When ‘Dube’ came face to face with ‘juju’

Energised Odhiambo still going strong two decades down the line

Players have incisions on their bodies to make them play better or wear amulets or charms to protect them

In Summary

•In his first taste of the Dar derby pitting Simba and Yanga, he was red-carded in a 1-1 stalemate.

•Former Nzoia United coach Collins ‘Korea’ Omondi, retired players Sebastian Andulu, Sila Gwada and Mannaseh Imbo were among the players the dreadlocked midfielder brushed shoulders with while still a teenager.

Moses Odhiambo in action against Talanta during their NSL match at Camp Toyoyo
Moses Odhiambo in action against Talanta during their NSL match at Camp Toyoyo
Image: ERICK BARASA

When it comes to football, Moses ‘Dube’ Odhiambo is not your average Joe. The diminutive playmaker has seen it all playing for top clubs across East Africa.

In his heyday, he could switch clubs with the snap of a finger. That’s how talented the Meru-born 39-year-old was.

Today, admittedly, in the twilight of his career, he still doesn’t know when he will hang up his boots. Currently, he turns out for promotion-chasing National Super League side, Nairobi Stima.

His football career spanning two decades took him to Tanzania, Rwanda, Oman, Dubai, South Africa and England. From tales of widespread use of ‘African Magic’ to corrupt coaches, the father of five boys has seen it all.

EARLY CAREER

His stellar career, however, blossomed in the most unlikely of places—in Meru with Mafuko Bombers. Raj Kaleya Muna, a football enthusiast in Meru, inspired him to take football seriously, giving him his first personal pair of boots ‘Adidas Copa Mundial’.

“I started playing seriously when I was in Form one at Kaaga Boys High School. In spite of my slight body frame, Mafuko Bombers coach thought I had the talent. He then called me up to train with them and I obliged even though I was nervous playing with players who were already known countrywide,” revealed Odhiambo.

Former Nzoia United coach Collins ‘Korea’ Omondi, retired players Sebastian Andulu, Sila Gwada and Mannaseh Imbo were among the players the dreadlocked midfielder brushed shoulders with while still a teenager.

After finishing school, he would then join Kisima Bombers, helping them to the top tier league in 2000. By then, he was attracting the interest of top coaches around the country with Jacob Ghost Mulee of Tusker and James Nandwa of Utalii among those who kept tabs on his career.

“We played against Tusker in a friendly, where I scored and that would be the beginning of my scoring record against the Brewers. I used to score against them whenever we met and I guess that’s why they were determined to sign me,” chuckled Odhiambo.

Stints with Utalii (2002), where he won the Transparency Cup and Tusker (2004) followed in quick succession. His first sojourn out of the country came in 2005 when he featured in the  Tusker Cup in Mwanza, where he emerged as the top scorer in the tournament attracting interest from Moro United who were emerging as a force in Tanzanian football.

TANZANIAN EXPERIENCE

The late coach James Siang’a was impressed with Odhiambo’s performance as were the top brass at Moro United unaware that Tusker, then under Dino Kitavi, had agreed on a deal with Moro for him to move to Tanzania.

“The coach told me that I was not going back with them as Tusker had already sold me to Moro. I was left in limbo and when I went to see Siang’a, he told me that he was not going anywhere without me. They had the finances and told me they would pay for whatever I wanted. I was taken aback but agreed to sign because the money was good. I told our goalkeeper Wilson Obungu, now Bandari FC manager, to take my luggage home while I joined my new team,” recalled Odhiambo.

Moro would go on to finish second in the league behind Yanga. With a minimum weekly allowance of  Sh10,000, Odhiambo was living a good life. Their benefactor, an oil magnate, spared no cent to ensure they were comfortable.

“Money was not a problem. The owner was ambitious. We received our pay on time and bonuses could double up to Sh20,000 when we beat any team above us,” he said.

Moro would play in the Caf Confederation Cup against Etoile Du Sahel of Tunisia in the second round, losing 7-0 on aggregate. The duel with Etoile opened up Odhiambo’s eyes to the tactical nous and mind games clubs in North Africa possessed.

“When you play against North African clubs, the game starts right from the moment you arrive in their country. The bus driver can take you round in circles from the airport to your hotel rooms. They could host you miles away from the match and training venue to disorient their opponents—something they have done successfully,” he said.

That indeed used to be the case until Caf intervened to make sure clubs stayed in their hotels of choice and would be given access to match venues for training purposes.

The adage ‘All that glitters is not gold’ rings true for Odhiambo’s time with Moro. The finances of the club began to dwindle allegedly when the club owner fell out with the government over unpaid taxes. Soon enough salaries began to delay and the Kenyan international was forced to return to Nairobi.

“Things changed abruptly. All of a sudden allowances began to delay. The club ‘owners’ began to demand that Moro United return to Morogoro Province from Dar. I knew it was going to be difficult for me to survive there and I left to return to Kenya.”

Odhiambo’s influence at the club had not gone unnoticed and when new leadership took over, they convinced him to return, settling all his pending salary and allowances. Then 26 years, he stayed on for the rest of the 2006 campaign before leaving to join Dar-es-Salaam giants, Simba a year later. A Simba fan, who would later become the club vice-chairman Godfrey ‘Kaburu’ Nyange approached him, suggesting he joins them.

Little did Odhiambo know how far the ‘Wekundu wa Msimbazi’ were willing to go to have him wear their all-red strips. “The club president sent his own car to pick me up from where I stayed. I went on to meet club officials who gave me Sh150,000 to go and think about the possibility of signing for Simba. I had no second thoughts and later I signed a contract,” Dube said.

He would go on to win a fast-tracked league campaign with Simba in 2007, playing alongside Tanzania football legends like goalkeeper Juma Kaseja, Emmanuel Gabriel, Athman Machupa and Hassan Mgosi among others. The fans there loved him and nicknamed him, in jest, ‘Mungiki’ after the outlawed sect whose members wore dreadlocks like him.

In his first taste of the Dar derby pitting Simba and Yanga, he was red-carded in a 1-1 stalemate. This would be his second and last sending off in his long career. Though the rivalry between the two biggest teams in Tanzania—Simba and Yanga— is intense, it’s not an anathema to switch sides. This is what Odhiambo did when he moved to Young Africans in 2009.

“At Yanga, it felt like home away from home as I was in the same team with my countrymen Boniface Ambani, George Owino, Mike Baraza, Joseph Shikokoti and John Njoroge among other foreigners. The downside of this is that we had to play on a rotation basis as there was a limit to the number of foreigners who could be named in the matchday squad,” he said. Yanga brought a new Serbian coach mid-season and Odhiambo’s time in Tanzania was soon over as the new man had a dislike of non-homegrown players.

Having spent a total of four years in Tanzania football, Odhiambo confirms that the use of ‘juju’ and witchcraft is rampant in the game and it’s difficult for the faint-hearted to survive.

“Juju is used without fear. Players have incisions on their bodies to make them play better or wear amulets or charms to protect them from perceived bad luck or enemies. In my time in Tanzania, I saw this thing happening but the officials there would tell us those who were not engaged to get into the bus. On other occasions, a teammate who saw you as a threat could use charms to get the better of you and ensure you were injured or could not play well,” Odhiambo narrated.

“I was lucky that I was friends with most of the players and they liked me but I was still cautious and I would carry all my kit home to avoid anything being done to bewitch me. I think this use of black magic is why many Kenyan players have not been successful in Tanzania in spite of their talent. If you are weak,  you get affected and cannot survive in Tanzania football,” Odhiambo divulged.

MATCH FIXING ATTEMPTS

Dube recalls that when he was at Simba ahead of their match against arch-rivals Yanga, unnamed officials from their opponents contacted him trying to have him play a part in manipulating the outcome of their encounter.

“I had received numerous calls from unfamiliar numbers. When another was made in the presence of our officials, I put the call on the loudspeaker and everyone heard what was being said. One of our officials suggested that I take the money without fulfilling their demands but my conscience would not allow me,” he said.

The veteran player conceded that the vice could be happening in the Kenyan domestic scene but he had not been privy to the happenings in his time in the Kenyan Premier League. “Where there is smoke there’s fire,” he concluded.

DREADLOCKS FALLOUT

Odhiambo had started wearing dreadlocks in 2005 just as he moved to Moro United. It was to become his signature hairstyle to date. In 2008, however, he had to make a tough decision, cut his hair short or terminate his stay at Rwandan giants APR who he’d joined from Simba in 2008 before his eventual departure to Yanga.

“APR bosses had been watching me since my time at Moro when we beat them 3-1 in the Cecafa club semi-finals. In that match, I scored once and made two assists. Simba had agreed to sell me on and Major General Kabarebe of the Rwandan Army personally took charge of proceedings when I flew to Rwanda. I had hundreds of dollars as a token from the APR officials and I agreed to join,” he said.

“Things went well in the season and we finished third in the league and won the Peace Cup,” said Odhiambo. The versatile player then had an offer to go to Dubai with Al Sharjah but his time there was short-lived.

Upon his return to Rwanda, things had taken a different turn. The club bosses insisted that being an army side, everyone had to wear his hair short. “I called my agent about the situation. When APR signed me, they did so with this hairstyle. The sudden change of heart left me confused. I stood my ground and decided to leave,” Odhiambo remarked.

BACK TO KENYA

East or West home is best. Odhiambo took a sabbatical from the game in 2010 after five years out of the country. In 2011, he joined Gor Mahia under the tutelage of Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno with whom they won the FKF Cup. The following year, Cameroonian Anaba Awono took charge only to be replaced midway through the campaign by eccentric Croatian Zdravko Logarusic.

“Logarusic was a winner. He instilled discipline in the team and the result was there for everyone to see,” Dube nostalgically recalled.

That campaign would end in tears and recriminations as Gor lost the title to Tusker on the final day of the season, leaving the entire club disconsolate.

“We did everything to win the league but Thika United frustrated us. That and bad luck in some situations during the game cost us. Our fans were sad and I remember we were holed up at City Stadium until 9 pm at night as fans ran amok just outside the stadium. We were disappointed but Logarusic calmed us down. We knew if the squad stayed together, we would win the league the next season,” said Odhiambo.

Dube, meanwhile, got an opportunity at the end of the season to move to Oman. He got Sh6.5m in sign-on fees to move to Salaalah in Oman.

“I had a good time in Oman as former Harambee Stars international Jamal Mohammed was playing for nearby Al Nasr. Our German coach liked me but when he was replaced by an Egyptian, my fortunes changed and I returned to Kenya.”

Odhiambo was welcomed back at Gor Mahia by chairman Ambrose Rachier. Like his teammates, he owed the Green Army a debt he was determined to pay. Indeed the heartbreak of the 2012 season was forgotten in 2013 as Gor, under Bobby Williamson, cantered to the Kenya Premier League title—their first in 18 years.

“It was the greatest season of my career. We played the best football of our lives and made our fans happy,” he said.

That campaign proved to be Dube’s last with Kogalo. His attempted moves to South Africa with Maroka Swallows, Supersports and Witbanks all fell through, forcing him to return to Kenya and joined Thika United where he cultivated a profitable partnership with Michael Olunga.

“We had a terrific understanding with Olunga as he made it easy for us midfielders to create scoring chances with his runs. I knew he would go to the top if he remained dedicated,” said Odhiambo.

Further moves to KCB, Sofapaka, Ushuru and Nakumatt followed before he eventually joined his current side, Nairobi Stima who remain firmly in the race for promotion as they are fifth on the National Super League log.

NATIONAL DUTY

Odhiambo did not enjoy a consistent appearance in the national team but was still good enough to be selected in the KPL select side that travelled to England to play Hull City in the SportPesa Challenge Cup.

He attributes his longevity in the game to personal discipline. Though he is looking forward to a career in coaching, he is still unwilling to hang up his boots just yet. “My body is still okay and I can go on and on,” he concludes.