|Always a Pirate: Onyekachi Okonkwo|
ORLANDO PIRATES have re-signed Nigeria’s answer to Mario Balotelli – the tough-talking, ref-threatening, contract-breaking Onyekachi Okonkwo.
The big Irvin Khoza press conference was everything Buccaneers fans might have hoped for with SIX new players added to the double-treble champions’ squad in a single stroke – and the promise of “more to come” from the Iron Duke.
But hold on… what happened to the Zimbabwean striker Takesure Chinyama, just a medical short of signing for the Sea Robbers last week? Up north, they were telling us he was leaving Dynamos after being offered R100,000-a-month to join the South African champions.
Instead, we were offered midfielder Onekachi Donatus Okonkwo who begins his second spell in Soweto after leaving the club in 2007 in the days before silverware came in threes.
“Tico”, who has spent the last five years scoring goals in the contrasting surroundings of Switzerland and Qatar, grinned: “Once a Pirates, always a Pirate, that’s what they always say!
“Even when I was playing overseas with FC Zurich and Al Kharaitiyat, I always stayed in touch with the chairman.”
In a move which has distinct parallels with the return of Siyabonga Nkosi to Kaizer Chiefs, Okonkwo, at 30 the same age as Nkosi, adds: “This club has always been close to my heart. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Ghost again.
“But although I’ve played here before, to come back to Pirates after five years abroad will be challenge - it’s a completely different to the team I left behind in 2007. But Augusto Palacios is still here!”
Okonkwo is yet another cog in the machine Khoza is putting together to make a real run at the African Champions League next season – he won it with Nigeria's Enyimba as a youngster in 2003 and 2004. He also scored against his old club when Pirates reached the semi-finals in 2006.
But Okonkwo doesn’t come without a reputation for Balotelli-style controversy. In August 2006, during a Telkom Charity Cup match against Bloemfontein Celtic, Okonkwo was red-carded but refused to go, threatening to beat up referee Daniel Bennett. He was eventually dragged off by his Pirates team-mates. He also had a reputation for going AWOL when he went on various trials in Europe.
When he went to Europe, “Tico” had signed a pre-contract agreement with German side FC Koln but after a week, he disappeared and signed a four-year deal at Swiss side FC Zurich.
Okonkwo said he only agreed to a trial at Koln with their sporting director Klaus Horstmann threatening to take the matter to FIFA.
He joined Al Kharitiyath in the summer of 2010 and sad yesterday: “I did have options after Qatar in France and Belgium but European football can be stressful. This is where it started for me, and I'm happy to be back home.
“This club has always been close to my heart. I'm happy to be here where I can hopefully finish off my career.”
The press conference also starred five other players who have signed three-year deals for Pirates.
Patrick Phungwayo, signed from Wits (the Clever Boys are soon to be know as the Intellegent Older Gentlemen), young Khethowakhe Masuku from Black Leopards, Siya Mngoma from Amatuks plus Free States Stars duo Ayanda Gcaba and Manti Moholo. Quite what’s happening with Bloemfontein Celtic’ centre-back Eric Mathoho remains mystery, though Pirates have withdrawn their interest as Chiefs and Sundowns battle it out for the Tower.
Gcaba said: “I will always be grateful to Stars, I’d been there four years and they allowed me to move on. I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
The Iron Duke told us: “We have had protected discussions over the last six months, with Isaac Chansa leaving (for China), we felt that it was important to replace him.
“We can't reveal secrets... we are still the best in the market, those who desire happiness and success must be prepared for war.
“Everybody is reinforcing. We are not done yet.
“There are still more players signing.”
Okonkwo’s career in a nutshell:
2004-2007 Orlando Pirates 43 games, 3 goals
2007-2010 FC Zurich 62 (2)
2010-2012 Al Kharitiyath 39 (5)
2006-2008 Nigeria 9 (0)
His Christian name Onyekachi, means "Who is greater than his godly guarding?"