Jay-Jay Okocha: The best free transfer signing in Premier League history

Who is the best free transfer signing in Premier League history? Many people, particularly those of an Arsenal persuasion, will understandably argue that the accolade should go to Sol Campbell following his controversial switch across North London in 2001.

Chelsea also utilised the Bosman ruling to sign Michael Ballack from Bayern Munich, while the likes of Demba Ba, Brad Friedel and a 35-year-old Gary McAllister all went on to flourish after making moves that did not require the payment of a fee.

However, Bolton Wanderers supporters will probably insist that there is only one player that should be regarded the ultimate free transfer of them all – Jay Jay Okocha, who arrived at the Reebok Stadium now University of Bolton Stadium 19 years ago.

Having started his career in Germany, the Nigerian playmaker went on to play for Turkish outfit Fenerbahce before Paris Saint-Germain forked out £10m in 1998 to take him to France, where he would act as a mentor to a young and aspiring Ronaldinho.

But, with his contract expiring after four years in the French capital, Okocha was on the move again.

Okocha’s status as a free agent made him an attractive proposition for a number of European clubs, yet it was the Trotters, managed by Sam Allardyce, that surprisingly won the race for his signature.

“My Nigerian colleagues gave me a good impression of the Premiership and I am glad to be here,” Okocha said upon his arrival in Greater Manchester.

“But I am not thinking about myself. I am thinking about what we can achieve as a team. I am very impressed with the club and the manager.”

A delighted Allardyce added: “Jay Jay has a great pedigree. He has flair, ability and huge experience.

“Our ambition is to bring the best quality players we can to show we are trying to progress in the right way. Now we have signed Jay Jay hopefully one or two people will pay more attention to Bolton.”

Okocha would go on to become a cult hero at the club, where during his first season, despite suffering some fitness concerns, he helped Bolton to retain their Premier League status.

Later, he would play a key role as the Trotters qualified for the UEFA Cup, as well as finishing runners-up in the 2004 League Cup final.

It was in the summer of 2006 and after he had made 124 Premier League appearances, from which he had scored 14 goals, that Okocha moved to the Middle East to link up with Qatar SC.

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