Dennis Oliech: a re-birth?

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You don’t drown by falling in water; you drown by staying there – Edwin Louise Cole the founder of Christian Men’s Network.

BY DAVID ONJILI

Dennis Oliech, like the biblical Lazarus who Jesus Christ brought back to life four days after his burial, has made a return to the Kenyan football after many had written his obituary.

On the evening of January 2, 2019 when blurred images of Oliech alongside club’s chairman Ambrose Rachier surfaced, the deal was done.

Reliably rumoured to be a two-year contract and attracting a salary of Sh 350,000 per month excluding training and winning bonuses, Oliech, also known as Dennis the Menace, becomes the highest earning local player. Grapevine has it that former Prime Minister and celebrated Opposition leader Raila Odinga will foot his salary, which, if true, highlights, unfortunately, the un-sustainability or rush of the deal.

That the country’s football prodigy, whose brilliance on the ball had brought soccer lovers so much joy was making a return, is music to the ears Kenya’s soccer fraternity especially after what seemed like a premature closure of the curtains on Kenya’s present day soccer genius.

On the night of his signing with Gor Mahia FC, the website couldn’t handle the traffic, it crashed. Oliech was also the number one trending item on Twitter at the time.

It only took him his second game to score the winner for Gor Mahia against Posta Rangers in a league game at Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani, and announce he was here to do what he does best; score goals.

Despite not looking 100% match fit, Oliech still has the runs in the half spaces of the penalty box, pace and awareness many came to know him for over the past years. Having played three league matches at the time of going to press, he already had 2 goals and all points to a worthy investment if harnessed well by both the club and Kenya Premier League (KPL)

A conflicting life

As a professional athlete, Oliech has to live with media scrutiny. He must be prepared to be judged on a scale far different from others. But what the people should also remember is that these players come to fame young and with limited education. This makes them gullible and more often than not fall prey to their exploitative managers. The media on the other hand, prey on their missteps with the spotlight focusing more on the failures and as a consequence, we ignore the essence of triumph they bring and dwell on their failures.

Victor Wanyama is a perfect example of how players’ managers and the media should mould a young player into success and an inspiration for those coming up after them. The Tottenham Hotspur and Harambee Stars captain is one much grounded player. Seldom does he make headlines and when he does it is purely for his football exploits, I credit much of this to his management team. They help create a very positive narrative to the media and world at large.

Unluckily, Oliech’s indiscipline, like those of many sportsmen is well documented; escaping from Harambee Stars camp and displaying expensive and flashy lifestyle was synonymous with him. Appearances in nightclubs with images of him drinking expensive alcoholic drinks are what mostly the media, like vultures feasted on and fed the masses. Don’t we have our indulgences?

His images alongside his former coach Jacob Mulee surfaced on social media last year looking a pale shadow of his former self. It sparked nationwide debate that he was doing poorly financially. Being a darling to many soccer lovers, the football community shielded him but the reality from other quarters was that he was struggling financially. A player who was earning millions in salaries and allowances playing in France and the United Arab Emirates was now rumoured to be renting an apartment in Lavington.

The property he once purchased was all subject to a family feud over ownership. Having tried and failed in business, a boutique that sold French imported clothes was closed too. This uproar prompted Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko to offer him a job as a Nairobi County sports board member. A typical manifestation of his fall from grace.

Chance for redemption and a marketing tool

His pull can never be gainsaid, for the two years he will be at Gor Mahia; the cost will be around Sh10m in salaries and winning allowances. While it is clear the club won’t meet this bill directly but rather the club patron Mr Odinga, questions on the sustainability of this model abound.

What saddened many soccer lovers was the fact that his unveiling was low key despite there being demand by fans that it be a big event. To date, his replica jerseys are not in the market for soccer lovers to purchase. The KPL has also failed to tailor the league around his brand status and attract the dwindling numbers of fans back to the stadiums. This illustrates the lack of vision and foresight amongst our soccer administrators, as they never see an opportunity for marketing the game whenever it presents itself.

Shirt sales are a source of income to many sporting entities world over. So is attendance to match day games. There is a huge soccer fan base that would gladly turn up to the stadium to watch him play but will need to be convinced to do so. This is squarely the mandate of both KPL and Gor Mahia, which they have failed so far to utilize.

An inspiration to those who’ve fallen

It is always the referee who blows the final whistle to end a game. Players on the other hand, are expected to give their best, whether winning or losing until that moment. Similarly, life has thrown many things at Oliech and the fact that he took them in a stride and is now back on the pitch epitomizes the spirit of the game. Despite the naysayers mourning he was way past his best, Oliech has kept his eyes on the goal and is a sure candidate for the upcoming And for him, the Hasn’t the enthusiasm for the tournament gone a notch higher for the mere fact of Oliech’s prospects of appearing for Kenya again?