Of patriotism and Oliech’s biggest ‘missed’ chance

Gor Mahia's Dennis Oliech (left) celebrates his goal with team mate Jacques Tuyisenge

Gor Mahia's Dennis Oliech (right) celebrates his goal with team mate Jacques Tuyisenge during their Caf Confederation Cup Group D match against Zamalek on February 03, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. 

Photo credit: File | Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The most memorable one is of course the much-talked-about Oliech thunderbolt against Cape Verde in 2003 at Kasarani that earned Harambee Stars a place in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia after a 12-year hiatus
  • Oliech had already won many hearts after he famously turned down an offer from the Qatari government to change nationalities for a jaw-dropping cash incentive
  • Many years later, Oliech says he would gleefully seize the opportunity, without a second thought, given another chance

Retired national football team skipper Dennis Oliech, recently made a startling revelation during an interview on national TV.

But before we get to that, let’s dispense with the obvious, to put everything into perspective. The obvious here being that Oliech, who only recently hung up his boots, without a doubt ranks among Kenya’s all-time football greats.

Actually, in Dagoretti, where he grew up, and in Mathare, where he dazzled briefly as a teenage prodigy at the onset of his career, Oliech’s diehard fans will swear that he is the greatest of them all. On that matter, though, opinion is sharply divided, on account of all the big names of Kenyan football that easily come to mind for that accolade.

To the older generation of fans, no Kenyan footballer, past or present, can hold a candle for the late Joe Kadenge. Some say Jonathan Niva (also deceased) was just as good, while others are of the view that Mahmoud Abbas, for his safe pair of hands, made an indelible mark in the annals of Kenyan football.

William “Chege” Ouma, James Sianga, Allan Thigo, Joe ‘JJ’ Masiga, Wilberforce Mulamba, John "Bobby" Ogolla, Josephat Murila, Henry Motego, Peter Dawo, Mike Okoth and Musa Otieno – all legendary players in their own rights – are mentioned in the same breath.

And that even without mentioning the likes of McDonald Mariga, Victor Wanyama, Arnold Origi and Michael Olunga, who have in recent years been the country’s torchbearers.

Which brings us back to Oliech, who is remembered for many fine moments on the pitch. However, two incidents – and these certainly don’t entirely define this great man – stand out.

Thunderbolt against Cape Verde

The most memorable one is of course the much-talked-about Oliech thunderbolt against Cape Verde in 2003 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani that earned Harambee Stars a place in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia after a 12-year hiatus.

Kenya’s participation in that edition of the biennial tournament evokes more excitement than the country’s most recent appearance in 2019 merely on the dramatic style in which Harambee Stars booked their tickets.

Prior to that magical moment at Kasarani, Oliech had already won many hearts after he famously turned down an offer from the Qatari government to change nationalities for a jaw-dropping cash incentive.

By Oliech’s own admission, the passport swap-for-cash offer, which came during the early years of his professional career, ran into millions of shillings and a lifetime of comfort in the Gulf nation.

Tellingly, the offer came at a time when Qatar was notorious for “poaching” top Kenyan athletes with insane cash incentives and other state-facilitated benefits. Several athletes swapped passports, revoked their Kenyan citizenship and took up new Qatari names. Remember Saif Saaeed Shaheen – formerly Stephen Cherono – who still holds the 3000m steeplechase world record?   

But Oliech, being the young patriotic Kenyan that he was, gave it a pass, presumably for the love of his country. Now, many years later, Oliech says he would gleefully seize the opportunity, without a second thought, given another chance. Why? Because “Kenya does not appreciate its heroes.”

A lot must have changed for Oliech over the years, but that coming from one of Kenya’s big football names of all time speaks volumes. There is an important message that Oliech wanted to pass to fellow Kenyans. Happy New Year folks!

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