In 2003 and 2004 respectively when Okocha was at his best, the African player of the year award eluded him, much to the surprise of most Nigerian soccer enthusiasts conversant with African football. Instead, Samuel Eto’o was crowned back to back for those years, with Didier Drogba as runner’s up, while Okocha was third.
Coincidentally, the former Super Eagles midfield maestro was voted back to back as the BBC African player of the year for the same period. This led to conspiracy theories that there was a Francophone gang-up against Okocha, who is from Nigeria, an Anglophone country.
“If I have any regret that will be not winning The African Footballer of the Year. But then, I don’t think I was meant to because I gave my best, but at the end, it wasn’t good enough,” said Okocha in a recent interview.
At the 2014 CAF awards, Hayatou seemed to have felt his pain as he described the awards established in 1992 as a magnificent achievement and deserving to be won by players who have distinguished themselves on the field of play.
“Players like Jay Jay Okocha would have been very worthy to feature in the list of winners. But the technicians decided otherwise, it is the law of the game,” Hayatou said in his opening remarks.
Okocha who was named by Pele in his list of 125 legends, started his career with the Super Eagles in 1993 in a game against Cote’d Ivoire during an African World Cup qualifier. He cemented his place in the Super Eagles in subsequent years and was influential in the squad. His was part of the team that won the African Cup of Nations for the second time in 1994 and also gold medal at the Atlanta 96’ Olympic Games. However, he was unable to inspire the team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, it was from that moment his weight began to wane.
There hasn’t been another player like Okocha in the continent. And perhaps this way why Yaya Toure has been crowned four years in a row and he seem bored receiving the awards at the Eko Hotels Convention centre last Thursday night as he did not show any emotion in the ceremony filled with quality entertainment.
Nigeria Football Federation president, Mr. Amaju Pinnick congratulated Toure with no hard feelings, but was quick to add that Nigerian players need to raise their game and also take their places in the CAF hall of fame.
“No one can fault the awards given to Toure. He deserves it; my only concern is that Toure is playing for the wrong premiership team.
“But seriously, this is a wake up call for our players. It was only Vincent Enyeama that we have seen this season and for him to make the final list was a plus for him being a goalkeeper,” Amaju said.
It was a thrilling evening, the music was good. Food and wine were in abundant supply and the gathered football family had their fill after three long hours of waiting for the show to begin.
The event was meant to celebrate football and the stars past and present who made the difference. Kalusha Bwalya was the only former African international who was invited to make presentations.