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BIG MONEY MOVE: Rising star Olunga leaves Djurgadens for China

FOOTBALL By GILBERT WANDERA AND ROBIN TOSKIN | January 25th 2017
Harambee Stars Michael Olunga acknowledge response from fans after beating Congo 2-1 in a match at Kasarani Stadium on Sunday, June 5, 2016. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO]

The Chinese juggernaut to secure its place in world football has stretched its tentacles to capture one of the world’s rising stars, striker Michael Olunga.

In one of astonishing Kenyan stories of the rise and rise of 22-year-old Olunga, Chinese Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng has paid a mind boggling Sh470 million, at least in local terms, to capture the talented youngster from Swedish side Djurgadens IF. His personal terms were not immediately clear, but with his rising stock, Olunga could get some good money.

Chinese Super League clubs, encouraged by the government’s vision of turning China into a football superpower by 2050, have broken the Asian transfer record five times in less than a year, with Shanghai SIPG paying 60 million euros to lure Brazilian Oscar from Chelsea.

Argentina’s goal-poacher Carlos Tevez, Brazilian Ramires, Italian Graziano Pelle, and Belgian Axel Witsel have all landed on the shores of most populous country in the world.

It appears, therefore, the enormously talented Olunga is part of the pieces of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s jig-saw puzzle — himself a fervent football fan — in his quest of one day hosting and winning a World Cup.

This target has since prompted a flood of money into top-flight teams as well as heavy investment and promotion of the sport nationally.

Chinese clubs have been pushing to buy European clubs as part of a larger drive to secure China’s place in the global football arena, a quest with heavy political overtones

. Olunga had been linked to Russian giants CSKA Moscow and Turkey’s Galatarasy, but the pie from East appears to have swayed the Harambee Stars marks-man, fondly called The Engineer, because of his academic pursuit of Geospatial Engineering at University level, having scored a straight A in KCSE.

“The deal is done. He should be heading to China,” said Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, his local manager.

Olunga, is said to be keen with his studies as he was due to begin learning at Stockholm University.

“He transferred his credits and I am sure he would continue with his studies in China,” Mulee said.

But opinion was sharply divided on social media with local fans divided on whether the 22-year-old has made the right decision to move to a league that is known to attract footballers who are past their best.

Zhicheng said in a statement they hope Olunga will integrate with the team quickly as well as be able to maintain a fighting spirit.

The Kenyan international will join the team in South Korea for pre-season training.

He joined the Swedish club Djurgardens IF at the beginning of the 2016 season, scoring 12 goals in a move that attracted interest from other European clubs.

Olunga started his playing career at Liberty Professionals who then loaned him to Tusker. After that he moved to Thika United, but it was only at Gor Mahia that he realised his full potential as he was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2015 after leading the club to win the league for the third year in a row.

It is also the same year that Olunga made his international debut and scored in a 2-1 loss over Zambia during a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

He scored again late last year when Harambee Stars beat Democratic Republic of Congo 1-0 during an international friendly match.

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