Michael Olunga: The striker who sent Arsene Wenger a come-get-me-plea

In modern football, statistics mean a lot. In fact, they are everything. They are the yardstick of performance not only for coaches but players. But most importantly for the latter, they are used as bait by football agents to lure clubs during transfer windows. Good statistics speak for the player, make the job easier for the agent and act as a basis for negotiations between clubs.

But on December 9, 2015, Kenya’s hottest football property Michael Olunga Ogada shocked the world when he took to the online video platform YouTube to send a come-get-me-plea to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Olunga, 21 at that time, had just banged 38 goals for Gor Mahia and Kenya. Gor won their third consecutive league title that season. 

“Hi, Arsene Wenger. I am Michael Olunga Ogada, I am a striker at Gor Mahia FC which is in Kenya. I am currently the best player in Kenya. I’ve scored 38 goals all season, and my dream is to play for Arsenal,” began Olunga spotting baby locks and a pale grey t-shirt.

“I am a young talent, 21 years of age. I hope you will consider my request to come there and maybe join your feeder team, if not your senior team, and in the coming years, I will be sure to repay your faith. Thanks for considering my option,” Olunga summed up his 37-second moment of fame in that amateur video that has since amassed 94,169 views.

Olunga had the stats, a good agent in former Kenya national team coach Jacob “Ghost” Mulee, but still, he felt inadequate hence the video. That clip inadvertently introduced Olunga to the world long before his performances on the pitch grabbed headlines in Sweden, China, Spain and Japan.

Fast forward five years later, Olunga was the subject of an R100 million move to Qatari giants Al Duhail from the Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol. But it’s the thought that Al Duhail coach Sabri Lamouchi considered Olunga a suitable replacement for Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic that is baffling.

To put it into context, when Olunga was courting Arsenal in December 2015, Mandzukic was settling at Juventus, having joined from Atletico Madrid in the summer. Already a Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, the giant Croat scored 10 goals as Juventus won a domestic double (Serie A, Coppa Italia) that season. 

That the two players could be considered equals five years later speaks volumes of Olunga’s remarkable rise. From a spindly teenager showing great potential, Olunga has emerged as Kenya’s alpha striker in the process of making a name for himself in the global football world as a dependable force.

Two seasons ago, he became the first African to win J1 League Most Valuable Player award and Golden Boot after scoring 28 goals to guide Kashiwa Reysol to a seventh-place finish. In 2019, Olunga scored 27 goals and provided nine assists for Kashiwa as they won the second-tier league (J2 League) to win promotion to the top tier. On the back of these two fantastic seasons, Lamouchi pressed Al Duhail to sign Olunga, whom he described as “a good addition” to his team.

Since his first stint abroad at Swedish side Djurgarden, the same club Linda Mothlalo turns out for, Olunga has never been under pressure to deliver like now. “In the beginning, I have to get going, but once I get started, I tend to get on a roll with my scoring,” said Olunga after joining Djugarden from Gor Mahia in January 2016.

And he kept his word, banging 12 goals in the Allsvenskan to finish as the club’s top scorer in his debut season. Guizhou Zhicheng came calling, but his stay in China had little to write home about bar his season-long loan to La Liga side Girona. Despite being a fringe player, he grabbed his opportunities when called upon and, in January 2018, made history as the first Kenyan to score a hat-trick in the 6-0 win over Las Palmas. 

The 28-year-old started his Al Duhail adventure in characteristic slow fashion, but his third appearance for the club bore a hat-trick. He opened the scoring with a penalty in the Emir Cup clash against Al Ahli. He added a second via a header before completing his tally with an excellent finish as Al Duhail ran out 6-0 winners.

One man who has followed Olunga from his childhood days is football fan Mark Abwao. He has seen Olunga rise from Lucky Summer, a tough neighbourhood in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, and is happy Al Duhail fans are singing praises of their jersey 26. He has scored 25 goals in 26 games this season across all competitions.

“He has always been a hardworking player from a young age. Being the last born in his family also meant that his parents monitored him. His discipline has made him stand out, and I believe it’s just a matter of time before Olunga shines in Qatar,” asserted Abwao.

“His love for football has always been there. He would just kick everything while growing up. Here at Baba Dogo grounds, he impressed young and old while still a young boy.”

Olunga is Kenya’s only player to score a brace at the Africa Cup of Nations following his exploits against Tanzania in their 3-2 win over the Taifa Stars in the 2019 edition in Egypt.

And he is proud of his journey from Lucky Summer, a rough neighbourhood area in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

When he was named the JLeague MVP, he quickly reminded the world where he came from. “From Lucky Summer to the World.”

On December 27 2020, Fifa recognised his goalscoring prowess by naming him alongside four others as the little-known scoring sensations of the year. The others were Rauno Sappinen, Kasper Junker and Marcel Hernandez.

Even by his wildest imaginations, it is hard to believe he could have been recognised by the world football governing body 10 years ago when he was playing for Upper Hill High School before he moved to Tusker, then Thika United and Gor Mahia.

Perhaps Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta, unlike Wenger in 2015, could be among the interested parties in Europe. If Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined the Gunners at 28, why not Olunga?

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