Youngster Tyler Onyango has grabbed media attention this season after coming through the youth ranks at English Premier League side Everton to feature in their under-23 side despite being just 16.
Talk has been rife of his impending promotion to the senior side. It is more a matter of when rather than if. Whether it happens this season or later, the fact of the matter is that another Kenyan is making news at a top club in England and has got people here in the country talking.
The tall player, who spots an afro, has been likened to former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
The Toffees’ under-18 coach Paul Tait recently described him as a “machine” due to his physicality and work ethics on the pitch.
“His physicality catches your eye straight away, doesn't it? He's 6ft 3in. He's an absolute machine in terms of his physicality so he catches your eye,” he was quoted as saying.
Tyler comes from a sporting family. He was born to a Kenyan father, Evans Onyango and British mother, Amy. His uncles, Allan, Duncan and Patrick Onyango played for Kenya Harlequins and Kenya Sevens, his father explains.
“I am from a family of four boys Duncan, Allan and Patrick Onyango and I. We all went to Nairobi School and all played for Patch Machine (the school’s rugby team). Allan and Patrick went on to play for Harlequins and Kenya Sevens. Although we all performed well at other sports and were in the school teams for basketball, hockey, swimming and athletics, the main sport at Nairobi School was rugby,” he says.
“After high school I moved to the UK for further studies and was later joined by Allan and Patrick. As a family we have always loved sports and being so close in age we have always pushed each other.
While in the UK the senior Onyango carried on playing rugby both for the university team and the local team, Luton.
He met, in his own words, “the love of my life” Amy in university. After graduation the two lovebirds decided to move to Kendal where Amy grew up. She had just given birth to Tyler and the two new parents felt it would be a better place to raise children.
“Whilst in Kendal I played for the local team which was in the Third division and would always take Tyler to all my home games and he quickly took to rugby and sports in general.
However, the club did not have a team for boys his age (he was five at the time) but there were local teams in football for his age and that's how he went into football and not rugby."
Onyango senior reveals that at the age of eight Tyler was playing in a tournament with the local team when an Everton scout approached him inquiring about his football playing son. The scout asked if Tyler would go for a trial and Onyango agreed.
“They liked what they saw and kept him,” he says.
Getting to interview the boy himself was not easy. He is based in Liverpool, this scribe is based in Nairobi. The dad, a business, is always on the move — Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Europe, but through him and bucketful of patience, a Skype session was finally arranged.
“If I wasn’t a footballer I think I’d definitely have pursued another career in sport due to my athletic background,” says youngster Tyler.
“I joined Everton at the end of the under-eights age group. When you start at a young age like that it’s more about enjoying playing rather than how you perform. Obviously, as you get older through the age groups it becomes more performance-based. For me, the main thing is enjoying coming to Everton every day. Since I was very young, I loved coming to Finch Farm and that’s something that will never change. It’s really good to start at a club at a young age and work your way through all of the age groups as you can remember being a young kid watching the older lads playing and wishing one day that could be you. To now be one of the older academy players who the younger players look up to is a very good feeling,” he says.
Everton, on their official website, describe Tyler as a ball-winning midfielder. Proud of that role the youngster says he looks up to former France international and Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira.
“As a midfielder, he has a bit of everything to take from. I think he was the complete box to box midfielder who could tackle and do the dirty side to the game as well as drive forward and score goals. He was also very tall like I am and used his long legs to drive past players which is also what I like to do,” Tyler says.
Onyango received a call up to England Under-17 side in 2019 and describes it as the proudest moment of his career so far.
“2019 was a very good year as I moved from the under-16s group to the under-18s and then to the under-23s more recently. I also received my first England call up to the under-17 squad at the start of the 2019-20 season.
Although it was a successful year, I still have a lot of things that I need to work on in my game to make me a better player. I believe it is every young boys' dream to play in the Premier League especially for such a great team like Everton and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“However, I understand how hard it is to get to that level and remain in that environment. I still have a long way to go and I will keep working hard.”
Tyler says that being called up to represent England was his proudest achievement to date.
There are amazing players at under-17 level eligible to play for England, so to be included in the squad alongside them is something his simply said was exciting.
Playing for England would be the ultimate dream, right?
He is yet to represent the Three Lions at senior level but has also thought of elsewhere.
“I have been to Kenya many times over the years most recently in the summer of 2018. I have a very big family in Kenya so it is always nice to come home to visit everyone. Unfortunately, I can’t speak Swahili or Luo. Expect a few odd words but it is definitely something I want to learn.”
“I am eligible to play for Kenya and it is definitely something I’d be open to as you never know what the future holds so I want to keep my mind open to any opportunities that may occur,” he says.
His father says he’d be very happy to see his son play for Harambee Stars but he won’t make the decision for him.
“As for playing for Kenya or England I have totally left that up to Tyler to decide. I know where my heart lies and would love to see him represent Kenya like his uncles but that will be up to him.”
But how does he keep him grounded despite the enormous attention the youngster is getting currently?
“In regard to the media attention and keeping him grounded that all boils down to Amy his mum for giving him the best advice and Tyler also understands that media attention can never go to his head He also understands that he still has not made it yet and has to play in the Premiership. And once he makes it there he still has to work hard to become a regular.”
Onyango senior is all gaga at all the possibilities. He talks about always having faith in Tyler’s ability, admiring his mental maturity for one so young.
“I always knew he would achieve his dreams but the speed in which he is doing it has surprised me. The key is for him to keep doing the things he is doing and God willing he will achieve his dreams. I also would like to mention that without Amy none of Tyler's achievement would have been possible.”
Tyler indeed credits his football progress to his parents especially his mum whom he says has been his pillar.
“My mum has always got me to every training session and match despite the training ground being 1 hour and 30 minutes from our house. This is something a lot of parents wouldn’t do but my mum always believed in me and continued to make the trips. Not only this but my mum and dad are always there to give the best advice and keep my mindset strong.”
Even so Tyler talks about the mixed emotions he grappled with on getting the go ahead at Everton.
“At the end of the under-16 season, finding out who had and hasn’t received scholarships to progress to under-18 level was a bittersweet moment.
“Personally I was so relieved and proud to get offered my scholarship but some of my closest friends and teammates weren’t. It was a difficult moment having to say bye to teammates and friends of many years.
“My targets for the near future is to remain playing in the under-23 team week after week and gain experience playing against much older players. This will hopefully stand me in good stead to make the jump into the first team squad when the club believes I am ready,” he adds.
What does it take to play at the youth ranks of a top side like Everton?
“To play for a top academy you have to be very dedicated and willing to make sacrifices that a lot of young people may not want to make. I believe that it is as much about a player’s mindset and attitude as ability.
“Over the years you see many players who are great footballers come and go but players with the best attitudes and focus seem to get further. That is key in professional football.”
The youngster Onyango reveals he enjoys watching movies during his free time and attending football matches to learn.
“I just like to relax and chill out by watching movies. If there are any football matches on I’ll also watch them whether that’s Premier League, (Uefa) Champions League or other European leagues. I enjoy going out for meals with friends and family too,” he says.