SWILA: As Europe’s elite track Okumu, Marcelo, one key lesson – tap talents early
Over the last month, two Kenyan internationals – Joseph ‘Crouch’ Okumu and Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma – have been linked with potential moves to some of the top clubs in Europe.
Central defender Okumu, 23, who plies his trade with IF Elfborg in the Swedish top-tier league has been linked with among others, Napoli of Italy, Valencia of Spain, and Nice of France.
His compatriot Marcelo, the dynamic left-back known for his darting runs and pin-point crosses, has been linked with a move to the German Bundesliga.
The transfer speculation revolving the two is a welcome development, not just for the two, but for Kenyan football at large.
Okumu, who was one of the stalwarts of Harambee Stars defence at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Finals in Egypt, prior to joining Elfborg, turned out for USA side Real Monarchs and Free State Stars of South Africa.
His journey though began right here on our shores, with Chemelil Sugar, where he turned out for their youth side between 2014 and 2016.
Interestingly, both Okumu and Marcelo were part of the Green Commandos squad, the Kakakamega High School football team, which dominated School Games in 2014. They won the national title and went on to qualify their team for a slot in the FKF Division One League.
Also in that heroic squad were Timothy Odhiambo (Ulinzi Stars), Apollo Otieno (Tusker), Harun Nyakha (Ushuru) and Alfred Wekesa (former AFC Leopards player).
Fast forward, Okumu like Marcelo, is not only doing well in the Swedish top-tier but also attracting interest from the elite clubs in Europe.
The two are not only known for their discipline – on and off the pitch – but their work ethic too. ‘Crouch’, as Okumu is fondly known, is a calm-head in central defence, timing his tackles and also very strong in the air.
Ouma Marcelo, on the other hand, is known for his bag of tricks, searing pace and the ability to pick strikers with his pin-point crosses, traits that have made scouts troop to Friends Arena Stadium in Solna, Stockholm, to scout him.
Apart from their football talents, one factor that may make the duo realise the dream move is their age.
Marcelo, born on September 27 1996 is just 24 years, a prime age for a footballer while Okumu, born on 26 May 1997 is just 23!
The age factor is quite important for scouts and managers across Europe, and it often comes to the fore when clubs make decisions on whom to sign.
Hard work and Patience
With the best of their years yet to come, the duo has a bright future and what may distinguish success and failure is how they, and their management handle the transfer talk surrounding them.
Another important factor is being able to stay fit. No top club in Europe would want to make an investment on a player with a known history of picking injuries.
The towering Okumu scores quite highly on this, while Marcelo, despite early trouble with a niggling injury while with Georgian side Kolkheti Poti has managed to shrug off such fears and is now a regular starter for his club.
In fact, to put the icing on the cake, Marcelo’s star performances for Vasalund, made AIK Sweden go for his signature and he could be on the move yet again, for something bigger and better.
Poignantly, what are the vital lessons Kenyan football should learn from the development of the two?
One: – Like Wanyama Victor and MacDonald Mariga before them, one thing is certain: moving to Europe at an early stage of one’s career is key.
In Europe, as opposed to leagues in Africa, players get access to state-of-the-art facilities, proper training regimes, refined talent-development coaches, and above all, compete against better opposition, which raises the level of their game.
There is also motivation which comes with better financial packages, something that they may only dream of in Africa.
Take the case of Wanyama and Mariga for instance. Their rise to the top is not by sheer coincidence. It is not sheer luck. Nada! It is a culmination of investment, hard work and patience.
Wanyama, for instance, went to Europe as a 16-year-old boy, taking time to learn the ropes and getting the football basics right, at Swedish side Helsingborg, and later moving to Belgium’s Germinal Beerschot.
It is at Beerschot that his game matured, before he crossed over to Celtic of Scotland before making the big leap to EPL, joining Southampton in a record-money move, involving a player in the Scottish league, in 2016.
The path taken by his elder brother, MacDonald Mariga, is equally similar.
‘Big Mac’ did fall from heaven to win the coveted Uefa Champions League with Inter-Milan in 2010. Patience, hard work, getting the football education right, and having the right agents, did the trick.
After playing for Tusker and later Kenyan Pipeline, between 2003 and 2005, ‘Big Mac’, went to Europe joining Enkopings SK, in 2005, before joining Helsingborg IF from where he went to Italy, penning a deal with Parma, and later joining then Jose Mourinho coached Inter Milan.
The take home from this long background is a wakeup call for our clubs to have vibrant youth structures from whence they can tap talent early.
The football management body FKF, on the other hand, has a duty to ensure we have functional systems to make talents flourish. An operational youthful leagues, well trained coaches with up to date skills. They also need to use their links to vouch for placements for our best talents.
It is only by having our youngsters get the exposure in Europe early enough that we stand the chance of having more of our players break into Europe’s top division, failure to which, we stand very little chances of having another Wanyama, Oliech or Mariga play in the Champions League.
Locally, in the FKF-PL, we may have some fine talents, but unfortunately, they may not break into Europe’s top division due to the age factor.
In the same token, the government must wake up from its slumber and ensure that the country- all corners- is littered with football academies, talent reservoirs boasting of quality facilities to aid this process.
Football should be treated as a career- which it is – and playing at the top no doubt helps our players kick poverty out of their lives, transform the lives of their loved ones and help build the economy of our beloved motherland Kenya.
The author is news editor – radio (Royal Media Services)