Being dubbed as the most famous Nigerian in India by quite a distance, Odafa Onyeka Okolie is once again threatening to run away with the golden boot in I-league after scoring a whopping 15 goals in his seven league appearances this season. Golden boot is something the lad has made his own after winning the title for three years in a row. Odafa has been idolized by many youngsters across the league, especially those who play the beautiful game in the streets of south-west coastal hub of Indian football – Goa. He has transformed himself from the realm of stardom, to that of a Legend who have hailed form foreign lands to embrace the beautiful game in India professionally.
The Journey Begins:
Odafa Okolie did not have a self scripted start to his I-league career. After starting his career in India for Peerless SC, Odafa joined the famous Mohammedan Sporting bandwagon; however he couldn’t sport their jersey even for a single match. Today he is the highest paid footballer in India – it is no less than an inspirational journey for the lanky Churchill Brothers Sports Club Captain. Right now, any opinion poll among the I-league faithful about the most popular foreigner to don an Indian football club jersey, the majority would vote for Odafa Onyeka Okolie – leading the pack by a mile.
Odafa came to India to ply his trade, following the footsteps of fellow countryman, Chima Okorie. Chima has been credited with many accolades and records to his name, including first ever foreigner to play for the Mariners and among the few foreigners who donned the famous jerseys for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Odafa joined Peerless SC, an institutional based Kolkata club in the year 2001-02, as an eighteen year old and then moved on to Mohhammedan Sporting, regarded as a big club in Kolkata football set-up those days. His extraordinary goal scoring abilities couldn’t foster well, as he was used mostly as a centre-back during his stint in Kolkata. Reportedly he wasn’t treated well by the Kolkata officials either; sometimes the Nigerian had to earn his bread daily by playing for random small teams in local tournaments – famously known as “khep” in Kolkata – being paid on a match by match basis. Odafa soon realized that this certainly wasn’t a football career which he was thriving for in the foreign land. So he planned a move to Muktijoddha SKC, a successful professional football club in Bangladesh, flaunting a wide fan base. Odafa helped Muktijoddha win the Independence Day Gold cup and claim runners up spot in the Federation Cup in 2005, boasting a healthy and unmatched strike rate of a goal in every two matches .
A Milestone Achieved:
In the same year, Odafa took a very crucial decision, that would eventually turn his football career on its head. He packed his bags from Bangladesh and returned back to India, to play for Churchill Brothers SC, Goa. Mihir Bose, a well established seasoned coach in Kolkata and a very renowned talent hawk, recommended his name to Churchill Brothers, and as they say – there was no looking back – for the Nigerian. Odafa’s predatory instincts blossomed at the Goan club, as he started playing as a centre forward, under the guidance of Moroccan mentor Karim Bencharifa. He struck an impressive twelve goals for Churchill Brothers, with ten assists in his kitty during the 06-07 season. Karim Bencharifa used the Nigerian as a target man up front, playing off a second laid back striker for the 07-08 season. Implementation of this tactic unleashed the “One Man Army” Odafa in the league, which virtually spelt disaster for the centre backs in the league.
Odafa, blessed with good height and an excellent jump, would easily overpower and shrug the short statured Indian defenders and score goals in galore, sometimes for fun. However there was one weakness which his critics did not hesitate to put forward. Odafa seldom tracked back for the ball in order to help out the midfield players in their fight. However Karim Bencharifa kept him up the field to finish the counter attacks and the moves, and he did them in style. He scored a massive 33 goals for the club in a Durand cup winning season, but the best was yet to come from the big forward.
The Glory Days:
Odafa finally lived his dream and sent all the fans into delirium as Churchill Brothers SC clinched the I-league title for the first time in their history in 2009. He scored a brace on the final day against the club from where he started his career in Kolkata, Mohammedan Sporting , which can be perceived as his subtle reply to all the mistreatment he got during his stint at that club. Odafa went on to score a staggering 49 goals that season (26 in I-league,14 in Goa league,7 in Fed Cup and 2 in the Durand Cup), breaking Keshto Pal’s long held Indian record of maximum goals in a single season (48 goals, 1956). The Churchill Brothers number 10 scored an incredible double hattrick against fierce Goan Rivals Vasco FC, breaking another I-league record.
His popularity almost reached to its climax among all Indian football enthusiasts after he scored a hat-trick in just ten minutes of extra time of the final match of the 122nd edition of the Durand Cup in New Delhi. Following the footsteps of the magical Brazillain Jose Ramirez Barreto, Odafa became only the second foreign footballer in India to score 200 goals for a single club, when he slotted home a brace against the Mariners in this year’s I-league second round. He is listed among the legends like Chima Okorie and Barreto for scoring 200+ goals in Indian football, boasting a envious striker rate which is second to none in India. He has already blasted 5 goals past Mumbai FC this season, as he did in 2008 against Mahindra united and in 2007 against Mohammedan SC.
Targeting the Next Milestone:
2010 didn’t roll out well for the Nigerian as a molestation charge was leveled against him. Luckily he came out scot free. The Nigerian renewed his annual contract with Churchill Brothers earlier in 2009 for a reported fee of around Rs 1.1 Crore – making him highest paid footballer in India. Reportedly East Bengal offered him Rs 1.2 Crores to don the famous Red-and-Gold jersey, but somehow Mr. Churchill convinced the lanky lad to stay at Margaon for another season.
The 25-year old Nigerian striker – who is the current captain of the Goa-based Churchill Brothers Sports Club – is like a invaluable mentor and idol to every Indian aspiring youngsters. With the purple patch of form he has once again struck this season, it will be once again one hell of a task for all the defenders in I-league to stop this relentless goal machine from achieving yet another Golden Boot to his kitty.