Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Africa's Greatest Ever Player Retires

We've had this debate many times before: Who is Africa's Greatest Ever Player?

I haven't a clue, although I could list the usual suspects.

One of the men who would make most everyone's Top 10 list has just called it quits: Jay-Jay Okocha.

On Thursday, more than 20,000 fans came to pay their respects to one of the greatest African footballers of all time at his testimonial game.

Okocha, who twice won the BBC African Footballer of the Year award, is retiring after 18 years in football.

Despite torrential rainfall a big crowd witnessed a star-studded game that saw a Super Eagles XI beat a World XI 2-1.

Stars including Nigerian star Kanu, Joseph Yobo, El-Hadji Diouf and Benjani Mwaruwari all played in the game at the Warri Township stadium in Delta State, Nigeria.

The 34-year-old Okocha played for both sides during the match and scored for the Super Eagles XI, which also included Taribo West and John Utaka.

"It's a day of joy considering the achievements and adoration in my football career but also one of sadness as I am leaving a game that brought me fame and fortune," an emotional Okocha said after the match.

"I thank the clubs and fans where I have played as well as team-mates and of course the Nigerian public for their love and support throughout my career."

Current Nigeria coach, Shaibu Amodu, who coached Okocha at the 2002 Cup of Nations in Mali, was full of praise for the talented midfielder.

"Okocha is a model professional on the pitch, on the training field and off the pitch," Amodu said.

"The national team have missed him as he has such a huge influence in big games. The fact that the stadium is packed is a total reflection of how much he is loved in the country."

Former South Africa and Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe revealed that he had to leave his sick wife behind in South Africa to honor Okocha.

"I pleaded seriously with my wife to let me be here. Okocha was a recognised maestro in African football and the continent will surely miss him," he said.

After footing the bills for the testimonial, the Delta State government in south-western Nigeria have also renamed the Ogwashi-Ukwu stadium the Jay-Jay Okocha Stadium.

A fitting end for a classy player ... I doubt I'll get a testimonial at my current job when I'm handed a pink slip.

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