Michael Olunga: Harambee Stars captain’s performance divides opinion among Kenyans

© Michael Olunga

FOOTBALL Michael Olunga: Harambee Stars captain’s performance divides opinion among Kenyans

Joel Omotto 11:52 - 17.10.2023

Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga was the subject of criticism from a section of Kenyans who feel he has not been impressive for the national team in recent matches

Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga has come under criticism from a section of fans after what they perceive as an unimpressive performance in Kenya’s 2-2 draw with Russia on Monday.

Olunga started up front yet again for Kenya but was not heavily involved as Engin Firat’s men put up a gallant performance against the Russians with Anthony Akumu cancelling out Aleksandr Sobolev’s goal before Masud Juma put Kenya ahead only for Ivan Oblyakov to score a late equaliser for the Europeans.

The Al Duhail striker cut a lonely figure upfront unlike his widemen partners Juma and Rooney Onyango who were involved in the build-ups.

He then had a rare foray forward in the first half when Kenya were on the counter-attack, opting to shoot instead of passing to Juma who would have had an easy tap-in and then missed a glorious chance to make it 3-1 on the stroke of halftime.

The Kenyan captain showed great center-forward play to win the ball in between two Russian defenders and with only the goalkeeper to beat, he fired inches wide.

It is a performance that has left some Kenyan fans feeling disappointed with others even calling for the Harambee Stars captain to be dropped in favour of other strikers.

“Unpopular opinion: Olunga needs to be dropped for Omala … simple,” a fan posted on X (formerly Twitter) as Olunga became the top trending topic on Tuesday.

“Olunga itabidi aongeze bidi (Olunga will have to improve) we need to be in the next World Cup,” said another fan.

“Huyu Olunga ni overrated ajab. (Olunga is overrated). He won't lead Harambee Stars to any glory,” posted a fan, who was not impressed with the striker’s display.

“Olunga missed a big chance like how he missed at Kasarani against South Sudan. He needs to up his game,” was the opinion of another supporter.

“Unpopular opinion, Olunga shouldn't be our starting 9 at Harambee Stars if we want to achieve anything. We have at least two better strikers playing locally in the league.”

Former Mathare United and Sofapaka striker Ronald Okoth has, however, leapt to Olunga’s defence, comparing the criticism leveled against him as the same as what his predecessor Victor Wanyama faced before announcing his international retirement.

“Insane to see how our current Cptn Olunga is getting the stick from a section of fans, this is exactly how our other frmr Cptn (former captain) Wanyama was forced into early retirement. We have the most difficult football fans to impress. Quick to forget your name in favour of the next hot prospect,” said Okoth.

Ulinzi Stars defender Brian Birgen was of the same view. He posted: “Hii maisha ya ball huwa tricky.... gap ya kuwa hero to villain huwa slim sana... yote tisa God is great (The life of a footballer is very tricky, the gap between hero and villain is very slim but God is great).

His sentiments were echoed by other fans who feel Olunga is being singled out unfairly.

“Michael Olunga is undeniably our best player at the moment. I kindly request that you refrain from insulting our captain, KOX. Let us show him the respect he deserves,” said a fan.

“Engineer Michael Olunga is still the best player in Kenya. You can't castigate a player just because he didn't score in two matches. The commitment he has always shown while playing for Kenya is incomparable,” was the opinion of another.

“Kenyans must respect their legends. Michael Ogada Olunga is our son, and this should not change.”

Another supporter urged patience with Olunga, saying: “The Olunga criticism is a bit juvenile. I’m also angry he missed chances but you can’t invalidate that chap’s whole national team career because of two friendlies. Reality is, history dictates that when it matters, Olunga usually scores. Time ya qualifiers tutaona (We will see during the qualifiers).”

While he has been in hot form for his club Al Duhail, Olunga has not enjoyed success in front of goal for the national team recently, failing to score in five straight games, since his goal as Harambee Stars lost 2-1 to Iran in March this year.

He, however, has the 2026 World Cup qualifiers to redeem himself when Kenya will start their campaign against Gabon on November 13.