By August 12 this year, it’d be 30 years since Samuel Okwaraji slumped and died while playing for Nigeria against Angola in a World Cup qualifier.
However, the football legend born on May 19 would have been 55 years today if he hadn’t died while raising the flag of his fatherland.
As a midfielder for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, Samuel Okwaraji died at the National Stadium in Surulere during a make or mar Italia 1990 World Cup qualifier match, between the Green Eagles and the boastful Angolan side.
What killed Samuel Okwaraji?
Okwaraji collapsed in the 77th minute of that match, and later died at age 25 of congestive heart failure. An autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure. The sudden death was similar to that of Marc-Vivien Foé less than 14 years later.
Below are the unique things about Samuel Okwaraji
A qualified lawyer on the field
Okwaraji who was born on May 19, 1964, in Orlu, Imo State. Apart from his football exploits, he was a qualified lawyer who had a Masters in international law from the University of Rome.
Multi-talented footballer and midfield maestro
On the field of play, Okwaraji went for the tackles, aerial balls and in fact did more than his fair share of safe guarding the perimeter of the 18-yard box.
This earned him a place in Nigeria’s first Olympic team in 1988. Debuting on January 30, 1988 in a match against Algeria, at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Enugu, Okwaraji with amazing skills played himself into the consciousness of Nigerians.
International football playing days were spectacular
Okwaraji’s football career in Europe started in 1984-1985, in AS Roma. After which he had a career playing for NK Dinamo Zagreb (1985-1986), Austria Klagenfurt (1986-1987), VfB Stuttgart (1987-1989), SSV Ulm (loan) (1987-1988).
It’s on record that in his short stay with Dinamo Zagreb, Samuel scored 3 goals in a friendly game vs NK Budućnost Hodošan.
The game was played on April 30 1986, and Dinamo Zagreb won 12-0.
Samuel’s only official game for Dinamo in the Yugoslav First League was as a substitute on May 18 1986 against FK Priština. The game was played at Maksimir stadium in Zagreb, the 29th round of 1985/86 season. Dinamo Zagreb won 4:3
Samuel Okwaraji Scored one of the fastest goal in African football history
Okwaraji, who made the Green Eagles squad in 1988 at the African Nations Cup in Morocco, scored one of the fastest goals in the history of African football against Nigeria’s perennial rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
Shining like a million stars in that tournament, Okwaraji was named man of the match twice.
Service to his fatherland
Okwaraji’s was indeed seen as a patriot. At one occasion, when he had the chance to play for his fatherland but his club would not agree.
His club manager was said to have asked the Nigerian Football Authorities to pay an estimated cost of $45, 000 for their star player’s match bonus and an expected loss in the club’s gate taking for the period in which he would be on national duty.
Hearing about this agreement, this patriot hit back at his club saying:
“I signed to play football for you on certain conditions, but I don’t think it includes reselling my services to my country.
You cannot stop me playing for my country and let me tell you, I am going to represent my country in the World Cup in Italy whether you like it or not and I would very much like for you to be there.”
No doubt, Okwaraji paid his way to play for Nigeria without asking for a dime. He would come to camp uninvited and beg the coach to throw the jerseys on the floor for players to fight for.
It was this move that heralded the era of throwing the camp open. He was not afraid to put his career on the line for his country. He put his life on the line too.
Happy posthumous birthday to Samuel Okwaraji the football legend