Joseph Okumu, 25


Okumu is now among the most discussed Kenyan footballers.

With the likes of Victor Wanyama heading towards the sunset of what has been an exquisite career on the football pitch, Okumu is among those considered worthy to inherit the coveted throne as the poster boy of Kenyan football.

The early signs look great. Attached to top Belgian football club KAA Ghent, the European media linked Okumu, a central defender by trade, with a transfer to some of the biggest football clubs in the world. These include English sides Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Leicester, alongside Borussia Dortmund, (Germany) Atalanta (Italy), and Glasgow Celtic (Scotland).

The transfer did not materialise but the message is home, that it is just a matter of time before the Kakamega High School alumnus rubs shoulders with the best talents in the world of football.

"Musa is my football father. He has done so much for me and my career and frankly speaking I would not be where I am without him."

The feat is more fulfilling considering Kenya is not renowned as a footballing nation, and Okumu’s rise has coincided with some of the lowest moments in Kenyan football history following a blanket ban slapped on the country by Fifa reportedly owing to government interference in the sport.

Born in Chemelil, the Harambee Stars defender developed his kick at Kakamega High School where he trained with the popular Green Commandos side.

He signed his first professional contract at the defunct Kenyan Premier League side Chemelil Sugar from where his breakthrough to better-paid ranks would surface. This is after he impressed former Kenyan defender Musa Otieno with his performances in a Kenyan league match involving Chemelil and Tusker FC.

Otieno handed Okumu a call-up to the U23 Kenya national football team and soon after a referral to paid ranks in South Africa where he penned a deal with the top-flight club Free State Stars.

“Musa is my football father. He has done so much for me and my career and frankly speaking I would not be where I am without him,” said Okumu in a previous interview.

Okumu, grandson to former Kenyan forward Joseph Ouma, did not find it easy in South Africa and was forced to return home briefly and stay away from football for close to six months in a period that he admits was stressful.

In that spell, he says he considered quitting football.

“I lost interest in football. Everything was just overwhelming,” he said.

But Okumu who’s nicknamed Crouch owing to his height and resemblance to the former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch to bounce back, and in style.

With several counseling sessions organised by his family in tow, Okumu restarted his career at Real Monarchs, a second-division side in the US.

An impressive individual show for Kenya at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations led to a move to Sweden, at IF Elfsborg, and another transfer to Gent in Belgium estimated to have cost Sh400 million.

Crucially, the move to 25, has placed him on the same path as Wanyama, a former Kenya captain who later featured for Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur in Kenya.

With his talent and promise, it is certain – well almost – that Okumu is Kenya’s next big thing on the football pitch.

David Kwalimwa