The tension between Paris Saint-Germain forwards Neymar and Edinson Cavani is “healthy” and they should be left to sort things out themselves, according to the club’s former star Jay-Jay Okocha.
Cavani and world-record signing Neymar squabbled over a penalty during PSG’s 2-0 win over Lyon last weekend, which Cavani took and missed, and Neymar is since reported to have apologised for his behaviour.
But Okocha believes the two players can help push each other to greater heights and says that when he and Ronaldinho were on free-kick duties at Parc des Princes, they simply took it in turns.
“It’s healthy competition. It’s always good to have more than one player who can take free-kicks or penalties,” he told AFP during an interview in London on Friday.
“At the end of the day, it happens in almost every team. You just have to negotiate and say: ‘You take the first one, I take the second one.’
“It’s all about the team and winning matches. It can be negotiated. Each player has got his best spot, so you know that if it’s in that area, you’re definitely taking it.
“And if it’s in a neutral area, whoever feels good can take it.”
Okocha was present at the announcement of the three-man shortlist for this year’s Best FIFA Men’s Player Award, which pits Neymar against Cristiano Ronaldo and his former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo and Messi have won every major world player award since 2008, but Okocha believes Neymar’s move to Paris will help the 25-year-old Brazilian in his quest to eclipse them.
“He’s not too far. It’s all about competing, believing in himself and consistency,” said Okocha, who played for PSG between 1998 and 2002.
“The other two have refused to give in so to go above them, you have to do a bit more than they are doing, which is a very tough ask.
“He took a bold decision to move, but now he can be his own man and he can show that he has what it takes to be the best.”
– Iwobi ‘should be patient’ –
Okocha, 44, also had some words of advice for his nephew, Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi.
While Iwobi was praised for his performance in Arsenal’s 0-0 draw at Chelsea last weekend, after being selected ahead of Alexis Sanchez, his uncle believes he may have to bide his time before nailing down a first-team place.
“I don’t know about getting ahead of Alexis Sanchez, but he has done well so far,” Okocha said.
“We shouldn’t forget this is his second season with the A team. He can only get better.
“My happiness is that he’s in good hands. He’s in a very good team and he’s progressing as a player. He’s got an opportunity to grab.
“I don’t want to put him under pressure. All I care about is his progress as a player. He should be patient.”
Iwobi, 21, is one of the new breed of Nigeria players who have taken the Super Eagles to within touching distance of a place at next year’s World Cup.
After missing out on a spot at successive Africa Cups of Nations, it would be Nigeria’s first major tournament appearance since the 2014 World Cup.
The team’s difficulties prompted Okocha to think about running for president of the Nigeria Football Federation, but he says recent results suggest a corner has been turned.
“I was worried about the direction our football was going in. We were suffering,” said the Nigeria great.
“I realised that we had to change the administrative part of the game because if you don’t put a good structure in place, especially for the younger players, you will suffer in the future.
“That was one of the reasons why I was thinking about that, but things are looking better now. If they can save me that stress, I will be happy doing what I’m doing now.”