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Jay-Jay Okocha - So good they named him twice

Fifteen years on, Eddie takes a look at how Okocha became a Wanderer.

Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Seven time Nigerian footballer of the year, Ronaldinho's mentor at PSG, a member of Pele's FIFA 100 list and arguably one of the greatest free agents Bolton Wanderers ever signed.

Of course, it's the one and only Jay-Jay Okocha.

It may not seem like it, but today marks fifteen years since Augustine "Jay-Jay" Okocha became a Wanderers player. Back then, Wanderers had just finished 16th in the 2001/2002 season. Keeping an eye on the World Cup in Asia, Big Sam was looking for a player to elevate Wanderers up the league. It was one thing to stay up, but Big Sam definitely had loftier ambitions.

The signings of Bruno N'Gotty and Youri Djorkaeff the season before had confirmed that. To sign Djorkaeff, a World Cup and Euros winner with France, was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

With Okocha, it was like turning water into wine.

After Nigeria had been knocked out in the group stages, Big Sam set up a meeting at Charles de Gaulle airport to convince Okocha to join Bolton.

As Allardyce states in his autobiography: “I started the usual spiel. We're not the most fashionable club... dah dee dah...but we have got Youri Djorkaeff”.

Okocha replied “I know I want to come to Bolton”.

A deal was done at the airport, and Okocha promised to travel to Bolton the next day to sign the paperwork. You'd assume a high profile player like Okocha would have flown there, with representation in tow. Well, he didn't.

Jay-Jay drove all the way from Paris to Bolton, got straight out of his car and signed. Legend.

Despite having a debut to forget (he was hauled off at half time during a 4-1 defeat to Fulham), Okocha's first season in English football was hugely successful. Okocha scored seven times in 32 games as Wanderers stayed up on the final day of the season.

Memorable highlights from the 2002/2003 season include his thumping solo effort against West Ham. Okocha mugged off Joe Cole, ran sixty yards and blasted it into the top corner. Superb.

Another highlight was the showcase of his skills against an incredibly strong Arsenal side at The Reebok. After Wanderers had come from 2-0 down to tie up the game, Okocha made Ray Parlour look foolish with an outrageous rainbow flick at the corner flag.

Okocha also scored the goal to confirm Wanderers' safety against Middlesbrough in the final game of the season. He even got Big Sam dancing on the pitch.

And then there was his trademark celebration. You'd be lying if you didn't try replicating this in the school playground during break times.

Due to the departure and retirement of club legend Gudni Bergsson, Okocha was appointed as captain in his place in 2003.

Even though Okocha didn't score a league goal in the 2003/2004 season, it was his electrifying performances in the League Cup that helped Wanderers reach the final in 2004. Okocha scored three times, including that unbelievable free kick against Aston Villa in the Semi-Finals. It was those performances that earned Okocha a PFA Players' Player of the Year nomination. Wanderers also finished 8th in the Premier League that season.

The 2004/2005 season was one to remember. Okocha scored seven times as Bolton finished 6th in the league, qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the first time in the club's history. Quite possibly the best season in my lifetime (that I can remember), the Bolton team was brilliant. Playing alongside Okocha were Gary Speed, El-Hadji Diouf, Stelios, Ivan Campo, Bruno N'Gotty, Vincent Candela and Fernando Hierro. Big Sam's ability to attract high quality players to The Reebok was astounding.

Add to that club stalwarts Jussi Jaaskelainen, Ricardo Gardner, Kevin Nolan and Kevin Davies and you have the best Bolton team in decades.

At the time, the team didn't get the recognition they deserved. All you see now is articles complimenting how good that side was. Back then, it seemed taboo for another football fan to pay Bolton a compliment.

You will never see a better team built like that with so many quality free agents. Never again.

Okocha's last season as a Wanderer was a historic one for the club. Bolton embarked on their first ever European campaign, reaching the last 32 before being knocked out by Marseille.

Bolton Wanderers v Lokomotiv Plovdiv Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

After Wanderers finished the 2005/2006 season in 8th place, Okocha departed on a free to join Qatar side Qatar SC.

When you think of the greatest ever players for Bolton, for me, Okocha is second to Sir Nat Lofthouse.

Looking back, it's incredible to think a footballer like Okocha played for Bolton. I was only seven when Okocha joined, so I didn't comprehend how much of a big deal it was.

It's hard to put into words just how good Jay-Jay Okocha was. Captain, leader, legend.