The Nigerian Jay Jay Okocha is arguably one of the most talented African footballers of all time. Blessed with sublime footwork and a mesmerising dribble, he was one of the golden generation of Nigeria players and a pillar of the Súper Águilas side that won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and graced three successive FIFA World Cups™ between 1994 and 2002.
Eminently qualified to assess the best players in the modern game, Okocha chatted to FIFA.com about this year’s The Best Awards, what it takes to reach that level and his favourites to win the men’s award on 23 October in London.
You were one of those players who managed to dazzle on the pitch while always seeming to enjoy yourself. Are those qualities sufficient to be crowned The Best?
Jay Jay Okocha: Anyone aspiring to be the best, or one of the best, needs more than that. You also need to be able to focus, work hard, and be consistent, as natural talent alone is not enough to elevate you to that level. If you understand that, and you have the raw talent, then you can compete at that level.
Is there anyone today who resembles you as a player?
I’d say the player whose style most resembles mine would be Neymar. That’s because I played with a sense of joy and you can see that he feels the same and really enjoys his own play. He doesn’t play for himself or just to entertain the fans – he plays for his team. He uses his quality and skill for the good of the team.