Grass to grace series (22): Jay Jay Okocha – the street hawker turned football icon

 Grass to grace series (22): Jay Jay Okocha – the street hawker turned football icon

From humble beginnings selling oranges on the streets of Enugu, Augustine Azuka, better known as “Jay-Jay” Okocha, rose to become a football icon whose name resonates across the globe.

His journey began with a serendipitous trip to Germany at the age of 17, not as a football hopeful, but merely to visit. Fate intervened when his brother received an invitation, leading him to seize the chance to explore the unknown. Little did he know, this journey would shape his destiny.

Okocha’s mesmerizing talent caught the eye of Borussia Neunkirchen’s coach during his holiday in West Germany. This pivotal moment marked the start of his European football odyssey. From there, he ventured through the ranks of FC Saarbrücken and Eintracht Frankfurt, leaving his mark on the Bundesliga.

But it was on the international stage where Okocha truly shone. His debut for Nigeria in 1993 heralded the beginning of a storied career. From qualifying for Nigeria’s first World Cup to triumphs in the African Cup of Nations and the Olympics, Okocha’s leadership and skill propelled Nigerian football to new heights.

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Despite setbacks, such as the disappointment of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Okocha’s flair and charisma endeared him to fans worldwide. His inclusion in Pelé’s list of top living footballers and his testimonial match, where he led the Super Eagles to victory, underscored his enduring legacy.

From the street of Enugu to global stage 

Throughout it all, Okocha never forgot his roots. From the streets of Enugu to the grandest stages of world football, he remained a beacon of hope and inspiration for aspiring footballers across Africa and beyond. 

Jay-Jay Okocha’s story is not just one of talent and success, but of resilience, determination, and the power of dreams to defy the odds.


Borussia Neunkirchen

  • Saarland Cup: 1989–90, 1991–92
  • Oberliga Südwest: 1990–91


  • Prime Minister’s Cup: 1998
  • Atatürk Cup: 1998

Paris Saint-Germain

  • Trophée des Champions: 1998
  • UEFA Intertoto Cup: 2001

Bolton Wanderers

  • Football League Cup runner-up: 2003–04

Hull City

  • Football League Championship play-offs: 2008

Nigeria U23

  • Summer Olympic Games: 1996


  • Africa Cup of Nations: 1994
  • Afro-Asian Cup of Nations: 1995


  • Goal of the Year (Germany): 1993.
  • Nigerian Footballer of the Year: 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005; runner-up: 1996
  • African Footballer of the Year runner-up: 1998; third place: 2003, 2004
  • FIFA World Cup All-Star Team (Reserve): 1998.
  • BBC African Footballer of the Year: 2004, 2005
  • BBC Goal of the Month: April 2003
  • Premier League Player of the Month: November 2003.
  • Africa Cup of Nations Top Scorer: 2004.
  • Africa Cup of Nations Best Player: 2004.
  • Bolton Wanderers Player of the Year: 2004–05
  • IFFHS All-time Africa Men’s Dream Team: 2021.

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