Memories of the 18-year-old that fired Kenya to the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations resurfaced on Sunday when Dennis Oliech scored Gor Mahia’s fourth goal in the 4-2 win over Egyptian giants and old nemesis Zamalek.
This one was however different. It was not the rocket that stunned Cape Verde at Kasarani 16 years ago.
It was a special goal that sums up the transformation of the Menace from one of the most promising players in the world at that time to a living legend. Amid that transformation two qualities have stuck with him; his knack for scoring important goals and a poacher’s instinct in the final third.
Both of them came to the fore in his latest goal for K’Ogalo. He timed his run perfectly to run towards Jacques Tuyisenge’s headed knock on and when he got the ball, there was no stopping him. His composure on arrival at the Zamalek box is what must be giving Harambee Stars Sebastien Migne food for thought.
Twice he threatened to shoot with his right foot but he waited until Zamalek custodian Mahmoud Ahmed went on his knees. With a white shirt trailing him, he shifted the ball to his weaker left foot, skipped past the hapless Ahmed and unerringly slotted into an empty net.
As he wheeled away in celebration, his arms up in the air just like his brother Steve Okumu did 21 years ago, Migne must have nodded in the affirmative.
A day after Oliech made a return to competitive football, in the league match against Mathare United, the Frenchman declared that the national team is open to anyone – including Oliech- provided he proves he deserves a place.
Since then Oliech has averaged at least 0.5 goal per match. He now has four goals in seven appearances for Gor Mahia. Well aware that the burden of proof lies with him, Oliech has not let any opportunity to prove the national team selectors that he deserves a slot in the Harambee Stars squad pass.
It is an open secret that Migne needs an extra striker to add depth to a forward line that has Michael Olunga as the only proven out-and-out striker. Allan Wanga got a few minutes in the 3-0 rout of Ethiopia last year October and he might be the only forward close to Oliech’s experience. With Oliech in the picture, Migne is assured of goals upfront and a player who will turn up in big matches just like he did against Zamalek.
There is one trait that makes him an invaluable addition. His leadership skills!
Oliech, by virtue of being Kenya’s alpha striker, commands respect seamlessly from other players. There is a wave of confidence that he brings to any team he plays for. It’s not a surprise that Hassan Oktay has elevated him to the captaincy at Gor Mahia. Even after Harun Shakava joined the fray against Zamalek as a substitute, Oliech retained the armband to the final whistle.
While Oliech has been digging deep to rediscover himself locally, Harambee Stars skipper Victor Wanyama continues to struggle for playing time at Tottenham Hotspur after spending the last two months on the sidelines due to a recurring knee injury. He was an unused substitute in their 1-0 win over Newcastle United on Saturday.
Since he scored a 67th minute penalty against Ethiopia on October 14, 2018, Wanyama has spiralled down the pecking order at Spurs. He has only played three matches since then; two as a starter and his latest appearance as a second substitute in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace on January 27 earned him 28 minutes.
Migne spent the first three months of his tenure as Harambee Stars coach griping about the lack of leadership in the team. Wanyama’s absence in the historic 1-0 win over Ghana left Migne frustrated post-match calling for respect for the national team.
A trip to London saw Migne mend fences with Wanyama who later availed himself for the back-to-back qualifiers against Ethiopia. However the lack of playing time for Wanyama at club level must be a concern for Migne who looks to have found a perfect balance in midfield when pairing Wanyama with Dennis Odhiambo.
Having guided Kenya to the Cup of Nations against all odds, Migne will be looking to enhance his reputation as a coach come June in Cairo. Deep down, the Frenchman wants to go past the group stages and possibly reach the quarter-final stage. To make a name, he needs all his best players available. A fully-fit Wanyama will add stability to his midfield while an on-form Oliech will provide more options upfront beyond Olunga.
If Oliech’s early form is anything to go by, he will be red-hot in June but for Wanyama it still remains to be seen if he will work his way up Mauricio Pochettino’s first eleven and get the much needed playing time.