Always put country first, Okocha tells African players

GABORONE; – – Former Nigerian soccer legend and midfield ace, Jay Jay Okocha has urged local and African players alike to always put their countries first whenever the contentious ‘club versus country’ saga burst forth. Okocha’s sentiments come in the wake of the fact that many African players who particularly ply their trade in the lucrative European and regional leagues continue to snub their national teams’ call-up over their indirect clubs’ request. Several international clubs continue to pay less attention to African competitions and as such they continuously shy away from giving their players a clean bill to represent their countries despite the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) dictating that clubs must release players on FIFA dates.

Okocha recently shared his strong views about Africa’s long standing scuffle between ‘club versus country’ call-ups with the local media and selected Barclays Bank Botswana clientele. The Nigerian football legend was in Botswana for the first time from Thursday until Sunday courtesy of the global and ongoing Barclays Bank’s #SuperfansUnited initiative where a lucky fan who banks with the bank stands a chance to win a coveted an all-expenses paid trip to watch at least one match in the English Premier League (EPL) during the 2018/19 season.

“I was seen by football scouts because I represented my country exceptionally and wholeheartedly – even some big leagues in the world often requests that one needs a certain percentage of having represented the country to be legible to play in their leagues. It’s a known fact that you can’t make good money by playing for your country however it is important to represent your country- it is a priceless gesture. I am in Botswana as a former Nigerian footballer before my clubs’ career. Even up to this day, I still access other incentives because I played and always put my country first. It has opened doors for me in the future,” said Okocha at Game City Mall Terrace in Gaborone recently.

Furthermore, Okocha acknowledged that football has truly evolved and some clubs tend to act greedy by forfeiting to release players where they will cite different reasons such as fake injuries, passport issues and flight schedules among the many invalid reasons.

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“What I have also noticed is that clubs act selfish by not releasing players despite the FIFA rules dictating this to them. We can’t question these clubs because they pay these players a lot of money. Football has a short career span and they need to maximise as much as possible but as a player they have to balance all the economies of scale. Becoming a national hero will payback when you are no longer playing and so is becoming a league superstar. I am still renowned in England, Turkey, France and Germany because of my contribution to the clubs I represented,” added Okocha.

Locally, the trendy snub made visible headlines locally in 2012 ahead of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals when Zebras players were to represent Botswana in the Equatorial Guinea and Gabon finals. The players led by a few players plying their trade internationally in Mogogi Gabonamong and Dipsy Selolwane orchestrated a demand of P100 000 pay off before they could jet off to the country’s maiden appearance at Africa’s biggest football showpiece. African nations continue to face these uncomfortable snubs emanating from their favourite players, a curse that extend Africa’s dismal performance at international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup and Confederation Cup respectively.

BFA President, Maclean Letshwiti (left ) with Okocha

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"Although journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information and also the product of these activities; for me its science - our sorroundings"

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