Mike Okoth Origi: The unsung grandmaster of Kenyan Soccer
19th Sept, 2006 - A mention of Kenyan soccer and a thought of those who have excelled beyond the local level, the pro level, and the one name that you will be led to is that of one; Mike Okoth Origi.
Okoth may not be ranked amongst the same stable as legendary Joe Kadenge but he certainly cut out his own niche, a different league all together.
Mike Okoth has been a Professional player for over 14 years – all in Belgium. Only Musa Otieno Ongao will boast of a similar contiguous fete, with now close to ten years and still progressing in the South African premier league.
Despite Okoth’s progressive pro career, many unknown reasons always saw Okoth being overlooked for Harambee Stars duty. On the other hand, his performances in his many pro years has been missed out locally by many due to little or no follow up on his career. Rarely would his name pop up unless Harambee Stars were in the thick of things and needed his services.
Born on November 16, 1967 Mike Okoth Origi started his soccer career in Kisii while at Itierio High School, a schools' soccer powerhouse back in its hey days.
He started his club career at local side Shabana FC as a Goal Keeper before switching to a forward role. He striking form led him to Kenya Breweries where he was exposed to the National side Harambee Stars.
Okoth is part of a broader Soccer family – all of whom are associated with the backline. His brother Austin Oduor Origi prominently featured for Gor Mahia and was once the Harambee Stars Captain and stopper. Oduor is the father of current Kenyan first choice keeper Arnold Origi of Tusker, 21.
Another sibling Gerald Origi turned out for the impenetrable Kenya Breweries defense (now Tusker) in the mid 90’s. Another brother Anthony Origi too featured as Tusker's full back.
Okoth during the 2004 Cup of Nations
Africa Nations Cup and three coaches
Okoth made three visits to the prestigious Africa Nation Cup. His star began to shine when Kenya made its way to the 1990 Nations Cup in Algeria under Coach Mohammed Kheri. Following that tournament, 23-year-old Mike Okoth Origi had scouts from European clubs hovering around him due to his great promise as a striker. He signed for Belgian Top division side Oostend.
While waiting to join Oostend, Okoth dashed to Oman for a short stint with Boshar FC before heading to Belgium. Washington Muhanji, the then Scarlet keeper was too spotted but because of his military attachment could not take up any pro offer. Another player Peter Mwololo too missed out on a Pro contract as he had already been signed in the Middle East pre the Nations Cup.
Mike Origi was part of the campaign 1991 to help Kenya make a consecutive African Nations cup appearance in 1992. Within seconds of a final whistle, Origi headed a pass from Sammy Onyango 'Jogoo' for the goal against Sudan that was to see Kenya make a back to back return for another Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal, this time under Austrian Coach and hotelier Gerry Saurer.
12 years later, 36 year old Okoth, this time playing for Heusden Zolder made his way for his third Nations Cup with the Harambee Stars team that went to Tunisia for the 2004 African Nation under yet another coach Jacob 'Ghost' Mulee. At least this time, he came out with the only Nations Cup win Kenya has achieved. Okoth played alongside one of the six most hyped players before the 2004 tournament, Dennis Oliech who was his strike partner – at half his age!
1998 World cup qualifiers
In 1996 under Yugoslav Coach Vojo Gordasevic, Okoth was part of the team that kicked out Algeria from the Preliminary of World Cup qualifiers. Kenya won the home game 3-1 and could afford to loose 1-0 in the return game and still make it to the qualifiers proper. That return game on June 14 1996 was the most bizarre game that Kenyans ever watched.
While Okoth idled upfront for the entire game, all other Kenyan players (including midfielders) were busy defending not to allow Algeria score more than a goal. There was no objective for the Kenyans to venture upfront. The Kenyan formation for that game, probably the only of its kind in Soccer was basically 10-0-1.
Later in November 1996, Kenya was spanked 3-1 by Guinea in Conakry, just after Kenya had seen the re-entry of German Coach Reinhardt Fabish in his second stint as Kenyan Coach. Save for Francis Onyiso and Musa Otieno, Fabish dismissed the entire team after that game for what he termed as ‘indiscipline’ and 'old age' of the players.
The Coach rebuilt a new team with complete unknowns that had no space for the likes of Mike Okoth, Sammy Sholei and even Captain Sammy Omollo.
Okoth, was however to return to Harambee stars as there was mounting pressure from all corners to include Kenya’s only pro to help in the campaign for France World Cup 1998. An earlier drawn game at a full house Kasarani against a mighty Nigeria on January 17 1997 left many Kenyans with a false hope of featuring in the World's greatest soccer diadem, the World Cup. And so it was thought Okoth is godsend (from Belgium) to lead Kenya in that direction.
Fabish included Okoth in the team, albeit half-heartedly to play Burkina Faso’s Burkinabe on April 6th 1997 BUT on condition that he scores three goals to prove his mettle and so as to be considered for future games. And that he did!
Burkina Faso was already 2-0 by half time courtesy of 17 yr old prodigy Mamadou Zongo’s 12th minute strike and Sanou’s 42nd minute penalty. Okoth came to the rescue of Kenya when he pulled a goal in the 55th minute. But just when the 35,000 crowd thought they could recover, Zongo was back with his second in the 70th minute for a 3-1 lead.
Okoth in an international game against Tanzania
Looking composed and undeterred, Okoth ventured upfront and reduced that deficit to 3-2 in the 75th minute. That goal was followed by Francis Were (of then club side Reli. Were is deceased, Reli is defunct) equalizer in the 85th minute. Okoth was to be the hero of the day when he notched the winner in the 87th minute to complete his hat trick to throw the entire stadium and its environs reverberating in euphoria. Final Score line; Kenya 4-Burkina Faso 3.
And with that win Kenya’s false hope to the World Cup increased many fold. Okoth had saved Kenya, while Fabish was left basking at the same time wondering why he had disregarded Okoth, his ‘new’ found predator.
Kenya however missed out on the World Cup berth when they were spanked 3-0 by Nigeria in Lagos. Kenya finished 3rd in the group.
Career in Belgium, UEFA & Champions League appearance
Club soccer in Belgium saw Okoth’s career mostly within the top division, the Jupiler League though there are seasons that saw him move down to division one. The later part of his career saw him drop to Division II and III. Okoth started out at Oostend KV in 1992 and moved to other clubs namely; Harelbeke (1996/97, 1997/98), Racing Genk (1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01), RWD Molenbeek (2001/02), Heusden Zolder and Sc Tongeren.
In the season 2000/2001 Okoth’s Racing Genk featured in the UEFA Cup but was dispatched in the second round by Germany’s Werder Bremen with 4-1 and 5-2 scoreline in home and away games.
Okoth thus became the first Kenyan player to feature in the esteemed UEFA Cup, second best European tourney to the European Champions League. Robert Mambo is the only other Kenyan to have featured in a UEFA Cup after Mike Okoth - in 2005 with Viking Stavanger, Norway.
No Kenyan has appeared in the UEFA Champions League. Okoth missed that opportunity with Racing Genk when he moved clubs in Jan 2001/2002. That season Genk made it to the money spinning Champions league and was grouped with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Italy’s Roma and Greek side AEK Athens. They lost all six games
After moving down to Heusden-Zolder Division one, a club that shared a pitch with Racing Genk, Okoth will be remembered for scoring the only goal to beat SV Zulte-Waregem in the season ending 2001/2002.That goal sent Heusden-Zolder in making a debut in the top flight for the first time ever.
However two years later Heusden-Zolder was back in Division one. By this time, Okoth, a veteran was done with top-flight soccer and was ready for lower division soccer. The season ending 2003/4 saw Okoth move to Division Three to join SC Tongeren, his sure path to retirement.
Okoth won the Jupiler league while in the ranks of Racing Genk in the season 1998/1999 and 2000/2001 and the Belgian Cup with Racing Genk in the season 1999/2000.
Okoth made a collective 250 appearances of club soccer in Belgium and scored over 60 goals.
Okoth’s presence in Belgium led to a legion of other Kenyans following suit to chance out on a Pro Career.
John 'Mo' Muiruri then from Tusker and Robert Mambo Mumba together with Ronald Ogonda from Coast Stars made their way to Belgium for trials in 2000. While 'Mo' and Mambo were successful and joined KAA Ghent in 2001, Ogonda never made the grade. One Tom Odhiambo (later went to the US on a Soccer Scholarship) had tried his luck earlier in 1996 but had t cut short his two year contract with Verbroedering Geel after suffering a serious knee injury.
Unconfirmed reports indicate Okoth is now with a Division IV provincial side Cobox 76. It’s not certain if as a player or as a coaching staff. By virtue of being in Belgium for many years, he now holds a Belgian passport and lives with his family.
Okoth’s rise from a dysfunctional local soccer organization (read Kenya and KFF) did well to take his chances at Kenya’s rare Nations Cup appearance.
His long career as a professional player will serve as an inspiration to many a fan and soccer players who would wish to emulate his footballing steps. It leaves one wondering how the lack of Kenya’s regular appearance at the African Nations Cup, a true shopping window by European club scouts is costing players a chance to be spotted, just like the unheralded Mike Okoth Origi in 1990.
Mike Okoth Origi - Bio Data
Birthdate: November 16, 1967
Pro Clubs: SK Tongeren, Heusden-Zolder, RWD Molenbeek, Racing Genk, KRC Harelbeke, KV Oostende (All Belgium), Boshar FC (Oman)
Local Clubs: Shabana FC, Kenya Breweries
International: 27 caps, 15 goals
Club Breakdown & Seasons
* Depicted are; Club played for, Season, Games played and goals scored. Unless mentioned otherwise, teams Okoth played for were in the top division
(Club,Year, Games, Goals)
SK Tongeren 2005/2006 – 0, 0 (Division III)
SK Tongeren 2004/2005 - 28, 15 (Division III)
Heusden Zolder 2003/2004 - 30, 3
Heusden Zolder 2002/2003 - 0, 0 (Division II)
Molenbeek RWD 2001/2002 - 25, 10
Racing Genk 2001/2002 - 2, 0 – Moved to Molenbeek in January 2002
Racing Genk 2000/2001 - 23, 2
Racing Genk 1999/2000 - 23, 6
Racing Genk 1998/1999 - 32, 12
Harelbeke SW 1997/1998 - 29 6
Harelbeke SW 1996/1997 - 27, 5
Oostende KV 1995/1996 - 15, 1 (Division II)
Oostende KV 1994/1995 - 13, 2
Oostende KV 1993/1994 - 16, 0
Oostende KV 1992/1993 - 0, 0
Boshar FC 1992 (3 Months)
* Reviewed on 19th September 2008
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