Who was bigger – Kanu or Jay Jay?
The two stars shone in their hey days, but who made the bigger impact?
Nwankwo Kanu and Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha were without a doubt top of their generation of Nigerian stars, skilful and intelligent players who made football look so easy and enjoyable.
Both won Olympic soccer Gold, captained Nigeria, featured at the World Cup and also carved a name for themselves in Europe with their various clubs.
These shining stars have since called time on their international career and the million naira poser is – who made the bigger splash during their playing days.
MTNFootball.com takes a closer look at the careers of Kanu and Okocha with a view to answering this question.
National team career
Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha featured for Nigeria at the African Youth Championship in Mauritius, where the Flying Eagles crashed out in the semis.
‘Jay Jay’ was magical despite the team’s premature exit and it was on the back of this appearance that he earned a call-up to the Super Eagles.
Kanu too was on the squad to Mauritius ’93, but he did not kick a ball.
Rather he put behind him this disappointment to team up with the Golden Eaglets to win the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Japan.
Okocha made his full international debut before Kanu and would go on to play a vital role as Nigeria won their second Nations Cup trophy in Tunisia in 1994 and also qualified for the World Cup.
Kanu led Nigeria to win an historic Olympic football Gold two years later with ‘Jay Jay’, three years his senior, very much part of this team.
Both players featured at three World Cups – Okocha was at 1994, 1998 and 2002, while Kanu played at the ’98, 2002 and 2010 editions of the tournament.
Nigeria best results at the World Cup were achieved in 1994 and 1998 when the Eagles reached the second round, meaning Okocha enjoyed a more successful run at the biggest football platform than Kanu.
Kanu though is now on record as the joint most capped Nigeria player along with the late Muda Lawal with 86 caps.
‘Jay Jay’ played 73 times for Nigeria.
Kanu critics though say that, unlike Okocha, he did not quit the national team when the ovation loudest so much so that a player of his class and standing only enjoyed a bit role at the both the 2010 Nations Cup and World Cup.
Without a doubt, ‘Papilo’ enjoyed a more fulfilling career at club level than ‘Jay Jay’.
He defied personal adversity, to win the biggest piece of silverware on offer in Europe – the European Champions Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) – with Ajax Amsterdam. He also won the English Premier League crown with Arsenal twice; three FA Cup winners’ medals, two with Arsenal and once Portsmouth.
He also won the Nigeria Premier League diadem with Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland FC) as well as three Dutch league titles, among other honours.
The highlight of Okocha’s club career was in 2004, when Bolton were beaten in the League Cup final as he did not win anything of note with his other clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Entracht Frankfurt and Fenerbache.
Kanu was picked as Africa’s best player by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) twice in 1996 and in 1999.
Okocha failed to be named the continent’s best player even though he came within a whisker of this individual accolade in 1998.
However, he was named BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2004 and 2005.
Kanu was also named by the Nigerian government as one of the 50 most influential citizens during the country’s Golden Jubilee Independence celebrations in October. There was no mention of Okocha.
Off the pitch
Kanu has given back to the community through his heart foundation, which assists children with heart problems.
Both players have also invested heavily in the Nigerian economy through their various businesses.
As a Lagos businessman, Okocha through his Jay Jay Group employs over a 100 Nigerians.