After a long afternoon meeting, it is refreshing to chat with the gorgeous Taiwo Opiyo Atieno. One minute the 6 ft 4 football player talks with so much wisdom the next instant his playful 23-year old shine through. Best of all he says Kenyan women are the most beautiful he has seen.
When Harambee Stars striker, enrolled for his General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) he knew books would never make his career. “My passion was in football and although I did my GCSE, I had already turned professional at 15.”
Brought up in London, England the 23-year-old was born of a Kenyan father of Luo origin, Muossa Awounda and an English mother Bridget Mary Glaisher.
Taiwo says for him football is a way of life. He is currently in Nairobi to launch a Football Magazine and the Brazilian Soccer School Franchise for talented Kenyans.
How did you get into professional football?
I grew up in south London where kids, do one of two things; play football or get into drugs and crime. I played football. I love sport. I play basketball as well. My twin brother (Kande Obongo Atieno) plays basketball professionally in the US. We competed against each other a lot as kids and probably pushed each other to improve. I always had a lot of energy as a kid and sports were always my avenue.
Which footballers did you look up to as a child and do you look up to now?
When I first started playing it was Alan Shearer (He played as a striker in the top level of English football for Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United), Ronaldo from Brazil and Pele, I used to watch Pele all the time, and Michael Owen. Today I like Thierry Henry. He is my best player of all time.
What about Henry makes him the best player for you?
He is composed, driven and always gives 110 per cent.
You are aware of the recent controversy surrounding him.
Ooh the hand ball? I don’t know. (laughs) You can see it from his point of view or you can also see it from the Irish point of view. The beauty of the game, is the controversy that surrounds it.
Most memorable moment in your sporting journey to date.
For me when we won the league with Puerto Rico when I was playing for the Islanders. We got to the finals. We also qualified for the Concacaf Champions League (the North America’s version of UEFA Champions League).
What are some of the major challenges aspiring professional players face?
I think what makes it difficult for the game to really develop especially in Kenya is that there is not enough information for players to know what it is they can do to really improve their physical, their mental part of the game. It is disappointing because it is not difficult to put together this information. I hope that as times goes by Kenyans will be able to get this information.
I grew up in England and to be fair even though I grew up in what is called a ghetto, where there is not much opportunity for young black kids, I still had people who supported me. They would drive me to my practice; some people would even buy me football boots.There are people who tell me that I am fortunate to be in a country where people love the game of football. However, even though England has the biggest football league in the world, throughout the school system sport isn’t serious enough, which is surprising.
In America, sport is taken more seriously in school that is why kids progress very quickly in the sport they participate in. It was the main reason I moved to the states. When I have kids, I want them to be able to enjoy sport.
Why did you decide to join the Kenyan football team?
Because I am half Kenyan. My father and I always talked about coming to Kenya together so when he passed away in 2005, I just wanted to do something that made me feel closer to him and also make him proud.
I have family in Kisumu and Alego so I wanted to show them that I am committed to being a part of their lives and also show my father’s country that I acknowledge them.
What initiatives are you involved in to improve Kenya football?
What I am doing right now aims to improve the game of football for the kids at the grassroots level. I am involved with the Brazilian soccer schools, which is coming to Kenya on the 16th of January. It is an academy, franchise from the UK for the most talented kids in Kenya.
I am also doing a football magazine, which is a collaboration with someone from England and Kenya. We are all really hungry to make football better in Kenya.
I believe that if there is any time football can develop here it is this year because I mean the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup are happening here. The whole world is looking at Africa to show what it’s got. Anything that’s made for this World Cup that is African is going to be a collectors item, so I think a lot of companies and businesses have not yet taken advantage of that.
Outside football what other interests do you have?
Basketball. (laughs). Football is a career and as I said earlier a way of life. Like I have been at the printers all day all night, I slept in my clothes actually. I am dedicated to it. My commitment to football is beyond anything.
There is never one time, like people go to work from nine to five, I start or finish football. I am into all aspects of football so I am interested in fitness and nutrition. I read a lot about ways to improve my game. I am a very sporty person, but I can talk about anything.
Football is enjoyable and as long as you can play you should because one day you get old and you going to have to retire so I want to enjoy it as much as I can.
What is the most important thing in your life … football?
No, family. Family is important. I have a twin brother and an older brother and sister from a different father.
Are you in a relationship?
No. (laughs) I am never in one place long enough. It is important to be in one place if you are going to have anything serious.
What do you think of Kenyan women?
Kenyan women are more beautiful than any women I have ever seen. I swear. When I first came to Africa, I did not expect to see as many beautiful women. There is more beautiful women in Kenyan than I have seen in the whole of the UK.
In Kenya I like the Tribe a lot and The Mug near 20th Century. In London I like hanging out anywhere in London. London is cool men. In the US I like Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York.
Insecure people. I like people who can express themselves. We all have insecurities it is when people allow them to overshadow the good things about them.
Do you drink alcohol?
I have a glass of wine occasionally. I am not a big drinker but everyone has to wind down and I think that is important.
If you were ever arrested for a serious crime, what would it be?
(Laughing) I have been arrested many times, but nothing serious. When I was a kid I was a naughty boy and for me I had to grow up a lot men. I was just too bad. London kids we had no, no respect for authority. You could be a police man, prime minister standing in our faces and in England they will spit at you, they will throw whatever it does not matter.
That is the difference sometimes growing up in England you can be raised in what they call poverty, less that 25 pounds a week, but you still think you are better than the people who are rich.
Sometimes what I wish to see in Kenya is for people who call themselves poor, people who are in unfortunate situations stand up for their rights.
For me every single human being on this planet is just as valuable. I treat everyone the same. It is not nice to see people treated differently just because of their financial situation for me it is very important people sort out their attitudes.
What is your most expensive or most valued asset?
I do not think it would be suitable to disclose all my assets, (laughs). My biggest asset right now is my partnership in the Brazilian soccer schools, which is coming to Kenya on the 16th of January. It is an academy, franchise from the UK for the most talented kids in Kenya.
Your ideal holiday
I have not been on holiday for a long time. Holiday right now would be going to one of my homes in England and just chilling out with my English family for a bit.