There are expectations and then there are realities and being brought up in a scene dominated by your seniors, it is never going to be a smooth ride in a race that stardom is the ultimate prize.
The Kisumu football scene has been awash with raw talent in the past few years and boasts of some of the finest footballers to have graced the local football scene. From Harambee Stars’ stalwart of yesteryears Bobby Ogolla to the uprising Kenneth Muguna, Gor Mahia’s Wellington Ochieng is not only one who can trace the start his footballing career from the region, but he is as a good example as any other player who would want to be emulated by the upcoming talents in his backyard.
Ochieng has been a constant figure in the Kisumu football scene from the tender age of twelve. The defender, who can play in all positions in defence, was incorporated into the beautiful game by his father but knew he was headed for greater things in the footballing world when he joined Urusi FC (a respected team in Kisumu known for churning out young talented players). Ochieng also reserves huge praise for his primary school head coach Mr. George Odiero for playing a key role in shaping his career.
“My father was a coach with some local team in the outskirts of Kisumu and most of the time he’d tag me along and I acted as the ball boy for his team in my tender years. My real journey though started with Urusi FC with one Allan Moi, who was the coach then giving me my debut for the club’s U16 side despite being 12-year-old then.
“Playing with players who were older than me was a norm and I think it toughened me up and gave me picture of what I was to expect in my future career. Mr Odiero gave me the belief while in school. He was teaching at our neighboring school Kibos Sugar Research but he could in weekends pair us with local teams to test our progress more so in the Term One Primary School Ball Games; he taught me of never being afraid to face my challenges head on however huge they seem. I was there (Urusi) for two years winning two editions of the Kisumu Youth Football Association (KYFA) U16 tournament. These are moments that I cherish looking back to where it all begun,” Ochieng opens up.
Ochieng who says since his childhood his urge to improve has seen him go for bigger challenges and it was no surprise when he was to join Kisumu Youth Olympic Centre (KYOC) U18 side in 2009 while still undertaking his secondary school education at St Iganatius Magadi and was to help his team gain promotion to the county’s second Division Tier in 2012; the same year that he completed his secondary school education.
“When I joined KYOC, they were featuring in the country’s third division of football and that was a step for me in my career since I was joining a league where competition was a notch higher. It was not an easy ride and we had to wait for three years to achieve something meaningful as we earned promotion into the second division in an unbeaten fashion. I had been made captain of the team and I chipped in with four goals. In the same year I had managed to help my school to make it to the County levels of the Secondary School Ball Games for the first time in their history. That was one of the best years in my footballing life,” Ochieng remarks.
The secondary School Ball Games has been a hub for many coaches who spot raw talents in a bid to incorporate them into their team. Many have made the move straight from school to the country’s top tier, the Kenyan Premier League (KPL). Ochieng had surely been spotted that year and was not going to be short of suitors who were queuing for his signature, many being teams across the Nyanza region. When it was clear that he was no longer going to be with KYOC, Ochieng had to make a move that would not only thrust him into the national scene but one he hoped that was to build his career. He had to look for a coach who understood him and who was ready to help in his learning curve and in James ‘Odijo’ Omondi (now at Muhoroni Youth) who was at Agrochemicals FC, he found one.
His one-year stint at Agro is nostalgic. Ochieng wanted to help his new team to gain promotion to the KPL, something he says was one major reason why he joined the team from the Muhoroni Sugarbelt but they only managed a third place finish in the 16 team log. Only two teams made the playoff round during this time; a perfect tale of so near yet so far.
“Actually I knew I was leaving KYOC after finishing school and helping them move to the second division of the County League. My worry was to where I was heading to since I had many offers on the table. I wanted a deal that was to help me grow and my next move was going to be determined by how much I played. Odijo had watched me grow from a tender age since he was a constant figure in the Kisumu football scene and after a lengthy talk with him, I was convinced that joining Agro was good for me.
“By that time Agro were fighting to gain promotion to the KPL and I wanted to be part of that history sadly it never came to pass as we finished third. I had to take positives from my time there since I made 20 appearances and scored seven goals, five being headers,” Ochieng continues.
Agro Chemical would again miss narrowly on promotion the following year after finishing fourth and Ochieng’s four goals did little to ease the pain. At the end of the 2014 season, KPL side and neighbors Muhoroni Youth came calling and he could not resist
By 2015 one Patrick Odhiambo, who had been an assistant to Odijo at Agrochemicals had joined Francis Baraza at Muhoroni Youth in the same capacity. The former having worked with Ochieng thought he could be a good addition to the team that was taking the top flight by storm and although Ochieng admits it was a tough test in his slowly rising career, he was rearing to prove that he could mix it with the big boys.
“Having studied Muhoroni closely I felt they were a good team for me. They had slowly improved since coming into the top flight in 2012 and the urge of mixing it with the big boys was too good to turn down. I enjoyed my first season in the KPL and adapted quickly since the players at Muhoroni were my neighbors when I was at Agro and mingled with them almost every time so it made my work easier. I was involved in eleven goals in my first season there, scoring on two occasion.
On his second season at Muhoroni, Ochieng had become a regular figure at Muhoroni and had started eleven games prior to June; a steady progress that leaves him purring despite the club problems that had threatened to deny him a chance to join Gor Mahia.
“The following season, the 2016 season did not start very well since I had to sit out at some point but it is always my progress that I take a keen look into. I took my time and when I came back, I scored four goals in eight appearances before I left. This time it was a chance that I could not turn down, there was no way I was going to turn down Gor Mahia,” Ochieng remarks.
The player admits that he was over the moon in joining Gor Mahia as it was another chance to add silverware to his cabinet. They might not have won the league in his maiden season that saw him appear five times more so in cup games but the mixing it with some of the best players in the league and a top coach in Ze Maria was just too good to believe.
The player was to make his debut against Mombasa’s Mahakama FC in the GOtv Shield; the only competition which he had a real chance of appearing in due to the quality that was in the team. The right back who is welcoming the competition in the team says mixing it with the likes of Rooney in August 2017 is just a testimony that his move to Gor Mahia was the best he could have ever hoped for as a player in the country.
“At first I thought it was a joke that Gor Mahia had enquired about my services but it came true. Thinking of playing for Ze Maria and training with some of the best players in the league was too good to turn down. I knew I was not coming in straight to the first eleven but I vowed to do my best in training and left the rest for the coach who I believe gave everyone a fair chance.
“I waited for my time and I knew that if I was to get a chance, it was up to me to give my best in the colours of my new team. My debut came in the GOtv Shield and I think I did just well; I made five appearances in the first six months at the club and the urge to walk from the tunnel in that jersey has been the same today as it was in day one against Mahakama.
“Of course every player wants to play week in week out but with the talent at our disposal, you might find yourself out in certain games but we support whoever is chosen to start; it’s all about team work in our camp-when they win, we all win. The two coaches I have worked under have the winning mentality and despite their difference in formation, there aim is based in winning.
“Coming up against Everton was like a pinnacle in my career. Playing against the best in world football is every footballer dream and enjoyed every bit of our time in Tanzania where we faced some of the best teams in the region. My pride was not only pinned in winning the Sportpesa Super League but with the fact that I played in all the four games to help my team book a date with Everton.
“The experience here at Gor has been more I could have bargained for and I feel I made the right choice by coming here. Since I joined we have won the two accolades, the KPL Super Cup and the SportPesa Super Cup and I believe we will be winning more and we will be facing more testing matches in the coming year. Winning titles, after a season of hard work and determination is all a footballer would want,” Ochieng notes.
There is no one in these sides of the footballing world who can narrate Ochieng’s rise to stardom more than the current owner of Urusi Football Club Mr Sospeter Oduor commonly known as Arua by those who nurtured; the chairman come coach having roped the young Wellington from the dusty Kibos pitches to his side at a tender age of 13.
“I am the one who introduced Wellington to the real world of football this after we spotted him in our friendly clash against a team called Amani FC which he was featuring for then in Kibos. Their team was a seasonal one and we thought it was wise to have him on our camp to aid in his progress and we have never regretted making that move.
“He is risen among the ranks and as a coach I am very proud to see one of my products make it just as we had hoped for. He is one dedicated player and leaves everything on the pitch; it is a character he possessed from a tender age. His only fault is in not accepting defeat. He always wants to win; he is a bad looser. Losing affected him so much at his tender age that it could affect his performances a times in next games. I still see him gutted when results don’t go his team’s way but I hope he has matured enough to know that loosing is part of the game.
“He is a role model to the kids down here. He usually attends our trainings when he is around town and at least we can give him as an example to these young players who would want to make it footbllwise in their future lives,” Odour says.
For Odijo, who introduced Ochieng to the real vagaries of football demands in the country, the player possesses a rare trait of discipline that he has only found in a few players who he has worked with before. Odijo further reveals that Ochieng is just one of the ‘Agrochemicals 2014 Class” that has gone to not only make Kisumu proud but him as a football coach in the country; the coach having worked with the player too during his time at KPL side Muhoroni Youth.
“I had been involved in so many youthful football programs around Kisumu when I first had an ecounter with Wellington. I had watched him grow to a dedicated player and when I felt the time was ripe, I signed him for Agro. The funny part is despite us being buddies in the football circle, he still had to send me to his parents when I went for him to sign for Agro; it was a rare show of the discipline he has for his parents and that showed me the kind of player he was outside the football circle.
“He was part of the Agro team in the 2014 season that missed promotion to the KPL by a whisker and when you look at the focused players in that lot, many of them are now competing in the KPL despite that set back. That shows you that despite what happens in football, nomatter, where you are, try as much to give your best for you never know who is watching and this is an area Ochieng perfected well. He didn’t care about tomorrow, he gave his best every time he put on the Agro shirt and did the same during our time at Muhoroni and the result is for there for all to see.
“The expectations at Gor Mahia are a bit higher and maybe he is not getting games as he wishes but I know he will adapt. His dedication and urge to learn is going to take him places. You can come back to me about him in the next three years and Im sure he will have made a positive progress,” Odijo says.
National Team Material
For Dyllan Ker, the Gor Mahia coach who found Ochieng already at the club after being shipped in by Marcelo Ze Maria, it has been a tough choice to left the defender out of his first eleven considering his versatility across the defence with his output both in training and when called upon described by the Briton as second to none.
“We have a good squad at Gor Mahia and it is some of a headache to leave certain players out of the first eleven. I have enjoyed working with Wellington because of his sincerity and his dedication in training and in the field of play. He will run over a brick wall for the team from the first minute to the last without tiring. He is still young, vibrant and have enough room to learn. He is focused and the first who will always talk to me when he feels things are not right and I like sincere players.
“He can play all across the field. I could play him in midfield and even as a striker and I know he will still give the result I request from him. He is a quite lad outside the field of play all he needs is to focus on his game at all time. I still don’t know why he has not received a national team call up because from the call ups I have seen I feel he deserves a slot,” Kerr opines.
NAME: Wellington Ochieng
AGE: 21 years
Place of Birth: Kisumu-Kenya
2007-2008; Urusi U16
2009-2012: Kisumu Youth Olympic Centre (KYOC)
2015-2016: Muhoroni Youth FC
June 2016 to Date: Gor Mahia
Primary: Kibos Prisons Primary School
Secondary: St Ignatius Magadi
The Article first appeared in the Soka Magazine