Okwaraji’s death was especially painful because of the nature of the man. At that time there was a dichotomy between the professional players and the home based players.
The professionals made a lot of demands before playing for the national teams. They often arrived camp and training sessions late (in flashy cars) and were always involved in one scandal or the other (eg Etim Esin).
Okwaraji was the opposite. He never caused any problems, often paid his own travel expenses, was always the first to get to camp and was never involved in any scandals. He was a devout christian and was studying for his law degree at an Italian university. He was actually playing in Italy (which most nigerians felt had the best league in the world at the time).
It’s been about 30 years since former Nigeria International, Samuel Sochukwuma Okwaraji, died right on the field of play while representing his country in a football match. Ripples Nigeria’s Ben Ugbana curates the following facts about the man whose death came as a shock to the football world. He would have been 56 today.
Facts about Samuel Okwaraji
1. Okwaraji was an Imo indegene
Sam, who would later become a fine midfielder in the round leather game, was born on 19th of May, 1964 in Orlu, Imo State, Nigeria.
2. He died at 25 of heart failure
Okwaraji died during a World Cup qualifying match against Angola at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos on 12th of August, 1989. He collapsed and died of congestive heart failure in the 77th minute of the encounter. Nigeria won the game 1-0, but still failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.
3. Scorer of one of the fastest goals in AFCON
Okwaraji was a member of the Green Eagles squad that represented Nigeria at the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Morocco, where he scored one of the fastest goals in the history of the tournament against Cameroon. It was his only international goal for Nigeria.
4. Okwaraji spent his entire football career in Europe
Sam played for Italian side, AS Roma between 1984 and 1985 as a youth player. He went on to play for NK Dinamo Zagreb between 1985 and 1986, for Austria Klagenfurt between 1986 and 1987, for VfB Stuttgart between 1987 and 1989 and for SSV Ulm 1846 on loan between 1987-1988.
5. Okwaraji was also a trained Lawyer
Other than his football career, the Imo-born star bagged a Masters degree in Law from the University of Rome. He was playing professional football while finishing his education in law.
Here is a clip of Okwaraji’s goal against the Indomitable Lions in Morocco: