The Kenyan football news scene is currently talking about one man; Michael Ogada Olunga.
One would easily think that the lanky striker is the latest doctor in town to find another vaccine for COVID-19 now that the entire world is working round the clock to find remedy for the virus.
But make no mistake, non-football fans, Olunga is on the verge of joining Qatari side Al-Duhail SC on a three-year deal with reports rife that he is set to pocket 80M Qatar Riyal a year in salary if the move goes through.
It be a significant rise in salary for the player who earned is reported to have been on KES 150M a year at Kashiwa Reysol; his former club set to pocket a transfer fee of 7million Euros (approximately Ksh890million) on Olunga’s sale; some decent money for a player who singlehandedly took them to the Japanese top flight and helped them manage a descent seventh-place finish in their first season back in the J1 league; Olunga scoring 28 of their 60 goals.
After the Japanese show, which ended in Olunga being named as the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), Kenyan fans felt that he needed to prove himself in a top European league. Suggestions, from his fans, were floated after he was linked with a move to Turkey and Germany. Having featured in the Spanish Laliga (with Girona) and Swedish Allsvenskan (with Djugardens), it was clear that adapting to the European environment was never going to be a problem for Olunga but he had other options; enter Al-Duhail.
While there is a suggestion that Olunga has snubbed a chance to mix with the best footballers on the globe by choosing Qatar’s Riyal, money will always be a factor in moves. There are a few players who would want to move to a club where he gets less than what he had in his previous station and this isn’t in football alone; it a life thing. Footballers are no different from the rest of us in that. When offered a job that greatly increases your salary and standard of living, it will be very difficult to turn it down.
That sort of money can set a person up for life, so it is hardly surprising that Olunga jumped at the chance. Furthermore, it is really none of our business to judge a player for making a move based on finance.
Football-wise, no one can claim that Olunga is headed in the Middle East to play against ‘farmers’. He is just arriving at a club that has just won the Qatari Stars League (top flight) and who had former Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic in their ranks. Last year they were coached by Jose Mourinho’s long-time lieutenant Rui Faria who has since been sacked.
The league has some notable players too in Mohammed Diame (formerly of Newcastle United) who plays for Al-Ahli, former Juventus defender Medhi Benatia and Tunisia’s Youssef Msakni (who will be a teammate to Olunga), AFCON winner Algeria’s Yacine Brahimi (Al-Rayyan), Mexico International Hector Moreno (Al-Gharafa) to mention just a few. In short, Olunga will be up against some notable names in world football and it’s something he can look up to.
Olunga must squeeze as much money as possible when he can. Having been a journeyman for much of his career, returning to Europe, if he wants to, can still happen going by his age. There have been players who made it to the Chinese Super League or the Qatari League and returned to Europe when they felt they had secured their future financially.
Right now, the argument on Olunga is on glory v money but also a risk v security one. Should he chase trophies in Europe? Definitely yes, but we have to be realistic and admit that for this to happen, then clubs like Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona, or PSG could be an ideal place for him if that’s his dream; but the reality is, none of the named clubs would go for Olunga right now. If he takes the money as he has done, then he has one less thing to worry about for eternity; his financial future. And that’s all we want.