Known for his mesmerising dribbling skills and incredible playmaking abilities, Okocha has left an indelible mark on the beautiful game. But today, we’re not just here to celebrate his illustrious football career; we’re here to celebrate a remarkable milestone in his life and the enduring love story that has been the backdrop to it all. Austin ”Jay-Jay” Okocha, the footballing magician, and his beloved wife, Nkechi, are not just celebrating their 50th birthdays but also an incredible 25 years of togetherness. It’s a story that transcends the boundaries of the football field and delves deep into the world of love, commitment, and family.
They say age is just a number, but in Austin and Nkechi’s case, it’s a testament to a life lived to the fullest, both on and off the pitch.
In this interview with Ruky Salako, we get a peek into Austin Jay Jay Okocha’s legendary career and the unwavering support and love of his wife, Nkechi. It’s a story of passion, sacrifice, and the beautiful game that binds them together.
Augustine “Jay-Jay” Okocha
You started your football career very early but have stayed relevant even after retirement. What is the secret?
I would say it is all about building yourself and knowing what you want to do after football. We all know that a football career is very short. It takes a lot of discipline to maintain this level of consistency. It is all about planning your future, having a plan and working towards it, dedication, and hard work.
So, how did it really start?
My career started when I was in secondary school. That was when I signed my first mature contract with Enugu Rangers, and from then on, it was obvious that I was a step ahead of my mates and wanted to take football as my career. When I got an invitation to go to Germany, I knew I had to take my chance and make the best of it, which I did and got signed by a team over there. From then on, the sky was the limit.
I went on to play for Eintract Frankfurt, Fene Bache, Paris St. German, Bolton, a club in Qatar, Hull City, the Olympic Team, and the Nigerian National Team.
What were the challenges you faced in your career, and how did it shape you?
For me, it was being seen as a truant because football wasn’t seen as a career or something you could make a living from. It was a big challenge for people to even accept me playing with their children because they saw me as a big distraction. That was my biggest challenge—not just for me, but for a few of us. Having to stay focused, believing in myself and my vision of becoming a footballer.
What was it like constantly being on the move and raising a young family?
It comes with the career, and once you understand it and have a very supportive wife, it makes everything easier. Of course, it is also an opportunity to be more exposed to and learn about different cultures. For me, I used to see it as work, and moving from one city to another is part of the job. It was all for the future of the family.
Everyone says being a footballer is very lucrative. What advice do you have for young people who want to walk this path?
Football is one of the best jobs on earth, especially if you love playing football. Imagine getting paid to do what you love. It doesn’t get better. So, I can only encourage any young kid who wants to become a footballer. It is very demanding and not easy, but if you have the desire, go for it. It’s a great job.
There’s a general notion that athletes struggle with their finances after retirement. Is this true?
I think a lot of athletes suffer after their careers because of a lack of a proper foundation, and most athletes do not realise how short the lifespan of their careers is. So, they get stranded after their career. I think it should not be the government’s problem unless you make it to the National team. But you can also argue that the Army, police, and civil servants all work for the government. If a programme can be put in place to support these athletes and even create awareness about managing your wealth while you are still active, this will go a long way to support these athletes and teach them how to manage all the glory.
25 years of marriage. How have you kept it going?
First, I will say love, because if there were no love, it would not have lasted this long. We had our challenges; there is no manual for marriage, but both of you must be willing to compromise and want to make it work. That is the only way it will work. It has to come from both parties wanting to stay with each other to make the marriage work.
How did you meet your wife?
I met Nkechi in December 1994, when I came from Germany for the Christmas holiday. She was attending a wedding in Enugu, and it happened that we were staying in the same hotel. I saw her, and as they say, the rest is history.
Describe her in three words.
Adorable, kind, and a beautiful soul.
What is a typical day like in the life of Jay-Jay Okocha?
Well, it depends. My days vary. If it is a day that I am in total control of, then I will wake up, exercise, have my coffee, do some training, and go to the office.
How do you unwind/relax when you find the time to?
I am a bit of an introvert, so I do not really go out. I enjoy eating my food, watching movies, and literally chilling at home.
If you were to relive your life, what would you do differently?
I would not do anything different. I am grateful for the life I have lived and am living.
If you had to choose one person, dead or alive, you wish you had or have met, who would that be?
I would have to think hard because I have met so many great people that I would like to meet in the course of my career. Well, maybe the only person I have not met that I would like to be Barrack Obama.
What is your ultimate goal regarding your work, and what would you like to be remembered for?
My ultimate goal is to touch lives positively, which I have done because I hardly meet anyone who frowns when they meet me. I mean because of my football career. The smiles I put on people’s faces are priceless; I have won more souls than trophies. I also frequently have this programme that I have created. We have done a bit in the north, where we use football to keep kids in school, and I do a lot of mentorship, too.
Anything else you would like to share?
I recently turned 50, and I would be lying if I said I have not sat back and had a reflection and there are a few weaknesses I can improve on. I want to be happy, live stress-free, and take life as it comes. I am grateful for my life and my family. God has blessed me with an amazing family and friends.
Congratulations Nkechi. Fifty years and 25 years of marriage. What’s it been like so far? Doing life with Jay Jay?
It’s been great, and I thank God for that. I met Austin on the 31st of December 1994 in Enugu, where I went for a wedding. We were staying in the same hotel; we dated for three years and got married on the 3rd of January 1998. We have been married for 25 years, and the journey so far, like every marriage, has been a fascinating one filled with ups and downs, but with God, understanding and love, we are on this journey forever. My husband is extremely quiet. He is an introvert. However, he can sometimes be troublesome, like every man. He is kind, very caring, and doesn’t joke with his family. I think those are the personal things about him. I mean, every other thing about him is on the Internet, being Jay Jay Okocha, the Legend.
What were the football years like? I imagine it wasn’t easy on your marriage.
True. You know, when we just got married, we had to move to Turkey, and they didn’t speak English there, so it was really difficult. I was pregnant with my daughter Daniella; 3 months after we had her, we moved to Paris, where I had culture shock, seeing that I was just adjusting to Turkey. In Paris, I had to lean on the support of my family and in-laws because it wasn’t easy raising and moving around with a child, especially back then when we didn’t believe in having nannies to help take care of kids. Living in a country where we didn’t speak the same language was very difficult, but there is a way when there is a will. Just as I started enjoying Paris, I had my son, AJ, and we had to move to England.
What was the experience like for you as a young mom and wife who had to support her husband’s budding career?
It wasn’t very easy, but because I have always loved football, I had to understand because there were days or times when I was left alone. When I had Daniella, Austin was at the World Cup in France, and that was difficult for us, him not being there to witness the birth of our first child. When I had AJ, he was preparing to go to the World Cup, too, so he had to leave about a month after AJ was born. So, having to bring up the children was quite difficult because he was not really there, but I also had to understand that this was his life, his job, and his career, and it was important. I had to take care of our home, and I just had to make it work. Even though I was young and didn’t know much, I had to learn.
You have been married for 25 years; what has kept your bond?
We have managed to stay very private and keep our lives out of the public eye. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage; we have had difficulties, but we have tried our best to make it work.
In a situation where he is upset, I try not to be upset at the same time, and vice versa. After everything, we talk about it and find a balance. We have differences, but we have told ourselves that we are in this together; we have children that we have brought into the world, and we have an obligation—if not for anything—to be good parents.
Many people do not know that aside from being a mom and a wife, you are also a successful entrepreneur. Can you shed more light on this?
I own a security company that started in 2007. We work with several companies, including banks. My company is called Sanctuary Securities Limited, and we specialise in security devices, access control, smoke detectors, CCTVs and anything security-related.
What’s a day like in the life of Nkechi Okocha?
I wake up in the morning at about 6.30 am. I am an NSSPDian, so I listen to Pastor Jerry Eze, say my morning prayers, and prepare for the day. I head out to Maki Health and Beauty Spa (I do this every day). At the spa, I spend time with myself and a few other women. It’s a place where steam therapy is used for weight loss and well-being in general. I finish from there at about 11 am, and if it is one of the days where I have to be at work, I go to work, finish work at 5 pm, come home, cook if I have to, and try to be in bed by 9.30 pm, max 10 pm. That’s my typical day.
What is your ultimate goal regarding your work, and what would you like to be remembered for?
What I have tried to do is help families by creating employment for people to be able to feed their families. I also encourage and empower many younger people, particularly female entrepreneurs, to make an honest living for themselves. I am passionate about every child being educated because my dad believed so much in that. He believed that any educated child would certainly have the opportunity to do well in life and in the future. I mean, anyone close to me knows this. I would like to be remembered as a selfless woman who cared even when she didn’t have to.
As a wife, a mom, and an entrepreneur, how do you prioritise what is most important in your life?
With everything in life, you must always know where to draw the line. When you are at work, you are the entrepreneur; when you are at home, you are the wife and mother. As I said, you must know where to draw the line. My priorities are my children, my husband, and my family. I have a very large family: my siblings, mom, and in-laws. I do not joke with them; I try to know where to draw the line between family work, friends, parties, and everything generally.
What would it be if you were to advise on marriage, career, and character?
I would say that marriage is not easy. Still, it is doable, and the only way you can make it work is to bring in God first. Be understanding and know where to set boundaries with everything because everyone always has advice or opinions. Know what works for you and your partner because my marriage is different from every other person’s marriage; that is why I can sit here and say to you, ‘Oh, it has to be done like this,’ but because your marriage is different from mine, what works for me may not work for you. That is why it is important to know who you are with, learn the person, and understand them. Then I think it will work.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just before I turned 50, I became an NSPPDian, and by listening to my pastor, I have learned so much. I have learned not to worry about anything; what will be will be. If you like to fret and freak out, what will be will be. I try not to worry when things happen; I just say, “God, you have to find a way to sort it out.” I leave it in his hands, and I am at peace. Turning 50, I have not changed, but I know I am more intentional with my decisions, friendships and life.