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What are Harambee’s Star Players Competing for this Year?
Unfortunately, Kenya didn’t quite make the cut for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, being a single goal in one of the four draws in qualifying from beating Comoros to Group G’s second spot. Still, the two 1-1 draw against Egypt do show some promise for the team going forward.
Leading the team right now are defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama, striker Michael Olunga, and center-back Joseph Okumu. The trio has 99 caps between them, with 24-year-old Okumu only breaking into the first-team in 2019, and could well be the team’s core for the next cycle of major international tournaments.
So, where are these star Harambees now, and what will they be competing for in 2021/22?
Victor Wanyama, MLS
Easily Kenya’s most recognizable active player, Victor Wanyama, will be embarking on his second season with CF Montréal in 2021/22 while work continues on his multi-million sports academy. He made the move to the MLS club on a free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League, immediately earning a starting XI role.
The Nairobi-born defensive midfielder scored once in 15 games and was shown a straight red card against Atalanta United. In the second half of the season, his leadership qualities were put into action on the pitch, with the manager handing him the captain’s armband.
Montréal missed out on the first round of the MLS Playoffs by a single point last season, with the team’s goal difference being superior to the seventh-placed Columbus Crew. So, the aim for Wanyama and Co. this season has to be to make it to the postseason.
Joseph Okumu, Jupiler Pro League
Last season, Joseph Okumu was playing in his second term with IF Elfsborg, in Sweden. Playing as a starting center back, the now-24-year-old played ten games to bring his total up to 41 for the club. Over the summer, Belgium’s KAA Gent decided to swoop in for the Kenyan, paying Elfsborg £3.15 million for the transfer.
Immediately, Okumu has been deployed as a first-team regular, featuring in the UEFA Europa Conference League Qualifiers and Jupiler Pro League. Perhaps due to their involvement in the tertiary UEFA competition, Gent isn’t really living up to their sports betting billing as the third-favorites to win the Belgian First Division, after suffering two losses and a draw to open the campaign.
Michael Olunga, Stars League
Should Kenya qualify for the 2022 World Cup, Michael Olunga’s experience in Qatar could prove invaluable. The towering striker moved to Al-Duhail SC from Kashiwa Reysol in January of this year for £5.4 million. He came to the Stars League on the back of emerging as the J1-League’s MVP, scoring 28 goals in 32 games which also landed him as one of the top-ranking, little-known hotshots on FIFA’s 2020 list.
In his 19 games for the club since, the striker has netted 15 goals in 19 games, nine of which came in the AFC Champions League. Now, with a full season in the Stars League ahead, Olunga should be looking to score even more goals and help the club reclaim the title.
In a World Cup qualification group of Mali, Uganda, and Rwanda, Kenya has a good chance of muscling out of Group E, but the success of these three core players domestically could play a major role in the nation’s hopes.