Former Super Eagles captain Austin Okocha insists that the Nigerian obsession with finding a new ‘Jay-Jay’ must stop.
This feeling was repeated by his World Cup teammate Mutiu Adepoju, who says that there is too much pressure on the young players of the national team.
The 47-year-old Okocha, who retired in 2008, admitted to Lagos Brila FM that the lack of creative midfielders hampers the current Super Eagles squad.
“We should support these players and let them flourish on their own, instead of unfairly putting pressure on them by calling them the next one or the other,” Okocha said.
“I think people need to stop being obsessed with that new Jay-Jay label because it’s unfair to those young players.”
In recent years, World Cup winners under 17 Rabiu Ibrahim and Kelechi Nwakali, Joel Obi and Alex Iwobi have all been declared the successor to Okocha in the Nigerian midfield which many believe lacks meaning and creative enthusiasm.
Okocha made his debut for Nigeria against Ivory Coast in 1993, before winning Olympic gold three years later, and then became the first Nigerian to play in three World Cups in 1994, 1998 and 2002.
The former midfielder of Bolton, Hull City and PSG is considered one of the best players to come from the West African country, and his talent has seen him beaten twice for the BBC African Footballer of the Year.
Mutiu Adepoju scored while Nigeria beat Spain 3-2 at the 1998 World Cup
Midfielder Adepoju, who also participated in three world championships with the Super Eagles, agreed that the local media and fans are to blame for the excessive pressure and the spotlight on the young players.
“I believe inviting young players from youth teams like the next Messi or Jay-Jay Okocha is unfair and unnecessary,” he told Adepoju, who turned 50 for BBC Sport Africa on Tuesday.
“Indulging in this comparison sets them up for failure because the weight of expectations will definitely mentally affect these players.
“That’s the main reason why some players have refused to work hard and be their own, because they are easily carried away by what the press has written about them.”
He says he has seen a lot of younger talent who has not progressed to a higher level in the last ten years.
“We have seen in the past decade that we have talented players all over the field who can make our team beat again,” he explained.
“Nigeria continues to dominate youth events and there are positive signs of better days to come.
“We just have to nurture these players properly and remove the hyper and noise.
“But if these players are allowed to play their game and shine, they can be a success both at the club and national level.
“Victor Agali was widely considered the next Rashidi Yekini, but he fought extremely hard to establish himself and sometimes people expected too much from him.
“He’s an example of someone who saw the burden of that label, but worked hard to establish his name.”
Adepoju has a Uefa Pro license and is a Spanish citizen after years spent playing in Spain, such as Real Madrid, Real Sociedad and Salamanca.
He played alongside Okoch since Nigeria won the Nations Cup in 1994, and his career took him to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus after making over 50 appearances for the Super Eagles.
The star of the U20 World Cup in 1989, Adepoju insists that Nigeria has promised in global youth tournaments that it can create midfielders who can restore success to the national side.