Nigeria legend Austin Okocha says the German Bundesliga structure turned his career around for the better and helped him in becoming one of the most celebrated African players of his generation.
Okocha landed in Germany as a 17-year-old in 1990 and penned a deal with Third Division side Borussia Neunkirchen, before making an eye-catching move to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga two years later.
The youngster would go on to dazzle the German topflight with his exquisite dribbling skills, which caught the eye of Nigerians back home and invariably earned him his Nigeria debut in 1993, a 2-1 defeat to Ivory Coast in Abidjan in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.
Looking back on his memorable career, the ex-midfielder nicknamed Jay Jay said the Bundesliga gave him the platform to excel.
“The Bundesliga is the league that made me, changed my life. And that was even when our people (Nigerians) didn’t know much about it,” Okocha said at a press conference for the Bundesliga Legend Tour in Lagos on Thursday.
“I got to Germany at 17 and I was given the opportunity to excel. It’s difficult to find that happening in any other place. In England, you have to play 75 per cent of your country’s games before you are considered.
“In the Bundesliga, they give you everything to express yourself. I always use myself as an example; in the beginning, I never wanted to pass the ball, but they made me strike the right balance and used my talent to the advantage of the team.
“They’ve made it easier for us to watch most Bundesliga games live now. They bring the matches to us in our local languages and Pidgin English as well. Before there was a language barrier but now that’s been broken,” he added.