Comeback kid Oliech speaks on millions of cash from Qatar which he rejected
Several years from now when Kenya counts its football heroes, he will make for a good quiz: which Kenyan powered Harambee Stars to qualify for their first Africa Cup of Nations this millennium?
Need a clue?
He was the first Kenyan player to feature for a French club. He was offered a chance to change his citizenship from Kenyan to Qatari in 2004. At age 19 he was listed by British newspaper the Guardian as one of the world’s most wanted young players alongside Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder. He signed a four-year contract with the French Ligue 1 team Nantes, worth $3.7 million (Sh281 million) in 2005.
He constantly rubbed federation officials the wrong way by either speaking up about non-payment of allowances for his team mates or snubbing national team call-ups altogether. Twice he paid air tickets for his Harambee Stars team mates so they could honour international matches.
Any clue yet?
He announced his retirement at age 32 but returned two years later as Kenya’s highest paid local-based footballer with a reported sign-on fee of Sh3.5 million and a monthly salary of Sh350,000.
Who is he?
None other than Dennis Oguta Oliech. The eighth child of Boaz Opiyo Oliech and Mary Auma Oliech, born and bred in Dagoretti; became invincible at Mathare United where he was signed as a teenager.
Oliech is no doubt revered as Kenya’s best scorer in the modern era and in his 14 years of international football, only Michael Olunga has come up as remotely comparable to his prowess.
So what is his personal assessment of himself? Of his supposed protégé?
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
“No. It is not that I am the best,” he says with a slight chuckle. “It is that nobody is looking for the strikers. There are no youth academies. That is where strikers are got from. Not from out of the blue.”
“Olunga is good, but he is still growing,” Oliech smiles. “You (the media) started talking about him when he was still at the developmental stage. Of course he has got the talent, but his time will come. Success doesn’t just come in one or two years. It takes time. But he is a good player.”
Oliech’s story dates back almost two decades ago to Kakamega High School from where Mathare United plucked him and convinced him to join their youth team.
This forced him to transfer to Kamukunji Secondary School in Nairobi where he found himself in the good company of his “school father” MacDonald Mariga, whose brother Victor Wanyama later became his “school son”.
So steep was his career trajectory that in 2004, just after he scored the winning goal against Cape Verde Islands that sealed Kenya qualification to the final tournament, Oliech was offered huge sums of money to change his citizenship from Kenyan to Qatari.
Those who were present on that day say that two Qataris confronted Oliech and gave him Sh100 million “for shopping”, before tabling their agenda for the evening.
Oliech, who was on the verge of signing a deal with French club Nantes worth double that amount, opened his visitors’ huge, grey suitcase to confirm that it indeed contained crisp dollar hundred-dollar notes, but politely declined the offer to the surprise of both his team mates and his generous visitors.
But asked if it is a decision he regrets, Oliech’s response is swift.
“That was a long time ago and I was quite young. I was just 17,” he said and refuses completely to reveal how much was involved. “It was a lot of money but I was still too young to make that decision.
“If they would offer me the same right now I don’t know. I could say yes, because of money, but is that opportunity still there? And I love my country so…” he says and leaves me to make my own conclusion.
Almost a decade later, money became the heart of almost every discussion involving Oliech, as rumours started flying around that he had gone broke, had lost his friends and was depressed.
So intense were the rumours that at some point, his family, through his brother Nickson “Chiggy” Oliech, threatened to sue certain local media houses for publishing the stories that so troubled his ailing mother. Nickson warned that Oliech was not “father Christmas who dishes out free gifts to anyone.”
So where is the truth?
“I don’t like talking about money,” he says and shifts uncomfortably in his chair.
“If I asked you how much money you have right now would you tell me? I don’t like talking about it. Let people talk about my money but I won’t talk about it. The money is mine. If I am broke, the brokenness is also mine. I like talking about football. But not money.”
Oliech retired from international football and went quiet for more than two years, appearing only in pictures dressed shabbily and hanging out with his childhood friends in Eastlands and Dagoretti, which helped fuel rumours that he had run out of all that money he had made as professional player.
“At that time I was employed by Betway and I had a two-year contract that’s why I wasn’t playing. After the contract lapsed I was able to come back,” he said.
That money question seemed to have irked him, and it is not long before Oliech protests that it is time to get back to talking football. We do, and it turns out he is well aware of the divided opinion that came with his widely talked about move to K’Ogalo.
Even before he was unveiled, everyone agreed that he was a good player, but many believed that progress required that he stays in retirement.
He, however, made the bold move and signed for the current league champions, leaving the pundits to discuss whether it was right, and whether his return meant that he would be part of Kenya’s team to this year’s Afcon.
“People keep talking about my legacy. But legacy is one thing. What about the present? Does it mean that I should not get active because it will soil my legacy? At Gor I am happy. I am playing for the club that I knew and loved since I was a small boy. And they have good players. And you get to play international matches so that gives me a good challenge.”
This statement presents a good opportunity to ask whether he will come out of retirement and feature in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
“Of course.” He says with a conviction I have not yet encountered in the course of the interview.
“If I am selected I will go. And I will do my job perfectly. I still have some four years left to play,” he says confidently.
His sparkling national team record makes it easy for Harambee Stars coach Sebastien Migne to call up Oliech, but what about his outspokenness whenever he disagrees with his coaches or federation officials?
“I am not a bad boy. When players were not paid I went public about it and those who were responsible took it the wrong way. But I was the most experienced person in the team at that time which meant I was the voice of the players,” he said.
Oliech recently lost his mother after battling cancer for many years. In his own admission, the death was a big blow, and that he misses her greatly.
“In my life she is not the only person who has left me. The first was my father, then my bother. Having lost three close family members, I was well versed with handling grief. It was however a difficult thing to experience,” he says face down.
Face back up, the lethal goal getter nicknamed “Dennis the Menace” just wants to do what he has been enjoying most of his adult life — play football, as long as his body will let him. So far, so good.