The dust that Michael “Engineer” Olunga’s move has raised after word leaked that he has left his Swedish base for a Chinese club is more of a distraction from important issues. No one is furnishing the public with important details yet all we hear of is support and condemnation of the 22 year old and his agent.
Olunga’s move is not an isolated case. Football is a poor man’s game and so money will always be a big factor. At the top level you can count the number of players from middle class families. In a country like Brazil, only Kaka is known to come from a middle class family. The attitude around football somehow repels children of privilege. Their parents will take them to weekend kick around but the passion dies off eventually then rugby, cricket and lawn tennis takes over.
So, Olunga like many players has been enjoying kicking the ball praying for a financial breakthrough. So the approximately Ksh. 400 million signing fees is a very good place to begin with. I also hope the Chinese will pay him a good salary. After that Olunga can work hard on the pitch hoping to catch the eyes of bigger clubs in Europe.
The problem with Africans is worshipping the European leagues. Looking at the Chinese league against Norway, Swedish and Belgian leagues where most Kenyan players have plied their trade, one can deduce many things. But first is a caveat; put on middle class lenses. One area to train your lenses is the recent Sevens Rugby Kenya team strike. If it was football, another set of players would have been happy to replace their striking colleagues not knowing that better pay has a trickle-down effect. Football officials know this and they exploit it well.
These fringe European leagues do not pay well enough relative to living standards in their country. A player can afford a good life but top level football has timeline of about a decade bar injuries. Take off about five years spent on the grassless pitches of Kenya and a player has to maximize returns as fast as he can. The safety valve is always the possibility of a move to the bigger leagues. So far, Victor Wanyama is the only player to break through this barrier leaving many Kenyan players to retire and settle in the Scandinavian countries. Even the magnificent Arnold Origi has not been able to leave Norway. Denis Oliech went to France via Qatar. So what is the guarantee that Olunga will move even to second level leagues like Portugal and Netherlands?
The big money in Chinese football makes up for the lower standards of football. Again the presence of players the caliber of former Chelsea players in Obi Mikel, Oscar and Ramireswith coaches like Andre vila Boas among others in China is good for Olunga. It is still as fringe as the third and fourth rate European Leagues but with better pay. What Olunga’s agent should do is to market the lad in the third tier European Leagues like Scotland, Turkey and Ukraine aggressively. He can ride the dragon for now but his handlers must make sure he is not swallowed.
As we say in the streets; the ball bounces. It is not static.