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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 13:50 GMT
Okocha: Bolton's talisman
By Osasu Obayiuwana
BBC Sport

Austin
Okocha is Bolton's most talented player

Before trading cosmopolitan Paris for a new adventure with one of English football's less fancied clubs, Jay-Jay Okocha was not a happy player.

Unable to get the central midfield role at Paris St Germain, he was frustrated with his inability to display his repertoire of skills.

But that has all changed at Bolton Wanderers, where he has become the heart of a side that is enjoying its longest stint in the English top flight for 40 years.

"I am really enjoying the responsibility that I am being given here," Okocha told BBC Sport website in an exclusive interview at the club's training ground.

"When I was at Paris St Germain, I was being played out of position and it was difficult for me to show what I'm capable of.

His abilities as a footballer are outstanding
Bolton manager Sam Allardyce

"I just didn't have the opportunity to express myself," he said.

In contrast to his turbulent time in French football, Okocha has rejuvenated his career in the English Premiership.

The Nigerian midfielder's excellent run of form in the second half of last season, ending up as the club's joint top scorer, earned him rave reviews in the English media.

But it was his 30-metre strike against Middlesbrough - which was the goal that kept the club in the Premiership - that etched his name into Bolton folklore.

"That is one of the most important goals that I have scored in my career and it was pleasing that it came off a free kick," Okocha recalls.

His dramatic finale was a personal triumph in a season where he had to adjust to the quick pace of the English game.

"It has been a challenge to play in a high tempo league and it was harder when I sustained an injury after I had just moved here.

"When I decided to sign for this club, I knew that I was going to be in a different situation, as this was a place where they were only thinking about survival."

"The pressure here is different from what I had experienced in the past but I wanted to show that I can cope with the demands of playing for a small club like this," he said.

High praise

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce describes the 30-year-old Nigerian as the most effective player he has ever managed.

"His abilities as a footballer are outstanding," he told the BBC Sport website.

Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce
Allardyce says Okocha is the best player he has managed

"I've seen many players display great skills during training but I've never seen anybody produce them like that on match day.

"He produces his tricks on a regular basis and it always has an end product.

"After beating three or four players, he would create a chance for us to score a goal."

Allardyce's praise of his club captain, who continues to exert his influence in the current Premiership campaign, is not restricted to his on-field exploits.

"He is a very intelligent man who has a great joy for life.

"Whenever you're feeling miserable, all you have to do is to watch him come in with a great big smile and that really helps to lift up everybody."

Okocha, who describes life in Bolton as 'nice and pleasant,' is keen to end his career in England.

That would please the club's fans, who hope his skills will enrapture them for many seasons to come.


SEE ALSO
Bolton eye Okocha stand-in
13 Nov 03  |  Bolton Wanderers
Okocha complains of neglect
02 Dec 03  |  African
Allardyce hails Okocha
02 Nov 03  |  Bolton Wanderers



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