game, but I used to believe in myself so much when I played that I said whenever I have the ball I am in charge.
I am the only one who knows what I want to do with the ball so why should I be bothered about the defender?
I could do with the ball whatever I wanted and no one could stop me. So I never bothered about what the other players were thinking but I just focused on what I wanted to do.
* Matshelane Mamabolo was in Germany courtesy of StarSat.