Origi’s road to global football stardom

Liverpool's Belgian striker Divock Origi chases the ball during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on March 2, 2016. PHOTO| AFP

What you need to know:

  • Origi became an instant celebrity in Kenya when he was called up to the Belgium national team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, becoming the youngest Belgian World Cup scorer at 19 years, two months and four days when he struck in the second half against Russia to send Belgium into the knockout stage with a 1-0 win.
  • Born of Kenyan parents — Mike Okoth and Linda Adhiambo — Origi, 21, then made his dream move to English Premier League giants Liverpool in the 2015-16 season after three seasons at French club Lille.
  • Origi is the only boy in the family with an elder sister, Natasha, and a younger one, Deneen, who has just finished her university studies in Belgium.

Last January, celebrated Russian football giants Lokomotiv Moscow introduced fines for the club’s professional players who had gained weight over the Christmas and New Year’s festivities.

The two-time post-Soviet era Russian Premier League champions slapped a penalty of 100 Euros (Sh10,800) for each kilogramme gained by the players over the holiday period.

Russian winters can be extremely brutal, meaning that league matches and training sessions are often called off for the entire January, with temptations to make merry and over-indulge usually high in this period among players.

According to former Nigerian international Sunday Oliseh, a former Borussia Dortmund midfielder who visited Nairobi last in November, German league players get tested for lactose levels and those found to have enjoyed the excesses of the holidays — during which the league takes a two-week break — are punished with severe pay cuts.

Origi with the South team FC Den Bosch in 2008. PHOTO| COURTESY

Last January, for instance, Lokomotiv midfielder Alan Kasaev had to part with 300 Euros (Sh32,400) for the three extra kilogrammes he gained over Christmas, a fact Liverpool striker Divock Origi is all too aware of. Especially with New Year’s festivities reaching fever pitch Sunday, and as the world ushers in the New Year, 2017.

Origi became an instant celebrity in Kenya when he was called up to the Belgium national team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, becoming the youngest Belgian World Cup scorer at 19 years, two months and four days when he struck in the second half against Russia to send Belgium into the knockout stage with a 1-0 win.

Born of Kenyan parents — Mike Okoth and Linda Adhiambo — Origi, 21, then made his dream move to English Premier League giants Liverpool in the 2015-16 season after three seasons at French club Lille.

Origi is the only boy in the family with an elder sister, Natasha, and a younger one, Deneen, who has just finished her university studies in Belgium.

Just like his father Okoth, a former Harambee Stars striker and one of Kenya’s most successful professional footballers, self-discipline and focus have been Origi’s keys to global football stardom.

In a Christmas interview with Lifestyle, Origi spoke of how, while celebrating the holidays with his family, he had to endure a well thought-out personal diet just to stay in shape for the Reds’ gruelling Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve fixtures.

Origi was in the starting squad for the Boxing Day match at Anfield against Stoke City, which Liverpool won, coming from a goal down to thrash Stoke 4-1 with the Belgium international laying up the Reds’ third goal, a deflection off Stoke defender Giannelli Imbula.

SPECIAL DIET

On Saturday night, he was on Liverpool’s roster for the biggest of the New Year’s Eve fixtures against fellow title contenders Manchester City, also at Anfield.

And, barely 48 hours later, he will be on Jurgen Klopp’s squad to play Sunderland Monday evening.

Origi’s parents flew from Genk to Manchester on Christmas Eve last weekend before making the short, 40-minute road trip to Liverpool to join Divock for the Christmas festivities, a ritual Okoth is accustomed to as he attends all of the Reds’ home fixtures to support his talented son.

As our interview started, a sumptuous Christmas Eve dinner was being laid on the table by Origi’s family.

But the Liverpool striker was well aware that on Christmas Day, the following day, the Reds would have a normal morning training session before retreating to their families to await the Stoke fixture.

They would also pay a surprise visit to patients at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in West Derby, part of the club’s Christmas tradition.

Origi had his special diet and wouldn’t fall for the temptations of the Christmas largesse.

Divock Origi with (from left) his father Mike Okoth, sisters Deneen and Natasha (holding her daughter Maliya) and mother Linda Origi. PHOTO| COURTESY

“It’s very important to watch what you eat over this festive period,” Origi told Lifestyle, his Flemish accent distinct with no tinge of Scouser influence.

“I normally go on with my routine and I make sure I watch what I eat."

SEPARATE MEALS

“In fact, I will have separate meals over this holiday period just to make sure I don’t indulge too much ... I have to watch my diet and stay in shape.”

Indeed, given the freedom by coach Klopp to join family for Christmas, it all boils down to self-discipline.

Not even the ugali served would sway him off the Liverpool FC nutritionist’s brief.

“I enjoy Kenyan food like ugali and also pilau."

“When I lived in Genk with my parents, my mother would cook Kenyan food for me and I love it very much. But I have to stay focused in this period.”

HEADLINES FOR THE WRONG REASONS

But while Origi was treading carefully, his team-mate, forward Roberto Firmino was making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The 25-year-old Brazilian international was arrested by Merseyside police on Christmas Eve and charged with drink driving.

Liverpool fans called on Klopp to hand him a suspension, but the cheeky Brazilian redeemed himself with a goal against Stoke in a match his performance loosened the noose round his neck.

It’s all along been Origi’s dream to play in the English Premier League, and he is well aware of the high level of discipline it requires to win over the coach and fans at Anfield.

“It was always my dream to play in the English Premier League, right from when I started playing at the age of five and also playing on small pitches with the under-15s, I dreamed of playing in the premiership. Liverpool has been wonderful and I always feel at home here. As a team, we have made a lot of steps and we now want to be in a position to give something to our fans and win the premiership,” he says, comforting words for long-suffering Liverpool fans."

Origi and teammates in the Belgium national team meet with the Queen of Belgium during the 2014 World Cup. PHOTO| COURTESY

And should Klopp steer the Reds to their first premiership title in 17 years this May, then he will partly thank 49-year-old Okoth for nurturing Origi into the top flight player he is at Anfield today.

After a season in Oman with Boshar FC, Okoth, who had turned out for Shabana and Kenya Breweries FC, made the big move to Belgium, signing with KV Oostende in Belgium’s Jupiler League where he was to feature for 14 seasons at six different clubs.

It was while Okoth was at Oostende that Divock Origi was born, on April 18, 1995.

TOUCH OF A CLASSY FOOTBALLER

As a toddler, Origi already had the touch of a classy footballer.

“As soon as he started walking, the footballs were already in the house and he would kick them around in the house and in the garden,” Okoth recalled in a separate interview with Lifestyle in a cafe at Maastricht on the southern border of The Netherlands neighbouring Belgium, where we sought him out for a chat.

“From the age of six, he already had talent and was taller and stronger than the other kids,” said Okoth who, interestingly, started off as a goalkeeper, winning the national secondary schools title with Itierio Boys’ High School in 1987 before turning out for Shabana FC whom he led to the Africa Cup Winners Cup, losing out to Kabwe Warriors of Zambia in the first round in 1988.

“In fact, at five years of age, Divock joined his first professional club.”

This was at Wiemesmeer in Zutendaal, a Belgian provincial league team with an impeccable youth football system.

Origi was to carefully observe his father’s professional football career as dad traded from Oostende to Harelbeke and then to Genk where he played for six seasons, scoring 20 goals from 81 appearances.

It was while his father was at Genk that Origi’s talent started to blossom, first in primary school at Park Houthalen and then in high school at Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege.

“When he was small, I would observe him and could see that he had the touch, but it was too early to expose him at the time because he would have been injured or just lost interest in football,” explains Okoth.

“And when his school reports would come, I’d see the teachers’ comments that he was good with the ball and that he was the best among his age mates.”

Origi concedes that growing up in a footballer’s house attracted him to the game.

DAD WAS A GOOD PLAYER

“My dad was a good player, and I’m told he was a good goalkeeper too, although I’m yet to see his videos as a goalkeeper,” Origi told Lifestyle.

“When I was small I could see my dad had a lot of discipline and in football, when you give everything to the game, the game will always give something back,” he adds philosophically, perhaps in reference to his father’s success in pro football, and in bringing him up as a star player.

At the age of nine, Origi was already playing with children two or three years older than him and his father needed to make the call.

He finally introduced him to KRC Genk football club’s academy side.

“I was then playing at Molenbeek and it was towards the end of my career.

“Divock then played for all Genk age group teams — under 10, under-12, under-14 and under-15 — before going to Lille in France at 15 years of age.

“He was still young but this was the right age for the next move. Lille had a good team and top Belgian players like Eden Hazard (now at Chelsea) played there.”

Origi also turned out for Belgium’s under-15, under-16, under-17, under-19 and under-21 national teams, scoring a total of 11 goals in his combined 33 age-group games.

Lille is close to Genk, a two hours’ drive, and Origi would shuttle between home, school and the academy.

“Lille took him as a 15-year-old and they paid the Fifa compensation to Genk for young players,” Okoth explains.

DELIGHTED

“Lille had a good team and when Divock was called up to their first team from the academy side, I knew it was his first step as a good pro.

“It was not easy to play for Belgium in the under-17 or under-19 age groups and I knew he would make it to the national team.

Origi finally got the call-up from coach Marc Wilmots to make Belgium’s 23-man squad to the World Cup in Brazil.

“I was delighted when he was called up. It was through his own efforts because when he played for the age-group teams, he was always disciplined, positive, focused and had good relations with the coaches."

“This gave him the edge for selection to the Belgium World Cup team.”

Okoth also disclosed that Liverpool’s scouts had been following his son for over five years before signing him on a six-year contract from Lille on July 29, 2014, at a cost of 10 million pounds (Sh1.2 billion).

The Reds then loaned him back to the French club before placing him on their roster at Anfield last season.

“They (Liverpool) gave us their report that showed they had been following him since he was 14 years old, and when I was at Liverpool, the club played me a 30-minute DVD on Divock, right from when he was 14 years at Genk all the way to his career at Lille. They have an amazing database!”

PROUD OF KENYAN ROOTS

Despite his success in Belgium and Europe, young Origi remains proud of his Kenyan roots and looks forward to visiting his homeland “soon”.

“It’s been a while since I was in Kenya. The last time I visited I was 15,” says Origi who made a few friends in Nairobi’s Komarock Estate, where his father owns a house, during his last visit.

“Because of my demanding football career, it’s been difficult to get an opportunity to visit, but it’s my homeland, my blood is Kenyan and I’m very proud of that. I’d like to get an opportunity to spend a few weeks in Kenya.”

Both Origi and his father are confident Kenyan football has a bright future, but agree that it all boils down to the right focus.

“Of course Kenya, just like Africa in general, has lots of talent. Kenya is a big country and there is a lot of hope for the football federation,” the Liverpool star says.

“The only advice I can give the Kenyan players is to have passion in the game, concentrate, enjoy and very soon you will be at the top.”

Okoth’s parting shot: “I wish Kenyans good health and peaceful elections. Please choose good leaders. I also wish Kenyan footballers a progressive year in their games. Eat well and keep fit!”

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