Harambee Stars to the World: How Kenyan football stars are faring abroad
By Washington Onyango | January 8th 2022
There is always joy and excitement among Kenyans when a local footballer goes to play professional football away in Europe and the rest of the world.
In the past two decades, the likes of Dennis Oliech, Musa Otieno, McDonald Mariga and until just recently Victor Wanyama have gone on to become not only stars grabbing international headlines but also became role models to a new generation.
The new generation of today is currently being led by Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga, who is setting the bar high for Kenyan players playing abroad with consistent goalscoring that has won him accolades.
The Nairobian takes a look at how the current players in Kenya’s current international set-up are faring as the 2022 sporting calendar starts to gather pace:
Michael Olunga (Al-Duhail-Qatar)
Michael Olunga has been Kenya’s key man spearheading Harambee Star’s attack for a number of years now.
The 27-year-old has already played all over the world. Locally, he started his rise at Tusker (2013), Thika United (2014) and Gor Mahia (2015) where he scored a combined 31 goals.
In 2016, he moved to Europe where he featured for Sweden side Djurgårdens IF for a season before moving to Asia to play for Chinese side Guizhou Zhicheng in 2017.
Olunga made history as 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 moved back to Asia in 2018, but this time to play for Kashiwa Reysol in Japan. It is in Japan that he exploded with 58 scored across two seasons.
On 24 November 2019, he scored eight goals for Kashiwa in a 13–1 victory over Kyoto Sanga. Olunga finished the season with 27 league goals as Kashiwa finished the J2 season as champions and won promotion to the first division.
Olunga finished as the top scorer in the 2020 Japanese J1 League with 28 goals, winning the Golden boot and the J-League 2020 MVP. He is the first African player to win the J-league MVP award.
In January 2021, Olunga moved to Qatar Stars League champions Al-Duhail on a three-seasons contract for a reported transfer fee of €6 million
On Tuesday, Olunga added another feat to his growing cabinet of individual accolades after being feted after winning the 2021 Asian Champions League Golden Boot.
Olunga currently tops the scoring chart in the2021-2022 Qatar Stars League (QSL) with 13 goals scored in the league this season.
Olunga remains Kenya’s most precious attacking gem in international friendlies and tournaments and many are looking forward to how the striker will perform for Kenya in 2022.
Clarke Oduor (Barnsley-England)
The young left back started his career in England very young, coming through the ranks at Leeds United before signing for Barnsley last year.
He’s become a regular in the first team at the club and is getting some valuable experience in the Championship as he looks to develop his career and potentially make a move into the Premier League.
The 21-year-old has just one cap for Kenya but he has a bright future ahead of him and he’ll be pleased with his start at Oakwell this season, with Barnsley sitting in mid-table despite being among the favourites for relegation.
Victor Wanyama (CF Montreal-USA)
Captain Victor Wanyama has had an absolutely fantastic career having played for the likes of Celtic, Southampton and Tottenham before moving to Montreal Impact.
The Impact have really benefited from his experience and strength in the midfield, but it has still been a mixed season for the MLS side.
Wanyama is ever-present in the heart of the midfield for the side and plays alongside the likes of Bojan Krkic, who has also had an established career in the Premier League.
Last November, the former Harambee Stars captain helped CF Montreal win the Voyageurs Cup by defeating Toronto FC 1-0 in the Canadian Championship final Sunday.
The win saw Montreal celebrate a first Canadian Championship title at Stade Saputo since 2014.
The former Tottenham Hotspurs star featured for the entire 90 minutes to help his side finish the season with a trophy at Stade Saputo Stadium and also book a place in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.
Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma (AIK, Sweden)
Erick Ouma is a Kenyan international footballer who plays for Swedish club AIK. Mainly a left back, he can also be deployed in all other positions on the left side.
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, going on to sign a six-month contract with Georgian club Kolkheti Poti in January 2017.
In February 2018, he moved to Albanian club KS Kastrioti, and by September 2018 he was playing for Swedish club Vasalund, for whom he made 22 appearances, scoring two goals. He then moved to AIK for the 2020 season. Last year, Ouma started attracting scouts from English Premier League and if he continues with his current form he will definitely move to the world’s most famous football league.
Ouma made his international debut for Kenya in 2016. He was a squad member at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Richard Odada (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia)
Harambee Stars new defensive midfielder Richard Odada has been the talk of town since making his national team debut last year in September when Kenya hosted Uganda in Group E World Cup qualifiers.
Odada is currently playing for FC Metellac in the Serbian top tier, having been loaned out by Red Star Belgrade to find the valuable playing time.
Odada has 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 26 May 1997) is a Kenyan professional footballer who plays as a defender for Belgian club Gent and the Kenya national team.
Okumu has played club football for Chemelil Sugar, Free State Stars and moved abroad in 2018 to play for USA’s AFC Ann Arbor. At AFC Ann Arbor he made 8 league appearances in the 2018 season.
On 16 August 2018, Okumu signed for USL Championship side Real Monarchs. On 28 August 2019, Okumu transferred to Swedish Allsvenskan side IF Elfsborg for an undisclosed fee.
The former Chemelil Sugar centre-back had an impressive season with Elfsborg that attracted reported interest, mainly from Lorient and Reims of France, and from Rangers FC and Celtic of Scotland.
He signed for Belgian club Gent on 21 June 2021.
Ismael Gonzalez (Real Murcia, Spain)
Harambee Stars midfielder Ismael Gonzalez completed a move to Spanish fourth-tier league side Real Murcia last year in August.
The star, born to a Kenyan father and a Spanish mother, played in six games as Las Palmas ended up finishing ninth last season in the Second Division. Gonzalez has previously played for Las Palmas II, Cacereno, Granada II, and Fuenlabrada before he joined Las Palmas.
Although he has recently not enjoyed national team call-ups, 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 at Kariobangi Sharks, Erick Kapaito left the club for recently promoted Ethiopian side Arba Minch FC in September last year.
Last season, Kapaito outscored other players in the league to walk away with the golden boot and topped it with the Most Valuable Player (MVP) title.
Kapaito started playing football during his childhood years at Maili Tisa FC in Namanga where he grew up.
He would join Kiluani High School but because of his football talent, he would later join Laiser Hill through scholarship.
An adamant admirer of former Harambee Stars striker Allan Wanga, Kapaito will join Eastleigh Youth FC which played in the Nairobi County League in 2015 before signing for National Super League side Talanta FC in 2017.
Kariobangi Sharks would then come for Kapaito after he netted 17 goals in the NSL, signing with Sharks in 2018, the same season he was voted the MVP and won the golden boot award.
In the same year, Kapaito debuted for Harambee Stars, a fete he would want to achieve every year with his target set at helping Kenya qualify for the World Cup.
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