Another Kenyan headed for big league football
When Kenya’s football history books are finally written, Dennis “the Menace” Oliech will not doubt claim his space as the player who broke the glass ceiling in a major European league.
That was back in 2005 when Oliech signed for French Ligue 1 side FC Nantes in January 2005 after an illustrious three-year stint with Qatari top tier side Al-Arabi.
That move, which at the time was met with lots of excitement in the Kenyan press, opened the doors for Kenyan players to break the barrier that had long prevented them from venturing into elite European leagues.
Next was the immensely talented MacDonald Mariga who, in August 2007, landed in Italy on loan to Serie A side Parma from Swedish club Helsingborgs.
The player, who was once touted as the next Patrick Vieira, would later go on to sign for Italian giants Inter Milan with whom he bagged an unprecedented treble — including the prestigious UEFA Champions League title in May 2010 — under the watch of then coach Jose Mourinho.
His younger brother Victor Wanyama would soon follow suit becoming the first Kenyan to play in Scotland and later England with a big money move (estimated at Sh 1.7 billion) from Celtic to Southampton.
With the success of the ‘big three’, it therefore comes as no surprise that another player with Kenyan roots — Divock Origi — is showing strong signs for another milestone of becoming the first player of Kenyan descent to sign for a top English side.
According to the English press, Origi, who will be celebrating his 19th birthday Tuesday, has become the object of great interest from London powerhouse Arsenal and 18-time English champions Liverpool.
Both teams are reportedly monitoring the youngster with a view of signing him.
The young Origi, a Kenyan-Belgian who turns out for French Ligue 1 side Lille, is the son of former Kenya international striker Mike Okoth.
The youngster has been at the French club since May 2010 and despite being limited to cameo appearances, he has scored five league goals this season.
His impressive performance, more so his composure in front of goal, has impressed both Wenger and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers who are reportedly scouting him.
The heightened speculation has left pundits debating on whether Origi, who is a member of one of Kenya’s greatest football dynasties could become the next “big thing” for Kenya in European football.
Ever since Origi came into the limelight, his uncle Austin Oduor, a former Harambee Stars and Gor Mahia captain, has always played his cards close to his chest over the possibility of the youngster revoking his Belgian passport for the Kenyan colours.
On Wednesday Oduor reiterated his earlier sentiments that the youngster should not be hurried into making up his mind on whether or not to accept a national team call up.
“Divock is a young boy who is still honing his skills at the professional stage. Everything has got its time,” the former central defender who skippered Gor Mahia to victory in the Africa Cup Winners Cup (Mandela Cup) in 1987 told the Daily Nation.
However, Odour’s views not shared by many. Former Harambee Stars coach Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno, who once played alongside Origi’s father, is one such person with divergent views.
“I know Divock very well. I was a very close friend of his father even before he was born.
Having grown up in Europe, his affinity to his adopted motherland is understandable. But in life opportunities come once and I would advise him to seize the chance once it comes along,” Otieno said.
Zico, a former Harambee Stars right back, who coincidentally also played with Divock’s uncle Austin Oduor during the latter’s sunset days at Gor Mahia avers that although the youngster has a choice of either lining up for Kenya or Belgium, lack of professionalism and the shambolic state of the Kenyan game could eventually put him off.
“There is a huge gulf in the way European national teams are run and the way we do things here. We cannot lure such talent as Divock unless we change the way we conduct business,” he said.
Citing the case of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana which sometimes back dissuaded star players Salomon Kalou and Kevin-Prince Boateng from taking up foreign citizenship and turning out for their respective countries of origin, Otieno said the two West African nations have better structures compared to Kenya.
“Both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have been to the World Cup in the past and they will also be in Brazil this year.
Their rich footballing history is a carrot they can dangle to lure players tempted to take foreign citizenship,” Otieno said.
Kalou, Origi’s teammate at Lille, was born in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire but at one time considered changing citizenship to Dutch while Boateng was at one time a prospect for the German national team.
It is a situation that Origi could find himself in soon. Born in Oostende, Belgium to Kenyan parents, the youngster has represented Belgium at all junior levels but still qualifies to play for the Kenya’s senior national team.
And although Kenya, unlike the World Cup bound Belgium, Kenya might not play at the global showpiece any time soon, Origi’s growing stature will only whet Harambee Stars coach Adel Amrouche’s appetite to draft him into his squad.
Whichever way it goes, Origi has already inscribed his name in Kenya football folklore.
If luck is on his side, in future he could as well be mentioned in the same breath as Oliech, Mariga and Wanyama while his family will be remembered for its immense contribution to Kenyan football.-nation.co.ke