On this day 12th, August 1989 Nigeria lost one of her finest football players in the person of Samuel Okwaraji. It was a hot and dry Saturday, the Green Eagles as they were called at that time were to play against Angola. It was their second to the last Group C match in the African Zone Italian ’90 World Cup qualifying series.
Having lost 1-2 away to Gabon, it was a match that Green Eagles must win to remain in contention for the World Cup ticket. Cameroon was also seriously fighting for that slot so the Green Eagles came with just one thing in their mind which was to win.
How Did Samuel Okwaraji Died?
Okwaraji collapsed ten minutes from the end of the game in Lagos. He died from possible complications of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy as an autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.
Samuel Okwaraji an Orlu-born enigmatic soccer star was getting attention because “unlike most African internationals, he came to the Nigerian football from Europe, rather than the other way around. His first club was the Italian first division side, AS Roma, he joined them when he was just 20 years old.
Young Okwaraji played aside a law degree from the University of Rome and concentrate on professional football. He left Nigeria to study international law in Italy. He was very actively involved in his academic pursuits, although he still kept his football dreams alive as well.
He was called the Nigerian “Michel Platini” and “Brazillian Falcao” who
were both his soccer role models. He has first and second degrees in law before he moved to Yugoslavia where he played for Club Dynamo Zagreb.
After a brief stint at Dynamo, joined the Austrian second division club side, Klagenfurt FC.
It was at Klagenfurt that German Stuttgart signed him for six years. Not long into the contract, he was loaned to a second division SSV-ULM 1848.
His star blossomed at ULM to point that the club did not play without him. “No Okwaraji, no ULM” was the popular slogan then.
It was not surprising that when he finally had the opportunity to play for Nigeria after he has sent several letters to the Nigeria Football Association without any response, the club manager asked NFA to pay an “estimated cost of $45, 000” for his match bonus.
That was how good he was, this day 12th of August will forever be in the hearts of many sport-loving Nigeria as it is a day we lost one of our best football players.