SWILA: Olunga is Kenya’s football jewel, let’s show him some love


SWILA: Olunga is Kenya’s football jewel, let’s show him some love
Olunga is adored by Kashiwa Reysol fans.PHOTO/Courtesy

In Summary

  • By demeanor he comes across as an ordinary folk; no show-off; no bling bling, no razzmatazz…but make no mistake, on the pitch, he stings like a bee!
  • So ferocious is his left foot that whenever he touches the ball in the danger area, defenders quiver while the goalkeepers are left holding onto faint hope, aware that once he pulls the trigger, the outcome is catastrophic for the opposing teams.
Sports editor

By demeanor he comes across as an ordinary folk; no show-off; no bling bling, no razzmatazz…but make no mistake, on the pitch, he stings like a bee!

So ferocious is his left foot that whenever he touches the ball in the danger area, defenders quiver while the goalkeepers are left holding onto faint hope, aware that once he pulls the trigger, the outcome is catastrophic for the opposing teams.

Rightfully so, such is the level that an ordinary boy by the name Michael ‘Engineer’ Olunga Ogada has taken his game that when Kenya’s football books are written, the towering striker will claim his rightful share of space.

A chapter or two will be dedicated to the Nairobi born 26-year-old striker who traces his roots to Homabay County.

You see, when the striker was plucked from Uperhill School some time in 2013 and thrown into the rigour of top-flight football that is the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) by none other than veteran coach Roberto ‘The Lion’ Matano, not many gave him a chance.

Back then he was a lanky, skinny kid but full of potential.

Fast-forward, Olunga has morphed into a finished product with a lethal eye for goal, tormenting defenders with sheer force, power and ruthlessness.

Matano, perhaps, whenever he watches Olunga doing the damage in the top tier Japanese league today, where he turns out for Kashiwa Reysol, feels vindicated.

It is the kind of feeling that coaches get whenever they see their players turn out just fine, or maybe the joy and satisfaction a parent gets seeing their beloved sons or daughters scale the heights in their chosen careers.

For Olunga, like many before him, the road to the top hasn’t been smooth-sailing; don’t be fooled! It has been rugged, long and painful.

Born in a humble family, like most households in Kenya, Olunga was for the better part of his early life raised by his mother in the low income neighbourhood of Lucky Summer, after the demise of his father, the senior Ogada.

In Lucky, as Nairobi folks fondly refer to the place, he played his football bare feet; in the dusty and rugged fields; his drive being to make it in football.

He chose this path, not because he lacked other options. Far from it, after all he was a bright chap in school who scored a straight ‘A’ in his KCSE examinations, earning placement at the Technical University of Kenya to study Geospatial Engineering.

And so to journalists like myself, who are well versed with journey, who covered him play – for  Gor Mahia, Tusker, Thika United, Harambee Stars  – his scaling the heights and making a name at the top level ­­-  is reason to behold and neither does it come as a surprise.

Flash back; in his debut season with Gor Mahia, in 2015, he won the coveted KPL gong scoring 19 league goals as Gor claimed the gong unbeaten; his partnership with Rwandan Meddie Kagere proving telepathic.

I particularly recall one occasion in 2015 when he lamented to me, in private of course (he’s never one to complain publicly) that despite his good form, we, the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya(SJAK) were not reciprocating by bestowing him with the Monthly Footballer Award. True. He had been on form but every month, for one reason or the other, he would be piped to the monthly crown, issued by sports writers, by other players.

In response, I assured him that he had no reason to worry, all he needed to do was to continue working hard, and he’d be crowned the season’s Most Valuable Player. All indications pointed as such, and it came to pass.

Michael Olunga won the Footballer of the Year Awards
Olunga’s impeccable form with Gor Mahia saw him bag the KPL Most Valuable Player award in 2015.

Those days I worked as Reporter with a leading local daily, and football was my number one beat. I particularly got so immersed in covering Gor’s stellar run that term, and Olunga’s meteoric rise, and on a few occasions I would get no-so-kind emails from angered readers who thought I was ‘too much’ on Olunga. Such readers argued that I needed to give the young man space to play his football or else I’d ruin his career by too much publicity.

In retrospect, having interacted with the player closely, and knowing how humble and grounded he was, fame or publicity would never get into his head. He was headed for the skies.

Breakthrough

Michael Olunga of Gor Mahia celebrates
Fast-forward, Olunga has morphed into a finished product with a lethal eye for goal, tormenting defenders with sheer force, power and ruthlessness.

In a nutshell, his stint at Gor would turn out to be the much-sought-after breakthrough as he shortly thereafter moved to Sweden, joining top division IF Djurgardens.

In Sweden, Olunga made a name too, scoring 12 goals in 27 league appearances before earning a big-money move to China, inking a deal with Guizhou Zhicheng.

And even though life in the Far East didn’t go as envisaged, he managed two goals in nine appearances before he was loaned to Girona in the Spanish La Liga in the 2017-2018 season.

First team chances were few and far between but when he got one, he ensured his name was safeguarded in the club’s history books, bagging a hat-trick on Jan 13 2018 as his side Girona thumped Las Palmas 6-1 in a riotous performance.

Ecstatic Olunga wearing a broad smile after his treble act took him to the history books.PHOTO/COURTESY/Girona FC
At Girona, first team chances were few and far between but when he got one, he ensured his name was safeguarded in the club’s history books.

That victory and his treble act ensured that he became the first African to attain such a feat for the club.

Off he went, finding a new home in Japan, penning a deal with then division two club, Kashiwa Reysol.

Here, life welcomed him. He settled fast and became a club darling, scoring at will.

In fact, he’s remembered for scoring seven goals in a league match on November 24 2019 as his side thumped Kyoto Sanga 13-1, to write another history.

‘The Engineer’ or ‘Micah’ as he is fondly known would end the season as the second-top scorer as his club climbed to the top tier league this season.

In Japan, he’s rubbed shoulders with among others; World Cup winners in the frame of Andres Iniesta and Lukas Podolski.

So far this term he’s scored 15 goals in 15 league games (as of yesterday, September 11 2020) to top the score chart while emerging as a strong contender for the golden boot award.

To put the icing on the cake, he was on Thursday this week crowned the league’s best player for the month of August after his goal-scoring exploits saw him net six times in six matches during the period.

Upon the award, he said: “I would like to thank everyone involved in the J-league for being selected as the MVP for August of the Meiji Yasuda Life J1 League. I also thank my teammates, coaching staff, and fan supporters.

Come to think of it, why has he come this far? Why has he achieved all these?

To put the icing on the cake, he was on Thursday this week crowned the league’s best player for the month of August after his goal-scoring exploits saw him net six times in six matches during the period.

Olunga is an embodiment of discipline, focus and resilience.

Even when things seemed to go wrong for him he never got his eyes off the prize. He remained humble and focused.

In his illustrious career, he remains untainted and is controversy free and it, perhaps, explains why the Liberty Academy graduate will continue scaling the heights.

His growth and ascendancy to the top should be lauded by all and sundry and moreso tacticians – who nursed his raw ambition. Coaches like Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee and Matano deserve special mention.

Vital lessons we should learn in Olunga’s tale is that, as a country, we are bequeathed with enormous sporting talents and what is needed is a conducive atmosphere to horn their skills.

Whichever way one looks at it, Olunga, no matter his achievements from now on,  will be mentioned on the same wavelength as Dennis Oliech, Mike Okoth, Victor Wanyama, and MacDoanld Mariga – footballers who defied the odds to break the glass ceiling in Europe.

Most importantly, as they say, success has got a thousand fathers, failure has none, and as he continues to scale the heights, it will come as no surprise when top clubs in Europe fly to Japan to fight for his signature.

Last week, FKF President Nick Mwendwa was quoted saying Olunga is one of the best strikers in the world, at the moment!

Rightfully so, time has come for Kenyans to rally behind their own, and not just idolize western players. Let’s show the Engineer some love and some adoration.

Ever thought what would become of Olunga had he been British or French or German? The western media would have been all over us, reminding us of just how good he is.

Time is nigh for us to support him. I look forward to seeing a graffiti on a matatu bearing his face; Kenyan soccer fans donning jerseys with his name and shirt number inscribed at the back and much much more. The same way we idolize Messi, Ronaldo, Aubameyang and the likes; time has come for us to show the Engineer some adoration.

Lastly, the good lad has been a good ambassador of our county in Japan. He’s hoisted the flag high and made millions of Japanese know of Kenya’s football potential.

More often they burst to his favourite song: “Micaaah, Jambo Jambo…” as they idiolise him.

The Government through the Ministry of Tourism should perhaps consider how to use Olunga as a tourism ambassador, not just in Japan, but in the larger Far East.

isaac.swila@royalmedia.co.ke

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