NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 16 – They may have started their campaign on a losing note against Sierra Leone, but Kenyan football retired great, Mike Okoth Origi believes Harambee Stars will qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) for the first time since 2004.
The last time Kenya played in the Africa’s biggest competition was 14 years ago in Tunisia where, Okoth, the father of Belgian international Divock Origi featured as he partnered upfront with Dennis Oliech.
However, despite admitting it will be challenging for Harambee Stars to qualify, Okoth exuded confidence in the squad as he backed head coach Paul Put as the man to quench Kenya’s thirst of competing in AFCON.
“I saw Kenya appointed a good coach that I personally know. He will bring that professionalism in the national team but at the same time the team needs a feeder, because if you have the Under 15, 17, 18 and 19, the coach can build on that for the future, but at the moment they have to give everything for the qualifying games, believe in themselves, put in extra hard work and they will succeed,” Okoth who is in Kenya to grace the 2017 Safaricom Sports Personality of the Year Awards told Capital Sport.
Having gone down 2-1 in their opening AFCON qualifying campaign away to Sierra Leone, Kenya will be seeking to bounce back when they host the Black Stars of Ghana in September, before facing neighbors Ethiopia who are the other opponents in Group F.
Unlike in the past tournaments where only Group winners and two best losers were booking a slot to AFCON, the 2019 edition will see the top two teams head to the continental showpiece that will be hosted in Cameroon.
And it’s from this perspective that Okoth sees an opportunity for Kenya who sits second bottom of the Group with no point to maneuver through, through he challenged the players to concentrate on nothing but to make the dream come true.
“Ghana is a strong team having played in the World Cup, they have achieved a lot but if we train well we will beat them. In football everything is possible all the Kenyan team needs to do is work hard for it because nothing comes easy,” the 50-year-old former Kenyan striker revealed.
With pundits arguing that Kenya is yet to get a replacement for him and Oliech in the striking force, he said… “If you don’t score goals then we don’t have strikers so it’s a challenge to the strikers to show that we don’t miss Mike Okoth and Dennis (Oliech), so they need to prove to us that we are wrong.”
Okoth, who turned out for Shabana FC and Kenya Breweries (Tusker FC) in his old days, called upon Football Kenya Federation to throw their weight behind the team and give them the necessary preparations they need.
“If the federation has focus and right mind set its possible for Kenya to play in 2019 AFCON because we have talent in Kenya but nurturing it is a big problem, if you see our sporting facilities we still have a problem, if we focus on that and put the effort needed it is possible,” he noted.
-Backs Divock’s decision to join Wolfsburg-
Okoth, who comes from a football family with his elder brother, Austin ‘Makamu’ Oduor, having played for Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars as a defender, backed his son Divock Origi’s move to Germany top side Wolfsburg on loan.
He said he needed to move to have more play time since it’s a World Cup year to increase his chances of being named in the Belgian national team squad for the global competition that will be hosted in Russia from June.
”It was a tough decision for Divock to play for Belgium, but as you know he was born in Belgium and played there throughout the Belgium system all the way to the national team, so it was difficult for him to change mentally and physically from Belgium to Kenya knowing the conditions that we have in Kenya,” the uncle to former Harambee Stars goal keeper Arnold Origi stated.
“He is 23 years old so he needs more game time and that’s what he was missing in Liverpool so that’s why we decided to give him a break to play in Germany to get more play time, so he will definitely come back stronger.”
Okoth challenged uprising Kenyan footballers to utilize the chances they get when they go for trials, noting that he gets disturbed when he sees players from his native country fail trials.
“In our days it was difficult to turn professional and play abroad because there was no exposure so you play for the national team hoping to reach AFCON, or your club plays in bigger stage for someone to scout you,” he said.
Headed, “But nowadays if you have talent you have you tube where you will showcase it. The challenge comes when one is called for trials and he fails to prove himself they need to work more before going for trials. In Belgium they youths play a minimum of 8 hours per week here (Kenya) they only play for 3 hours so that is not enough.”
He had a powerful advice to Kenyan footballers who wish to emulate him or his son Divock.
“Always don’t give up you because you never know when and how it will happen. Like me I never knew I will play in Europe I used to dream of going to Europe but I never knew it would happen, so work hard, no matter how difficult it might be, put extra work, believe in yourself and eventually when you have the talent someone will see you and change your life.