When Mike Okoth Origi left Kenyan Premier League side Tusker, then known as Kenya Breweries in 1992 in pursuit of a professional career with Omani side Boshar FC, little did he know that that marked the beginning a long football journey that would confine him to Belgium for the rest of his vocation.
As it turned out, just three months into his Boshar contact, Okoth, then a promising striker, found greener pasture with Belgian side KV Ooestende. It is here that his professional journey began in earnest.
“The Magic” as he is fondly known, would spend the next decade playing in the Belgium Pro Jupiler League with his most successful season being 1998-99 when he helped Racing Genk win its first league title.
Back then, no one could tell that one day, the son of a Kenyan would represent Belgium in a World Cup Finals, let alone score at the historic Maracana Stadium.
However, like a prophesy whose time had come, 22 years on, Okoth and his entire family would find themselves at the iconic stadium not only supporting the Belgium national football team, but also jumping for joy when their 19-year-old son Divock Origi scored the all-important goal that fired the Marc Wilmot’s side to the last 16 of the global showpiece.
Raw emotions overcame the 46-year-old Okoth, his wife Linda Adhiambo and their two daughters as they leapt into the air on seeing the youngster raise Belgium’s flag higher — and to some extent, Kenya’s profile.
“Divock playing in the national team is a great joy. To play and score at the World Cup was special. Making it in Europe is never easy. We tried to give him the best upbringing and as parents it’s great seeing your child hit such heights,” he told the Nation in an exclusive telephone interview from Belgium. He had just returned home following the Red Devils exit in the quarter finals in the hands of a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.
“When I came to Europe, it was hard. I was young and knew that I hard to work hard and exhibit high levels of discipline to succeed. Looking back, I am happy that my move opened doors for other Kenyan players,” said the legendary striker who became Kenya’s pioneer player in Europe.
Since his move overseas 20 years ago many players, notably Dennis Oliech (France), MacDonald Mariga (Italy), Victor Wanyama (England) and Okoth’s nephew Arnold Origi (Norway) have followed his footsteps.
Okoth, who holds both Kenyan and Belgium citizenship as does his entire family, takes pride in the achievement Divock has had.
Every step the young striker has made has been through his guidance. For instance, when Divock left home at a tender age of 15 to join Lille's famed academy, it proved to be a master stroke.
“The first priority was his (Divock’s) development. France takes a lot of interest in developing players. They have coaches who constantly work with youngsters to realise their full potential and I knew France was the best place to be.”
Among the factors that helped Divock settle at “The Great Danes” as the club is fondly known was the presence of Eden Hazard. Divock had been good friends with the Chelsea winger’s younger brother in their formative years in Belgium, and it was during this period that they forged strong rapport.
“He (Hazard) took Divock under his wing as his own brother and helped him settle down. It was a new country and a new challenge for a young boy.”
Assessing his son’s growth and impact at the World Cup finals, the former Harambee Stars talisman said that discipline and his son’s talent proved key.
‘“For us as a family discipline is paramount. Not just with me but even with the likes of Austin (Oduor). It is the same virtues that we instilled in Divock. In football you can never make it far unless you behave well. Apart from that, he is technically gifted and has real talent,” he said.
Okoth is however guarded regarding the striker’s future in the wake of heightened reports that Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is set to agree on a Sh1.5 billion move for the player.
“We just came from Brazil and he is still trying to recover. We have not exactly decided what he is going to do. We know there are a number of offers on the table. We will sit down and review. We have to put into consideration what is best for him.”
Should the striker make a move to Merseyside, he will achieve another feat by becoming the first player of Kenyan descent to play for major EPL side.
He has received rave reviews across global media and his father reads from the same script.
Reflecting on his son’s call to the Belgium squad by Marc Wilmot, Okoth said that it was shocker. “We did not expect him to be called. It was a surprise, but the beauty is that from the first day they (team mates) gave him a warm welcome.
“After a few training sessions, they knew what he was made of and that he was World Cup material; they took notice of him.”
Away from football Okoth says he misses Kenya but has mixed feeling. “I’m comfortable in both environments. My wife and I see ourselves as Kenyan-Belgians, but for the children they are Belgians. They are more at home here.”
Until three years ago, Okoth would visit Kenya twice every year especially during winter. “I did so to ensure the children appreciated their heritage. They are always willing to come there for holiday.”
As part of inculcating the rich Kenyan culture, the Okoths speak strictly Kiswahili at home and also converse in Dholuo.