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30 years after death: 5 things we can’t forget about Sam Okwaraji

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By Toby Prince

Former Super Eagles star, Samuel Okwaraji, passed on exactly 30 years ago on Monday.

The midfielder, who wore the no 6 jersey for the then Green Eagles, died of suspected congestive heart failure in the 77th minute of a make or mar World Cup qualifier against Angola at the Lagos National Stadium in Lagos on August 12, 1989.

He is fondly remembered for scoring one of the fastest goals of the Africa Cup of Nations against Cameroon in 1989.

As the world remembers Nigeria’s first football martyr who sadly met his end while representing his fatherland, we outline five outstanding things about him.

1 He was a trained lawyer

Besides his outstanding football skills, Okwaraji was a professionally trained lawyer. He studied up to the level of Master’s degree in Law from the Sapienza University, Rome, Italy which was then the largest European university by enrolment.

2 Started youth career at Roma

Okwaraji’s sojourn into the beautiful game of football started while studying in Rome. He was handed his first contract by Italian giants, AS Roma aged 20, four years before Francesco Totti joined the club.

“When Sam was in Rome studying and playing for AS Roma, I knew him well. Also there was another friend of ours, Bismarck, who was in Italy playing football too though he didn’t make the headlines like Sam did,” said his former teammate, David Ngodigha.

3 Never played in the Nigerian league

Okwaraji falls into an elite group of ex-footballers never to have made any appearance in the domestic league. Aside from Roma, he played for four other foreign clubs including Dinamo Zagreb and VfB Stuttgart.

4 Died a youth

Aged 25, Okwaraji died an unfulfilled young man with loads of dreams and aspirations. He would have probably lasted for another decade in the game and possibly been part of the glorious team of 1994.

“His death cost us the Italia ‘90 Fifa World Cup [ticket],” said former teammate Etim Esin

5 Put country above club

Okwaraji proved his patriotism onetime his club demanded the Nigerian Football Association to pay before his release.

Hearing about this, he fired at his employers 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.”

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