Ah, Roman youth products. You gotta love ‘em. Praised by tifosi after only one official minute in Serie A, beaten to the ground by those same fans after three loan spells in Greece, Lithuania or Slovakia. We’ve seen a lot of these kids come and go, yet only one name will really stick in my mind as the ultimate prodigy from our Primavera: Stefano Okaka. Or Okakachukamuthaf*cka. Still one of the best nicknames in Roma’s history.
Nowadays we dream of Riccardi, Antonucci or Luca Pellegrini to wear the captain’s armband one day. Back in 2005, a very young player, still only a baby in the football world, stepped on the pitch, wearing no35 and made his official debut for AS Roma. At the age of 16. And on the European stage on top of that. His name? Stefano Okaka Chuka. Born in 1989, his first game was in September 2005. His first goal for Roma followed not long after his debut, in December 2005 in a Coppa Italia clash with Napoli.
The fans went wild. Finally, a huge prospect. One that would make Real, Barcelona or Manchester United jealous. A player worth + 100m euros. Would Okaka be the real deal? His career at Roma started with a bang and on the right time: Totti was nearing his prime and Daniele De Rossi was already hailed as capitano futuro. Would Okaka complete that magical hattrick?
Alas, this story won’t get a happy ending. Hell, not even a happy middle part. Roma quickly opted to loan out Okaka to gain valuable experience elsewhere, but practically all of his loan deals were a miss. Modena, Brescia, Fulham (yikes), Bari,... He couldn’t release his true potential at any of those clubs.
After the Winter mercato of 2012, a six-month-loan to Parma went quite succesful and the Ducali gambled on Okaka. The club bought him in the Summer of 2012 but immediately sent Okaka to Spezia in Serie B. Even though Stefano played almost every game at Spezia, after returning to Parma in 2013 the bench was his new home.
Once again, Winter brought new chances for Okaka. Sampdoria was his next destination and again, for half a season he did quite well, convincing Sampdoria that he was finally back on track. But not for long... 2014-2015 was another tough year for Stefano. While he managed 30+ games for Samp, his goal tally was nowhere near as impressive. Again, a bitter pill to swallow for the kid, still only 26 but almost ten years as a professional football player. However, a new and surprising haven was waiting for him.
Belgium! Yaay! Land of chocolates, waffles and lovely fries. And home of Roma’s craziest fan but let’s not digress here. Ironically, Okaka enjoyed his best ever season in the shirt of Anderlecht, the Juventus of Belgium. For the first time he reached double digits, 15 goals and top scorer of his club! Atta boy, that’s more like it! Despite Okaka’s goals Anderlecht weren’t crowned champions in the end. But on a personal point of view, Okaka was on fire at long last.
So, happy ending? Sadly, no. Okaka left Belgium (boooo) and joined Watford in the Premier League, his second spell in England after Fulham. And yes, you guessed it. A bad choice. Not even cracking 20 games in his first season, hardly 15 in his second one.
So what do you do if you’re Okaka and you’re not playing regularly? Loan of course! And by the power of the Holy Spirit, a Serie A side once again gambled on Okaka to release his potential (this is getting monotonous, isn’t it?). The same side Roma are facing tonight: Udinese. At the Olimpico, where Okaka scored one of the most memorable goals of the club ever.
Does the name Adrian Pit ring a bell? The backheel? A lovely 88’ winner from Stefano against Siena, 2-1, boom, the Olimpico exploded. A great goal thanks to two ‘outcasts’ from the club, Okaka and Pit. Both names are perhaps small footnotes in Roma’s history pages, but that night, that crazy minute they made history together. Remember the following celebration with Okaka and De Rossi in front of the Curva? Great memories. And guess who was Roma’s coach back then? Yup, Claudio Ranieri.
The Olimpico, Ranieri, De Rossi, Okaka, Totti. It’s going to be a nice little reunion tonight in Rome, where it all started for Okaka. Only this time, he’ll be wearing the black and white from Udinese Calcio and searching for his third goal of the season. Third… Hmmm. Yes, you guessed it, Okaka still isn’t firing on all cylinders.
For the record: Okaka’s turning 30 this year. 30. Damn, I feel old. I watched him as a 16-year-old for Christ sake.
He saw it all: Serie A, Serie B, Europe, two foreign leagues, Italian caps... The fans in 2005 hoped for a Roman legend in the making, playing 300+ games for the club. But instead, Okaka turned into a journeyman and never felt at home at any club he joined during his career. In fact, he never stayed at the same club for three consecutive seasons since 2005. Consistency is a word he doesn’t understand.
Udine surely won’t be Okaka’s last club, that’s a safe bet. He still has about 4 good years left in him. Well, it depends on your meaning of ‘good years’. If you think scoring 3, 4 or 5 goals a season for a striker is a ‘good year’, well then Okaka’s your man.
However, a Luca Toni or Filippo Inzaghi he was not. Perhaps he could have been one. But in the end he’ll just be another of those Roman prodigies that didn’t make the cut and saw his career collapse by loans and bad choices in life.
And you know what? That makes me sad. I genuinely feel sorry for Stefano but it is what it is. Tonight I sincerely hope he can celebrate a goal, you know, a consolation goal for Udine like 3-1 or 4-2. Roma still has to win this one to keep the CL hope alive. And then, the final whistle, De Rossi going to congratulate him.
It would be great to relive just a tiny piece that moment back in 2005, when Okaka was just an innocent kid, on the brink of a stardom. Not knowing of all the troubles he’ll have to endure later on.
Thanks for that magical moment, Stefano, and good luck, wherever you may roam in your odyssey.