At the age of 37, Nigerian legend Jay Jay Okocha is not too far away from prowling the professional pitches that made him a legend across Africa. And, in fact, fans of the Super Eagles have been waiting for a top-quality replacement for the playmaker since he hung up his green jersey in 2006.
Okocha knows what it takes to compete at the top level, having played at three FIFA World Cups™, won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and been a vital part of Nigeria's last CAF Africa Cup of Nations-winning team in 1994. He also showed off his renowned technical skills for clubs in Germany, Turkey, France, Qatar and England.
He sat down for an exclusive interview for FIFA.com where he discussed the future of Nigerian football, both men's and women's, with determination and excitement about the future.
FIFA.com: Nigerians have been looking for another Jay Jay since you left the national team. What does Nigeria need to do now to produce another world-class attacking midfielder?
Jay Jay Okocha: I believe another Jay Jay is out there, and it’s for us to scout out another. But the most important thing is to ask a pertinent question: do we have the structure in place to be able to produce another Jay Jay Okocha, another Taribo West or another Sunday Oliseh? I think this is the real question that we should ask ourselves, and we should try and restructure Nigerian football to be able to find those talents, which are surely there and only waiting to be discovered.
Your former Nigeria team-mate, Samson Siasia, is now in charge of the national team. What are your expectations for the Super Eagles under Siasia?
First of all, I am part of the technical committee of the Nigeria Football Federation now, and we took a very good step by appointing Samson Siasia to lead the national team. We have started building from home by assembling the home-based players to see if we could get some of them to go on and compete against the foreign pros. But you know that Rome was not built in a day and so we need to be patient. We know that for us to bring back those glory days, we really have to accept that we are struggling now and need to give ourselves some time to build. Personally, I think we have taken very positive steps to achieving that. Also, the team will need the support of all Nigerians to succeed.
Being part of the football family now has given me the opportunity to make an impact, and my drive is to give back to football part of what the game has given to me. I still have a lot to give back.
How are you now giving back to Nigerian football?
To be honest, it is difficult for one man to do something in Nigeria. One needs to get other people involved especially when it comes to football development as it is very expensive and very time consuming. What I will not do is stand here and lie to you and say that I am going to do what I know that I will not do. Being part of the football family now has given me the opportunity to make an impact, and my drive is to give back to football part of what the game has given to me. I still have a lot to give back. The most important thing is for me to take part in this change that we are all seeking and make sure we come up with a structure that people would see that at least people like us are now putting back to football.
What does it mean to be an ambassador for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany later this year?
It’s a great feeling to be considered for this position. I hope to help create awareness for the World Cup in Nigeria and beyond. I will be promoting women’s football. As they say, the future of the game is feminine.
Nigeria are drawn in a very difficult group at Germany 2011 with champions and hosts Germany, France and Canada. What do the Super Falcons need do to go past this first hurdle?
The team should go out there full of confidence and, most importantly, prepare very well for the tournament. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. So, it is all about preparation. Once you prepare very well, you will give a good account of yourself.
It must be disturbing though that the Falcons were humbled 8-0 by Germany in a friendly at the end of last year?
I don’t really think so. You know, a friendly is a friendly. This is a major tournament that is coming up now so we can’t judge them based on that friendly. We must also look into the real details on why we lost 8-0. I don’t think we have ever lost with that kind of margin before. We just have to believe that it will end up being a big lesson for the team to prepare well next time to make sure that we don’t suffer such humiliation again.