Feature: The rise and fall of Kenya's favorite football son

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-10 22:39:00|Editor: yan
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NAIROBI, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Controversy appears to be the only constant in Kenya football superstar Dennis Oliech's life. The iconic ex-Kenya national team striker has once again hit the headlines after being sacked by domestic giants Gor Mahia FC.

From being rated as one of the top five explosive football talents to watch out for in the early 2000s, alongside the future global icons of Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney, the career of the country's international record goal scorer appears heading to a bitter end.

This is a player his Qatari club, Al-Arabi turned down 1 billion shillings (10 million U.S. dollars) from French league giants, AS Monaco to sign him in 2005, a figure that would have made the Kenyan one of the most expensive African footballers of his time.

Oliech counted the likes of Argentina legendary goal machine, Gabriel Batistuta and retired Germany midfield stalwart, Stefan Effenberg as teammates at Al-Arabi where he plundered 12 goals in 17 appearances.

A fruitful career in France followed his stint in the Gulf. Nicknamed "the Menace," he turned out for French top-flight sides Nantes Atlantique, Auxerre, and Ajaccio before a return to the Middle East. However, his stint with Dubai CSC ended in dispute, leaving the team in 2015 without an appearance to his name.

Despite his notoriety, Oliech was a darling of the Kenyan football faithful, with an international career spanning from 2002 to 2016, he netted 34 times in 74 appearances. He finished his international career as Kenya's highest-ever goal scorer.

At the height of his glory, from 2002 and 2006, Oliech led the team to the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, with his winning wonder goal against Cape Verde in September 2003 in Nairobi sending his nation back to the continental showpiece for the first time since 1992. This was a moment that cemented his legendary status.

But just as his name was fading off the football radar, Oliech stunned the nation in January when he announced he had signed for the country's premier league side, Gor Mahia FC in what was described as the 'prodigal return' of Kenya's favorite football son to the domestic game.

Soon, 'The Menace' was sending the Green Army supporters of the domestic league champions to rafters in ecstasy, particularly when he scored the fourth goal in their 4-2 mauling of Egyptian giants, Zamalek FC, in Nairobi in February during a CAF Confederations Cup tie in Nairobi.

He endeared himself more to his adoring supporters when he dedicated his goal to another Gor stalwart and his deceased elder brother, Steve Okumu, who scored against Zamalek, who then went on to lift the second-tier continental competition title, in 1998.

His influence with the team was only growing, as he became an inspirational figure in the dressing room as Gor stormed to the Confed Cup semis and was on course to extend their domestic league title-winning record to 18 before he fractured his arm in a Kenyan Premier League (KPL) game in May.

It came as a crushing blow, with the clamor to bring him back to national team Harambee Stars at the time growing in crescendo as Kenya prepared to return to the AFCON for the first time since Oliech led the team to Tunisia in 2004.

The exit of Gor's Turkish head coach, Hassan Oktay, saw Oliech elevated to the role of assistant coach ahead of the new season but like so many other occasions in his shining but troubled career, his marriage with the KPL champions ended in a bitter divorce.

It all started when the striker shared a political campaign poster insinuating he was vying for the vacant parliamentary seat following reports his former international teammate, UEFA Champions League winner, McDonald Mariga, was vying for the same seat.

On Aug. 27 Gor terminated his contract citing 'gross misconduct' as it emerged according to the club that the gifted player, who had proved class is permanent when he ended his two-year hiatus in football to score eight for the club, had once more become a destructive influence.

His reaction was swift, denying his rumored interest in running for parliament was a hoax that he had shared with his teammate on WhatsApp.

On Monday, Oliech released a statement through his lawyers suing Gor for over 60,000 dollars for wrongful dismissal.

This has set the stage for a bruising legal battle between arguably one of the most famous Kenyan footballers and a team that prides itself as the best-supported outfit in the country. The battle is set to dominate mainstream and social media for months to come.

Oliech was said to be considering signing for Gor arch-rivals AFC Leopards SC last week, in a move that would take his penchant for drama to the stratosphere.

Having been accused of absconding team camp, leading player revolts and setting a bad example to young players, Oliech was stripped of the captaincy of the national team by Belgian coach Adel Amrouche who risked the wrath of a nation in 2016, a row that precluded his international retirement.

For over a decade, successive Harambee Stars head coaches had been compelled to bend to his antics, owing largely to the fact that as a goal scorer, none of his teammates could touch him but the emergence of former China League One Guizhou Hengfeng striker, Michael Olunga in 2015, hastened his exit as the de facto spearhead of Kenya's attack.

Olunga, now with Japan's Kashiwa Reysol, has 17 goals in 36 appearances for Harambe Stars and unlike Oliech, he does not court any form of controversy.

There is no denying, however, Oliech, who burst to the scene in 2002 when he inspired his nation to win the regional CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup for the first time since 1994 in Tanzania, had the explosive talent and goal-scoring instinct to have made it as an international football icon.

However, his legacy will always elicit mixed reactions following his knack of carrying controversy in his back pocket wherever he goes.