Six years ago, then Kenya national men’s football team coach Adel Amrouche left Nairobi for Belgium on a mission.
Born in Algeria some 51-years ago before settling in Belgium, the bespectacled coach is best remembered in Kenyan circles for masterminding that credible 1-1 draw away to Nigeria in the qualification games for the 2014 World Cup.
He also led Harambee Stars to win the 2013 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup courtesy of that exciting 2-0 win over Sudan in the final at the Nyayo National Stadium. This result caught the attention of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who invited the team and honoured the players at State House, Nairobi.
It is after that positive result in Calabar, Nigeria, coupled with the regional success and presidential appointment that Amrouche thought of improving the overall quality of his team in readiness for other tougher assignments including qualification matches for the Olympics and African Cup of Nations.
And he’d identified one Divock Origi, son of former Kenya international Mike Okoth in Belgium but plying his trade at French top flight club Lille, to come in and bolster the team.
But there were some challenges.
One, Origi had been born and bred in Belgium and even played for the European country’s national youth teams. It needed some convincing for him to jump ship and play for Kenya considering the football rules only consigned one to representing one senior national team.
Two, Kenya was still struggling with the dual citizenship laws and representing Kenya meant Origi would dump his Belgium passport for a Kenyan one. Something he wasn’t particularly keen on.
Three, Origi’s dad had represented Kenya back in the day and even featured at the 2004 African Cup of Nations as a striker alongside a teenager named Dennis Oliech. Sadly, Okoth didn’t have fond memories of his time in a Kenyan shirt and as a dedicated dad, wouldn’t wish for his budding son to experience the same.
Fast forward, Amrouche tried and failed to lure Origi.
“At least I tried,” he told the Business Daily.
“The family and coaches had a clear path for the lad’s development into a world class footballer. Sadly, it didn’t involve him turning out for Kenya. He had a chance to play in Belgium, against star players such as Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke. It would take some convincing for anyone to walk out of such an opportunity.”
Moments after snubbing Kenya, Divock was selected by Belgium to compete at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Russia where he starred, scoring the lone goal in his team’s victory over the host country.
“I’m proud of my roots,” the then 19-year-old told a Kenyan journalist at the tournament.
“From what my father tells me and what I have experienced on numerous occasions I have been there, it is a great country. I can speak Kiswahili but not fluently. My parents speak it and they have taught me, too.”
“I am proud also of Belgium because I was born and have lived there for most of my life.”
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Coutoius, who played alongside him during their youthful days also praised the lad.
“He is a very humble youngster. I have known him since school and our time at (Belgium top-flight club) Genk. I thought it was a matter of time before he hits it big.”
Granted, and what should act as a lesson to the modern-day Kenyan football, Origi’s five-year spell at Liverpool has been anything but straight forward.
At some point he was sent out on loan to Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga and upon return found himself playing second fiddle to African striking duo Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane.
At the start of this season and even in January, consistent media reports linked him with moves to Newcastle in England, Valencia in Spain and even back to France. That didn’t materialise.
Fast forward and his breakthrough came when he scored twice against Barcelona to win 4-0 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate, and salvage what had been regarded as a mission impossible by football pundits.
He would then follow this form up in the final of the same tournament, scoring late as Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0 last Saturday night.
Following the result, he conceded he could barely contain himself when he got his hands on the trophy.
“It’s unbelievable. Winning a Champions League is so hard,” he said.
“Today we’re here, we pulled together with the team and supporters and have to celebrate all together. I think we just did it as a team, we made a positive step forward. We kept improving ourselves and we used the experiences of the past for now.”
Word has it that Liverpool will offer the striker an improved contract and increase his monthly dues to the Sh25 million mark.
Most importantly is that Kenyans remain proud of one of their own even as some stop to imagine what would have been had he accepted Amrouhce’s overtures.