The curse of Kenyan footballers in Europe

The dream of every budding Kenyan footballer is to play in Europe, just like McDonald Mariga, Michael Olunga, and Victor Wanyama.

Fortunately, the Kenyan Premier League has grown immensely and now attracts both regional and international interest.

Thanks to SportPesa, a Kenyan betting firm, the world can now follow Kenya’s footballing talent.

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In the last two years alone, the betting company has organised friendlies for Kenyan teams to play English sides such as Everton and Hull City.

This exposure has seen the rise of number of Kenyan soccer stars attending trials with different clubs across Europe.

However, many have failed to make the grade with other finding their way back home after a few seasons in Europe

So why is it that so many have stellar seasons in Kenya, move to Europe and then find it difficult?

Joining third tier clubs in Europe is not a big deal compared to the English Premier League as that competition is the most viewed league and most competitive.

One may ask how Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur made it yet he is still a Kenyan.

Well, his success came in a humble way – he made a breakthrough via Scottish side Celtic FC and later joined Southampton.

The former Saints player made headlines when he moved to Tottenham Hotspur in 2016 and is success story makes many Kenyan footballers dream of playing in the big stage.

He has had highs in a Spurs shirt, winning the Goal of the Month award in February 2018, and he also propelled the club to a runners-up spot in the 2016/2017 season.

However, Injury issues have led to his demise this season. It is too early to say for sure, but he looks like another promising Kenyan talent just unsuited to the pressure of European football.

Veteran McDonald Mariga made waves when he signed for Inter Milan in 2010, becoming the first Kenyan player to play in the UEFA Champions league.

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Following the move, Inter chairman praised it as the “best thing that could have happened” to the club in the January transfer window.

He only spent one season at the San Siro and later moved to Real Sociedad on loan where he made less impact.

The Kenyan international re-joined former club Parma, the team he left to join Inter, and eventually moved to lower tier clubs Latina and Oviedo where he ended his stint in European football.

The most recent Kenyan to explore European football, Michael Olunga, saw his career come to a halt at Girona.

After impressing in La Liga last season scoring a hat-trick against Las Palmas, Olunga failed to impress the Spanish giants and now plies his trade at Kashiwa Reysol in the Japanese second tier.

Dennis Oliech played for in the French league for a decade with Nantes, Auxerre and Ajaccio and no other Kenyan has appeared in that country since his exit in 2015.

Kenya’s inability to produce more talent is a worrying trait for the country’s future footballers.

It will be interesting to see how Wanyama’s stint at Tottenham will end and what impact it will make for Kenyan footballers both abroad and at home.

Author Details

Francis Kaburu

Freelance football writer based in Kenya with an insatiable love for the sport. Writes mainly about the Scottish Premier League. A massive fan of Chelsea and the Premier League.

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