Phil Otieno: The midfielder who thrives at right-back
- In 2015, hardly anyone imagined Philemon Otieno had a chance of earning a call-up for the national team Harambee Stars
- Just four years later, the Gor Mahia FC's utility man has become a permanent fixture in coach Sebastien Migne's squad and placing him at right back is probably the Frenchman's easiest squad decision
Analysis by @icia_jacob
In 2015, hardly anyone imagined Philemon Otieno had a chance of earning a call-up for the national team Harambee Stars.
Just four years later, the Gor Mahia FC’s utility man has become a permanent fixture in coach Sebastien Migne’s squad and placing him at right back is probably the Frenchman’s easiest squad decision.
In fact, if you tried looking around, it’s difficult to find another player who could fit into his shoes if he was forced out injured (God forbid).
But how did a player who began his career as a midfielder and who continues to profess his love for it become one of the best fullbacks in the county, is it by default or by design?
In 2016, the then Gor assistant coach Tom Ogweno saw a person who could play in as a number six first, a number eight and a number two in his squad.
He was playing for Ushuru, and his abilities earned him a move to the glamour club.
“When you are signing a player you always look at the need you have. If you want just a central forward you go for that. If you see other areas that need a support player in your team then you look for a player who can fit in different areas.
“Such players are not many, and Philemon is one special player and that’s why we signed him then. Overtime he has proved his talent at Gor and Harambee Stars,” Ogweno told Citizen Digital.
Upon his arrival at Gor, Otieno started his trade in his favorite defensive mid, until when Burundi international Karim Nizigiyamana who was the first choice right back sustained a long-term injury.
The then coach, Brazilian Ze Maria, turned to Otieno for safety at the right back, a position he fitted in so well that he beat all natural right-backs even to the national team.
“It would be unfair to say it was by chance that he found himself in the Harambee Stars team as right-back simply because he played for Gor the position as a makeshift. It is what he had shown before that convinced us he could play there when Nizigiyamana was injured,” Ogweno, a former Kenyan international offered.
While the Harambee Stars left-back position has two reliable men for Migne to pick – Aboud Omar and Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma’ – Otieno can only be helped by his teammates who have specialised as centre backs in spite if their brief history in the position.
“David ‘Calabar’ Owino has played as a right full back before, but at Zesco United (Zambia) he’s permanently at the centre. The same case with Musa Mohammed (Nkana – Zambia).
“Versatility in the team is important and I think only Joash Onyango can do the job at the right if something happened to Philemon, although he won’t be as flexible as him,” observed Ogweno.
In their 18th KPL title coronation day at the Kenyatta Stadium Machakos just a fortnight ago, Philemon came on as a substitute against Posta Rangers, playing the defensive midfield role long after doing so in the league.
“This is my place, elsewhere you see me playing I do that as second option. I can play in diffy positions but I started as defensive mid,” the soft spoken Gor ace told Radio Citizen after the match.
Former Stars captain Mike Okoth, the father to freshly minted Uefa Champions League (UCL) winner Divock Origi was another exceptional example of versatility, having started as a goalkeeper only to end up as one of the finest strikers Key has ever produced.
He even represented Kenya in the 2004 AFCON edition, before retiring soon after.
No super-humans at AFCON
Meanwhile, Ogweno has sent a message of encouragement to Stars, noting no competitor has advantage over the other before match kickoff.
“Senegal, Algeria and Tanzania are African teams just like Kenya. Let the players fear no name, no matter the big clubs they could be attached to. When they come to play in AFCON they leave those club tags there. They don’
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