How Kenya’s football stars fare abroad

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There is always joy and excitement among Kenyans when a local footballer goes to play professional football in Europe and the rest of the world.

Over the past two decades, Dennis Oliech, Musa Otieno, McDonald Mariga and until recently Victor Wanyama have not only become international headline stars, but have also become role models for a new generation.

Today’s new generation is currently led by Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga, who sets the bar high for Kenyan players playing abroad with consistent goals that have earned him accolades.

The Nairobian takes a look at the situation for current players in Kenya’s current international setup as the 2022 sporting calendar begins to accelerate:

Michael Olunga (Al-Duhail-Qatar)

Michael Olunga has been the key man in Kenya leading the Harambee Star attack for several years now.

Harambee Stars Michael Olunga celebrates his goal against Ghana during the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between Harambee Stars and Ghana at Moi Sports Center Kasarani. September 8, 2018. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The 27-year-old has played all over the world before. Locally, he started his ascent at Tusker (2013), Thika United (2014) and Gor Mahia (2015) where he scored 31 goals in total.

In 2016 he moved to Europe where he played for the Swedish team Djurgårdens IF for a season before moving to Asia to play for the Chinese team Guizhou Zhicheng in 2017.

Olunga made history as the first Kenyan player to play in the Spanish La Liga league in 2017 playing for a year where he also scored a famous hat trick for the Catalonia-based club.

The Harambee Stars captain returned to Asia in 2018, but this time to play for Kashiwa Reysol in Japan. It was in Japan that he exploded with 58 goals scored in two seasons.

On November 24, 2019, he scored eight goals for Kashiwa in a 13-1 win over Kyoto Sanga. Olunga finished the season with 27 league goals while Kashiwa finished the J2 season as champion and was promoted to the Premier League.

Olunga finished top scorer in the Japanese J1 2020 league with 28 goals, winning the Golden Boot and the 2020 J-League MVP. He is the first African player to win the J-league MVP title.

In January 2021, Olunga joined Qatar Stars League champion Al-Duhail on a three-season contract for a transfer fee of € 6million.

On Tuesday, Olunga added another feat to his growing record of individual accolades after being celebrated after winning the 2021 Asian Champions League Golden Boot.

Olunga currently leads the Qatar Stars League (QSL) 2021-2022 scorers chart with 13 league goals scored this season.

Olunga remains Kenya’s most valuable offensive gem in friendlies and international tournaments and many are looking forward to the striker’s performance for Kenya in 2022.

Clarke Oduor (Barnsley-England)

The young left-back started his England career very young, climbing the ranks at Leeds United before signing for Barnsley last year.

Clark Smell [Courtesy]

He has become a regular with the club’s first team and is gaining valuable experience in the league as he seeks to develop his career and potentially move to the Premier League.

The 21-year-old has only one selection for Kenya but he has a bright future ahead of him and he will be delighted with his debut at Oakwell this season, with Barnsley sitting in the middle of the table despite being among the favorites for relegation.

Victor Wanyama (CF Montreal-USA)

Captain Victor Wanyama had an absolutely fantastic career after playing for Celtic, Southampton and Tottenham before moving to the Montreal Impact.

Victor Wanyama. [Courtesy]

The Impact has really benefited from its experience and its strength in the midfield, but the season has been mixed for the MLS all the same.

Wanyama is still present at the heart of the team’s midfielder and plays alongside Bojan Krkic, who has also had a well-established Premier League career.

Last November, the former Harambee Stars captain helped CF Montreal win the Voyageurs Cup by beating Toronto FC 1-0 in the Canadian Championship final on Sunday.

This victory allowed Montreal to celebrate its first Canadian championship title at Stade Saputo since 2014.

The former Tottenham Hotspurs star played for 90 minutes to help his team end the season with a trophy at Stade Saputo and secure a spot for the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.

Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma (AIK, Sweden)

Erick Ouma is a Kenyan international footballer who plays for Swedish club AIK. Mainly rear left, it can also be deployed in all other positions on the left side.

Eric Ouma [Courtesy]

Born in Nairobi, Ouma signed a six-month contract with Gor Mahia in January 2016, before renewing it until the end of the year during the summer.

Ouma left Gor Mahia at the end of his contract to sign a six-month contract with Georgian club Kolkheti Poti in January 2017.

In February 2018 he joined Albanian club KS Kastrioti and in September 2018 he was playing for Swedish club Vasalund, where he made 22 appearances, scoring two goals. He then joined AIK for the 2020 season. Last year Ouma started attracting scouts from the English Premier League and if he continues with his current form he will certainly move up to the most famous soccer league in the world. .

Ouma made his international debut for Kenya in 2016. He was a member of the squad at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Richard Odada (Red Star of Belgrade, Serbia)

New Harambee Stars defensive midfielder Richard Odada has been a buzzword since his national team debut last year in September, when Kenya hosted Uganda in the Group E World Cup qualifiers.

Richard Odada featured for Red Star Belgrade. Serbia [Courtesy]

Odada is currently playing for FC Metellac in the Serbian top flight, having been on loan from Red Star Belgrade to find precious playing time.

Odada spent time with the Belgrade Under-19 team before being promoted to the senior ranks. He has also previously trained with Juventus.

Joseph Stanley Okumu (KAA Gent, Belgium)

Joseph Stanley Okumu (born May 26, 1997) is a Kenyan professional footballer who plays as a defender for Belgian club Ghent and the Kenya national team.

Joseph Stanley Okumu with KAA Gent, Belgium [Courtesy]

Okumu played club football for Chemelil Sugar, Free State Stars and moved abroad in 2018 to play for AFC Ann Arbor of the United States. At AFC Ann Arbor, he made 8 league appearances during the 2018 season.

On August 16, 2018, Okumu signed for the Real Monarchs in the USL Championship. On August 28, 2019, Okumu was transferred to Swedish club Allsvenskan IF Elfsborg for an undisclosed fee.

The former Chemelil Sugar center-back has had an impressive season with Elfsborg which has attracted interest, mainly from Lorient and Reims in France, and from Rangers FC and Celtic of Scotland.

He signed for Belgian club Ghent on June 21, 2021.

Ismael Gonzalez (Real Murcia, Spain)

Harambee Stars midfielder Ismael Gonzalez joined Spain’s fourth division team from Real Murcia last year in August.

The star, born to a Kenyan father and Spanish mother, appeared in six games as Las Palmas finished ninth last season in the second division. Gonzalez previously played for Las Palmas II, Cacereno, Granada II and Fuenlabrada before joining Las Palmas.

Although he recently hasn’t enjoyed national team summons, especially under Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, Gonzalez was part of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations contingent that took part in the 32nd edition in Egypt.

Erick Kapaito (Arba Minch-Ethiopia)

After four seasons and 53 Premier League goals for the Kariobangi Sharks, Erick Kapaito left the club for the newly promoted Ethiopian side Arba Minch FC in September.

Last season, Kapaito edged out other league players to walk away with the Golden Shoe and topped him with the Most Valuable Player (MVP) title.

Kapaito started playing football as a child at Maili Tisa FC in Namanga where he grew up.

He would join Kiluani High School but due to his talent as a footballer he would later join Laiser Hill on a scholarship.

A strong admirer of former Harambee Stars forward Allan Wanga, Kapaito will join Eastleigh Youth FC who played in the Nairobi County League in 2015 before signing for the national Super League team Talanta FC in 2017.

Kariobangi Sharks would come next for Kapaito after scoring 17 goals in the NSL, signing with the Sharks in 2018, the same season he was voted MVP and won the Golden Shoe award.

That same year, Kapaito made his debut for Harambee Stars, a party he would like to achieve every year with his goal set to help Kenya qualify for the World Cup.

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