Why Michael Olunga should not be judged on goals alone despite Harambee Stars drought

FOOTBALL Why Michael Olunga should not be judged on goals alone despite Harambee Stars drought

Mark Kinyanjui 08:41 - 16.09.2023

Michael Olunga has faced criticism from a section of Kenyan fans over his lack of goals for Harambee Stars but he brings much more to the side

Michael Olunga has faced criticism from fans for his recent profligacy in front of goal that contrasts with his brilliant form for Al Duhail FC.

However, he contributes much more to the team than just goals. Here is why fans should cut him some slack.

Harambee Stars played two friendly matches in the just-concluded international break, with both matches producing contrasting results.

First was an away victory against Qatar, when the side pulled off a spirited display that sent Kenyans into delirium after a last-minute winner by Amos Nondi gave them a well-deserved 2-1 win.

The second, however, was an underwhelming 1-0 loss to South Sudan in front of their own home crowd, sending a wave of disgruntlement across the stadium at full time. 

Fans ensured in no uncertain terms that the players understood how they felt as they booed their team after the game.

A section of fans also vented their frustration in particular at captain Olunga for squandering a couple of chances during the defeat to South Sudan, just days after he had also missed a couple of chances against Qatar despite the win.

Is it fair? Are the fans right to be frustrated by his recent profligate nature?

Before we move on, it is important to know that the former Gor Mahia marksman has scored 22 goals from 50 caps for the Harambee Stars ever since he made his debut for the side in 2015. That is a games to goals ratio of 0.44 goals per game.

That is similar to yesteryear posterboy Dennis Oliech’s goal ratio, who scored 34 goals in 76 caps for the side.

Under the stewardship of Engin Firat, Olunga has played every single minute in the nine matches the Turkish head coach has managed since his appointment in 2021.

Kenya lost 5-0 to Mali in 2021, before losing 1-0 in the second. Olunga failed to find the back of the net in both games, but did get on the scoring in back-to-back games against Uganda and Rwanda, before the year-long ban was imposed upon the country for the better part of a year.

On return to action against Iran, he did score in the 2-1 defeat to the hosts, but has since failed to find the back of the net in the next four games against Pakistan, Mauritius, Qatar and Kenya respectively.

This implies that the lanky forward has scored just three goals in 810 minutes, which translates to a worrying goal ratio of one every 270 minutes.

Interesting to note that in the last two friendlies against Qatar and South Sudan, he found himself in a one-on-one situation against the goalkeeper, but fluffed his lines as shown in the screenshots below

Against Qatar, left back Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma finds him with a well executed left-footed pass from deep, which lands onto the pat of Olunga as shown below.

Olunga finds himself one-on-one with the keeper, but shoots it straight at him.

Against South Sudan five days later, he finds himself in another similar situation, but takes way too many touches when attempting to round the keeper, allowing Sudan to get back into the game.

Although Kenya have shown that there is a serious lack of creativity and players who can take on opposition defenders when they find themselves in one-on-one situations, one can hardly defend Olunga for missing those chances.

Playing for Al Duhail, this season, he has already scored four goals out of the nine that the club have scored, and has won back-to-back golden boot awards for the defending Stars League champions since signing for them in 2021.

The consistency at which he has found the back of the net has been impressive. In 54 league games, he has netted 56 goals, which is a game to goal ratio of 1.03.

You can therefore understand why fans would like him to replicate his goalscoring form at club level for the national team, especially given the chances he gets.

However, we also need to look at other things he brings to the team.

First, he is team captain. A Lot of young strikers coming up and in the squad, such as Kakamega Homeboyz’s Moses Shummah are really looking up to him. As the posterboy of the national team, his teammates are looking up to him for inspiration, especially since Victor Wanyama’s retirement from international football.

Second, it is the things a modern centre forward should do that fans do not really pay keen attention to.

The back to goal play, hold up play and link play that brings others into the game and allows him to create for his team-mates.

Lest we forget, it is these very attributes that helped the side get the winning goal against Qatar.

In the screenshots below, Johnstone Omurwa wins the ball after Ayub Timbe and Eric 'Marcelo' Ouma win the ball from Qatar.

He checks up to see who is available before spotting Olunga and then spraying a long ball that would make Paul Scholes proud.

Olunga receives it with his back to goal, before he turns and carries it forward

Before cutting the ball back onto the path of onrushing midfielders Richard Odada and Amos Nondi, the latter who nets the winner.

So there you have it. Michael Olunga needs to do better with the chances he gets, but he can also do more than just “net goals” and fans need to appreciate this fact.