NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 16 – Having impressed in the two matches he featured for Harambee Stars at the tail end of 2019, Zambian based shot-stopper Ian Otieno hopes he can enjoy more starting roles with the national team, but still remains humble enough to know it will not come easy.
Otieno came on as a second half substitute in Stars’ 1-1 draw away to Egypt after regular starter Patrick Matasi picked up injury and went on to start in the barren draw against Togo in the second 2021 African Cup of Nations qualifier in Nairobi four days later.
“It was a huge motivation for me to get to play those two crucial matches and it only grew my hunger to get to play more. Of course I wasn’t happy when Matasi picked up an injury but it was an opportunity that came to my hands and I took it well,” Otieno told Capital Sport.
He added; “I don’t want to look at myself as ‘Kenya One’ or even the best keeper in the country but my hope is to do well in every game. I want to keep starting and that means I have to keep working hard in training and in my club.”
To get the starting role, he has to wade off competition from Matasi, Yanga’s Faruk Shikhalo as well as the rumored return of experienced Arnold Origi.
“All those are top class keepers and it will be very hard, but when you know you are competing against the best, you definitely do above your best to remain at the top. We will definitely push each other to be better,” he explained.
Otieno whose star has been on the rise has recently joined Zambian champions Zesco United, linking up with fellow countrymen David Owino, Jesse Were and Mark Makwatta and becoming the fifth Kenyan to turn out for the Ndola based club.
Zesco snapped up the former AFC Leopards and Posta Rangers custodian from fellow Zambian league side Red Arrows after a protracted move to Zanaco fell through when they failed to agree on a transfer purse with Arrows.
“Sometimes I usually say that God works in his own ways and he knows why the deal with Zanaco did not work out. With all respect to Zanaco, you cannot compare them to Zesco and when they (Zesco) came I simply couldn’t say no,” Otieno narrated.
At Zesco, he has quickly snapped up the number one starting role from Zambian international and the team’s captain Jacob Banda, playing in game after game, much to his surprise.
“To be honest I didn’t expect to be a starter straight up when I signed because Banda is a good keeper. But I knew my chance would come someday. I was given the chance and I had to work hard to show that I deserve it. Banda has really been of great help to me. He is a great personality with a good heart and he has played a huge role in me settling down. He is always there advising me and leading the way for me, something that I really appreciate,” Otieno noted.
With Zesco this season, Otieno hopes he can play a pivotal role in helping them retain the league title, despite being four points off the pace with four rounds of matches left.
The keeper won the Football Kenya Federation Cup with AFC Leopards and finished second with Posta Rangers, but has never tasted league glory.
Now, he believes Zesco offers him the chance to lift his first ever league crown and a second silverware in his career.
“I would really like us to win both titles in Zambia. We are out of the Champions League and now we have the league and Absa Cup to look out for and hopefully we can fight for both. We have a good chance in both,” he underlined.
Reflecting on his life at Zambia, the custodian said he is feeling at home and more comfortable especially at Zesco where he has the company of three other Kenyans.
‘The first year when I came to Arrows, it was very difficult. The league here is different from Kenya because players are very aggressive and they work hard. The language was also a problem at first but now I am more used to it and I am comfortable.
He picks out former Kenyan international Lawrence Webo, who is now a goalkeeper coach at the national team and AFC Leopards as one of the people who have been influential in his career so far. Webo was his keeper trainer at Posta.
“He has played a very big role in helping me. I am always in communication with him and when he watches my games, he tells me what I did wrong, what I did right and what I need to improve. Also, my own personal urge to do better and improve always pushes me,” said Otieno.
-Photos courtesy Zesco United