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IN FOOTSTEPS OF HIS FATHER: Belgium star Divock Origi proud of Kenyan heritage, speaks Kiswahili and four Luo words

By ROBIN TOSKIN in SAO PAOLO | Updated Sun, June 29th 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3
Origi Belgium’s Divock Origi reacts during a Group H match between South Korea and Belgium at the Corinthians Arena.[PHOTO/ AFP]

SAO PAOLO, BRAZIL: 

 

When you follow the path of your father, the Ashanti of Ghana say, you learn to walk like him. His father, by all accounts, is a wise person who always finds his way.

Of course it is about Divock Origi, the man of the moment.

There is something about him. Just like his father Mike Okoth, he is amiable. A person you want to lazy about with.

As I am about to conclude my interview with him at the mixed zone, inside the Arena de Sao Paolo, his teammate and Tottenham Hotspur midfield Moussa Dembele dishes out a Suarez-eque bite on his right shoulder (Chiellini’s was on the left).

 “Amazing lad. Unbelievable talent. Real talent,” Dembele pours the plaudits before drifting away.

 

Perhaps he had been informed of a Kenyan journalist who had asked coach Marc Wilmots how he was managing the precocious talent with Kenyan roots. Or maybe just a foreboding that a Kenyan journalist would be somewhere in the mixed zone.

He emerges from the dressing room and straight away asks: “Kenyan journalist? I’ve got to start with you because there are so many others waiting.”

Unlike most players who cast a reluctant demeanour, Origi leaned forward from the barrier separating them from a battery of journalists.

It is easy to tell from his tall height that he inherited his father’s gene, and like most of the Origi family like Austin Oduor (a Gor Mahia legend), Gerald and Anthony, he is well built — one of good stock the villagers back home in Luoland, would say.

“I’m proud of my Kenyan roots,” the 19-year-old said in almost flawless Kiswahili, when asked how it feels playing with the knowledge Kenya was watching him.

The influence of French, you would often hear among the Kiswahili speaking Congolese, is slightly discernible. He speaks English and is also fluent in Dutch and Flemish all of which are spoken in Belgium.

“From what my father tells me and what I have experienced on numerous occasions I have been there, it is a great country. I can speak Kiswahili but not fluently. My parents speak it and they have taught me, too.

“I am proud also of Belgium because I was born and have lived there for most of my life,” he said.

There is no doubting, just like a chick that would grow into a cock is known on the day it hatches, that Origi is destined for greater things.

His close friend, Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who played with him at Genk junior team at the age of 13 said he has never doubted his potential.

“He is a very humble youngster. I have known him since school and our time at Genk. I thought it was a matter of time before he hits it big. Now he is a very important part of this team. You saw how quick he is. He can hold up the ball until his teammates are in promising positions. Today, his shot made the difference (South Korea goalkeeper spilled his shot and Jan Vertonghen scored from the rebound).”

Despite his huge promise, his selection to the Diables Rouges squad was fortuitous. Wilmots’ preferred strikers were Romelo Lukaku and Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke.

As fate would have it, Benteke raptured his tendons in April and had to undergo an operation thus ruling him out of the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

Although Origi may not be of the same mould with Benteke, he was the obvious choice given his technical ability and also having scored six goals for Lille OSC of France.

On the day he was called up to join the squad, Belgium assistant coach Vital Borkelmans had chided his close pal and Harambee Stars coach Adel Amrouche that he will snatch Origi from under his nose.

Amrouche was really interested in the youngster, but a combination of many other factors made it impossible to ensnare him to play for Kenya.

“I would really have loved to play for Kenya, but you know I grew up in Belgium. Belgium has invested a lot in me. They gave me the chance to grow. And yes, in Belgium, I have opportunities to play on a global stage.”

It appears the youngster is predisposed to taking decisions that would turn out the wisest just like his father Okoth.

His father started out as a goalkeeper at Shabana FC in 1984. After being on the receiving end of strikers, he hung up his gloves for a centre forward’s role.

After tormenting goalkeepers while at Shabana, he moved to Tusker in 1989 before moving to Boshar in Oman two years later.

Before long he made the biggest and perhaps the most important move in his life when he joined KV Oostend of Belgium, where in 1995 his preeminent son Divock Origi was to be born.

Call it a chance move. Talent alone, however, is not enough to keep one in a place. Okoth is one such humble person and charming, too, as former Harambee Stars and AFC leopards midfielder Johnstone Keffa ‘Tasso’ observed: “Mike is a really humble guy and nice to be around with.”

Remarkably, Origi’s teammates also ascribe these comments to him. Even his coach Wilmots said: “He is a very good and honest lad. He is eager to learn. I have told him not to stop learning just because he scored at the Maracana.”

From his mien, there is nothing to suggest he will stop learning or listening. Against Russia at the Maracana, in Rio de Janeiro, Origi buried Belgium’s winner with the calmness of Filipo Inzaghi or Raul Gonzalez at their prime.

Any plans afoot after the World Cup?

“Nothing yet. But my father is looking at available options. The Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, Italian league and the Premier League are possible destinations. But I would love to play in the Premier League one day,” Origi says.

But hey, you have not spoken in your mother tongue?

He laughs off the prodding to speak in Luo his father and mother’s native language.

“I don’t know except may be “Idhi nadi. Adhi maber Ha! Ha! Ha!”

It is time to let go as the whole is waiting to have a bite from the man of the moment.