NAIROBI, Kenya, October 7 – Its been an open secret that Harambee Stars coach Antoine Hey and star striker Dennis Oliech have not got along.But even then, news that the German tactician had decided to drop the striker ahead of Sunday’s crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier away to Tunisia came as a great shock.
True Oliech has been anything but impressive in this round of qualifiers, true his attitude could be better and it’s also true that no individual is greater than a team.
But to drop the only player in your team who poses the wow factor-that X factor that can change games in an instant before such a big match has raised eyebrows.
Especially as Kenya’s other notable European based player Macdonald Mariga has already ruled out of the match with injury.
Kenya is no Brazil which can afford to leave out Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, etc and still turn to Luis Fabiano for goals. Our resources are meagre and mostly we have to do with whatever we can find.
While Oliech has definitely not covered himself in glory in this round of qualifying, he remains our most potent weapon. He may have scored only once in four matches but when the rest of the team has scored two goals amongst themselves, then you get the picture.
In the second of qualifiers, Oliech was unplayable scoring four goals and setting up countless others. But since hey took over, Oliech seems to have fallen out of love with the team.
The desire is not there anymore. Yes he was good against Tunisia in Nairobi and played his heart out against Nigeria in Abuja, but he has lacked that conviction that he had last season.
This has been caused partly by the decision to deploy him almost always as a lone striker – a role in which he is certainly not suited to. If you look at when Oliech has been at his most impressive since 2002, it is when he plays off the main striker or out on the left.
Former Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi would even deploy him out wide whenever Stars played away from home and the way he tormented Namibia in Windhoek last year is a case in point.
For player who plays in Europe, Oliech has had a tough time dealing with foreign coaches. His relationship with Frenchman Bernard Lama was frosty at best while he has not hidden his discomfort with hey and the way he deploy him.
In stark contrast, he has flourished under local coaches. Jacob Ghost Mulee gave him his debut and he repaid him by single handedly taking Kenya to 2004 Cup of Nations finals.
After a relatively barren spell, Kimanzi got his juices flowing again when he took over the reins in May last year. He was a player transformed leading from the front with goals, assists and even occasional goalkeeping (during Stars 2-0 win over Zimbabwe).
So what where did it all go wrong?
This is not to say that Oliech is without fault. His glamorous lifestyle off the pitch, and socialite has provided no end fodder of juicy info to feel gossip pages of local dailies and magazines.
But that a half fit or off form Oliech is Kenya’s most potent weapon is also not in doubt.
Kenya will however make to make do without the team’s most influential player over the past decade as they take on the biggest match of the last decade.
Tough task indeed.