During a recent African Legends match, Nigeria’s best known talent showed some of his old magical flourishes reminiscent of his Bolton days. He twisted and turned, sprayed trademark precise matches, tracked back to help the defense and played with an alacrity that belied his 35 years of age. His performance and the crowd’s eruption into “We want Jay Jay, We want Jay Jay” is now fueling rumours of a possible comeback to the Super Eagles in their World Cup quest. It has left fans and pundits divided. That they are having such a dialogue reflects an unease about the Super Eagles chances of qualifying for the World Cup.
Why not? France turned to retired Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele, and Lilian Thuram in the 2006 World Cup. It almost won them the title. Cameroun’s Roger Milla was 38 years old when he played in the 1990 World Cup and his four goals helped Cameroun reach the quarterfinals. So Okocha is in some illustrious company. He retired from football after being released by Hull in 2008, so it is safe to say that the competitive fires still lurk within. A World Cup run with its limited number of appearances and a big possibility of making an instant impact could prove to be a huge temptation.
So far he has played the waiting game and remained mum on his comeback but Shaibu Amodu will be hard pressed to refuse the huge boost that Okocha’s presence could give his squad. Plus, he would be available for the matches unlike the Premiership players who have been awol from some of the crucial qualifiers. So far only Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka, the two Portsmouth strikers have shown up for every match. The Nigerians for all the talent on the team have struggled in some of the matches against lightweight opposition because of the lack of a quality playmaker. John Obi Mikel is unsuited in that role and so far all that attacking firepower looks disjointed and unglued.
Tunisia is on top in Group B with the Super Eagles behind by two points and they face each other in a battle for pole position on September 6th at Abuja. The Super Eagles battled to a crucial draw against Tunisia in the first match at Rades. The return match will decide who gets to South Africa. That match could also see Okocha suit up for a surprise appearance. The debate over whether Nigerian will qualify has been overshadowed by the possibility of the comeback of the year. It would be expedient to bring back Okocha at this stage but at the cost of younger talent that needs to be nurtured? The debate reflects Nigeria’s uneasy transition as a generation of more successful players retires to a more untested group of players who play mostly overseas.