By Ori Martins
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News Hour.com.ng – For nearly 35 years since August 12, 1989, when Sam Okwaraji slumped and died in action during an Italia ’90 World Cup qualifier against Angola, at the National Stadium, Logos, various approaches have been initiated to genuinely immortalize the late soccer hero. But the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, has finally blessed a nationwide tourney in memory of Okwaraji.
The competition will be addressed as Sam Okwaraji Annual U16 National Football Tourney. As the late midfield maestro was known for his great concerns about “catching them young” even as he lived an examplary life as a player, the NFF bought into the idea of using his name as a way of making football at the secondary school level very attractive to the young ones.
Informed football commentators and administrators have therefore lauded the NFF for this lofty idea as they submit that it would surely make grassroots football strong, appealing and beneficial to the country at large.
As a matter of fact, the NFF boss, Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau, was commended for this excellent initiative while the Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, was equally appreciated for showing genuine interest in a gainful youth development project of this magnitude.
On the other hand, former Enyimba of Aba chairman, Chief Felix Anyansi Agwu, (the NFF vice president, South East), was central and he critically assisted in making this NFF’s approval very fruitful.
There is also a passionate appeal for individual as well as corporate sponsorships and investments in order to make this dream everlasting for it to reaze the purposes for which it formulated.
Okwaraji whose exploits in the Super Eagles, though short lived, were remarkable and astonishing as he came with him, Europe’s profound professional characterizations never ever before exhibited by any Nigerian player in history.
Dedicated, determined, hard working, disciplined and exceptionally patriotic, Okwaraji, in spite of the tremendous skills deposited in him by the Almighty, chose to be morally upright and professionally mannered. In view of this, he earned the respect of fellow players just as the technical crew admired him, football authorities loved Okwaraji even as the man then called Whasky Pele cut the image of a football god among the fans.
He sensationally made his debut in a Seoul “88 Olympic football qualifier in Enugu on January 30,1988, and he got an instant attention because of wonderful impact.
In all Okwaraji played eight games which conincided with the jersey number he used to put on prior the January 7,1989 Italia ” 90 World Cup qualifier against Gabon in Enugu, where he wore jersey number six.
It is imperative to state here that after the Enugu encounter against Gabon, Okwaraji politely registered his bitterness that he was played deeply into the defensive midfielde, insisting that it never allowed him to give out his best.
On that account, it was a bit mysterious and unimaginable that Okwaraji was not called up again for the rest of the World Cup qualifiers preceding the August 12, 1989 clash against Angola where he gave up the ghost, wearing the same jersey number six wore in Enugu, seven months earlier!
In the 35 intervening years, Nigerians will always remember Okwaraji any time August 12 approaches and each time the Super Eagles are up against the Palancas Negras of Angola.