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THIS MAN TIMOTHY

Secret behind Tusker striker Otieno's success

Timothy says he owes coach George Owoko, who took him through Copa Coca-Cola and Aspire

In Summary

•In the 2019/2020 season, he was well on his way to clinching the ‘Golden Boot’ award but FKF  cancelled the KPL due to Covid-19.

•In 2019, he scooped the award for LG/Sports Journalists of Kenya Association (SJAK) player of the month for November, 

Timothy Otieno celebrates after scoring a goal in a past match
Timothy Otieno celebrates after scoring a goal in a past match
Image: COURTESY

He is arguably one of the best strikers the country can boast of at the moment.

His achievements on the pitch can only be rivalled by a few other local players and his track record in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) speaks volumes about his vast talent and untapped potential.

Indeed, the narrative of Tusker FC’s captain Timothy Otieno sounds like a contemporary classic from which an engrossing script can be weaved to generate yet another blockbuster.

Otieno is a decorated player and it doesn’t surprise then that he captains one of Kenya’s colossal ships in the country’s top tier football league. In 2019, he scooped the award for LG/Sports Journalists of Kenya Association (SJAK) player of the month for November, but this wasn’t the first time he was taking such a prize home.

He was adding his second feather in the same cap in a fete that saw him become the third player ever to bag the accolade more than once. He had previously scooped it when he was plying trade for Posta Rangers four years ago.

Otieno elbowed out his closest competitors to clinch the award after he found the back of the net a record five times in November.

In the 2019/2020 season, he was wrecking havoc on opponents and was well on his way to clinching the ‘Golden Boot’ award but following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) reached a decision to cancel the Kenyan Premier League before he could hit his target. He felt devastated.

Tusker's Timothy Otieno receives the LG-SJAK Player of the Month Award from LG's Maureen Kemunto
Tusker's Timothy Otieno receives the LG-SJAK Player of the Month Award from LG's Maureen Kemunto
Image: ERICK BARASA

“I felt so bad because I had a target to make which I couldn’t fulfill after a drastic decision was made to end the league. My target was 25 goals,” says Otieno. Timothy Otieno was born on June 27, 1994 in Usingo, Siaya County. He is the last born in a family of five children — two sisters and three brothers.

Otieno says he developed a keen interest in football at the age of eight at a time he was being assigned tasks by older boys to retrieve balls for them during the Alego Ragar and Obiero Tare tournaments in Siaya Stadium. It is during the same period that he and his age-mates started learning the game using balls made out of plastic bags and twine.

They formed a team called Black Santos which was guided by coach Ohanga, whom he says also supported him financially.

At Mbaga Mixed Primary School where he was a pupil, he was appointed games captain. His outstanding skills in sports saw him rise to the position when he was only in class six.

“Besides football, I also participated in athletics. I was good at the short distance races and the triple jump,” he says.

Participating in the sprints gave him an edge as a striker. He became fleet-footed and gave opponents a hard-time catching up with him during football matches.

Football was definitely his cup of tea. By the time he was in class six, Otieno was already battling it out on the national stage with boys much older than him.

Tusker's Timothy Otieno (R) and Eric Ambunya tries to stop Wazito's Joe Waithira (C) in a past match
Tusker's Timothy Otieno (R) and Eric Ambunya tries to stop Wazito's Joe Waithira (C) in a past match
Image: ERICK BARASA

“I started making it to the nationals right from the time I was in class six. A couple of us would be selected to join the select team. Sometimes they would pick me alone.”

Usually, games teachers form a select team by recruiting the top cream from schools located in their districts. Next, a county team is identified using the same procedure and the pattern goes on up-to the national level. Otieno made it to the nationals through such a process.

Otieno says he came to know some of the players currently plying their trade in the Kenyan Premier League during such events. Among the notable players he brushed shoulders with include former Gor Mahia custodian Frederick Onyango who is reportedly on his way to Wazito, Posta Rangers forward Denis Ongeri and former Kenyan international Emmanuel Tostao.

Others were AFC Leopards skipper Robinson Kamura, AFC Leopards-bound Kariobangi Sharks offensive midfielder Harrison Mwendwa and Bandari’s David Kingatua.

His success in football softened the hearts of his mum Dorotea Oriedi Opondo and father Barack Otieno Waganda who eventually began to give him unconditional support after they had initially indicated some reluctance to do so.

“After observing my successful path in football, my parents became enthusiastic about it. They encouraged me to work harder while also emphasising the need to focus on my studies,” says Otieno.

“I remember quite vividly my parents realising the benefits of football when I was selected to travel to Nairobi to participate in the Aspire Africa tournament at Moi Stadium, Kasarani.”

Otieno’s rise in football was phenomenal for a boy his age. In 2009, barely a year after appearing in the Aspire tournament, he featured in the Copa Coca-Cola championship and emerged top scorer during the provincial games held in Kisumu. An injury he sustained later kept him out of the national edition of the competition.

The following year, in 2010, Otieno was among the players selected by the Copa Coca-Cola organisers to travel to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup as ball boys. This was after he scooped the tournament’s top scorer’s award. “As a ball boy, I got to witness the match between Italy and New Zealand right from the sidelines of the pitch.”

He says he owes a lot to one particular man who guided him through his journey. “Coach George Owoko took me through Copa Coca-Cola and Aspire. Many thanks to him.”

He eventually sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams in 2010 and joined Ambira Boys. He didn’t quite stay there for long though given that Kenya’s high school football powerhouse Kakamega High School came looking for him.

“I was at Ambira High School for only a few months before Mr Kangaye (Kangudhes) and Mr. Mwinamo came and asked me to join Kakamega High School. The two coaches had seen me in action earlier during the Copa Coca-Cola national championships in Nairobi where I was the top scorer with 13 goals.”

Otieno was, however, unable to replicate his success story in high school. Their squad fell short of the usual glory associated with the Green Commandos when they stumbled out in the nationals after being bundled out by Nairobi representatives Upper Hill at the semifinal stage.

Meanwhile, he had joined the Nairobi-based JMJ Soccer Academy who identified and absorbed him during the Copa Coca-Cola tournament. He would pitch camp at the academy during school holidays to sharpen his skills in football.

]“I joined JMJ Academy when I was still in high school. They spotted me during the Copa Coca-Cola tournament in Nairobi.”

At JMJ, Otieno was equally impressive. He found the back of the net at least 50 times to write history as the highest goal scorer ever since the academy was established.

Out of all the goals he scored for the academy, he netted 27 while featuring for them in the National Super League matches played during school holidays. The academy had acquired a 50 per cent stake in the cash-strapped Congo Boys side which was finding it difficult to stay afloat in the league due to insurmountable financial constraints. They entered into a deal and in the process, a team was reconstituted to include some of the academy players who included Otieno.

So remarkable was his performance that the academy would later offer him an opportunity to travel to Belgium where he stayed for four months while trying out for KAA Gent .

After a while, JMJ loaned him to National Super League side FC Talanta. There too, he left a mark, scoring ten times to become the side’s top scorer of the season. Although he didn’t last there for long and left only after six months, none of the players he left behind surpassed his tally. “Talanta awarded me a trophy which I have kept up-to now.”

It should not be misunderstood that Otieno was in a hurry to dump Talanta. Had Gor Mahia not presented a deal at the negotiation table in 2014, Otieno could have preferred to remain at Talanta to take his goal tally some notches higher. However, Gor Mahia’s head coach Bobby Williamson came knocking on his door and Otieno inked a deal with the KPL champions in June 2014.

Joining Gor Mahia was a tough decision he had to make. Prior to his departure, his teammates at Talanta had scorned the move. They frantically sat him down and attempted to talk him out of the deal to no avail. They even warned him about the possibility of warming the bench continuously but Otieno dug in and took the challenge in his stride.

“When I was joining Gor, I was so much discouraged by my teammates. Gor had a lineup of star performers up front including Patrick Oboya, Kevin Omondi, Dan Sserenkuma and George Odhiambo ‘BlackBerry’ but I took the risk.”

He rose to the challenge and became an instant darling to the fans. He attributes his success at the club to the trust coach Williamson bestowed on him. He won three league titles with Gor in 2014, 2015 and 2017. They could have been four had he not been loaned to Posta Rangers in 2016.

At the expiry of his contract in 2018, he decamped to Ruaraka-based KPL side Tusker FC after coach Sam Timbe expressed interest in his services. Timbe was later fired and replaced with Robert Matano. It is during Matano’s reign that Otieno was handed the armband.

“I’ve been wearing the armband because our captain Peter Nzuki usually starts on the bench. It’s the coach who appointed me captain given that the captain is not in the first team.”   

He has received call-up to the national team on numerous occasions, having featured for the U-17, U-23 and the senior team.

His most memorable match was when he turned out for Gor Mahia during the Mashemeji Derby against AFC Leopards at Nyayo National Stadium in 2017, where he had a goal and two assists.

He would also wish to put behind him the horrific turn of events at Nyayo Stadium in 2015, when besides squandering several goal scoring opportunities, he failed to convert from the spot.

Who has he always found to be a tough opponent during matches?

“Joash Onyango; he has always been a very tough one defender since his days at Western Stima and even now that he was at Gor.  Joakins Atudo is equally a big challenge.”

His best international match?

“Against New Zealand in India last year during the semi finals. We were down by a solitary goal in the the first-half before Makwatta and I were introduced in second half and we influenced the outcome of the game. We won 2-1.”

Locally, he has always drawn inspiration from former Kenyan international center forward Denis Oliech who also featured for on the French sides Nantes and Auxerre. Oliech still keeps the record as Kenya national team’s all-time record goalscorer with 34 goals.

Internationally, he admires English Jammie Vardy, an English professional footballer who plays as a striker for Premier League club Leicester City and the England national team. Otieno concludes with the following piece of advice for budding footballers: “Football is a good paying job. If you take it seriously and work extra hard, it can change a lot in your life and that of your family.”  

TIMOTHY OTIENO'S BIO

Name: Timothy Otieno

Date of Birth: June 27, 1994

Nationality: Kenyan

2003-2010: Mbaga Mixed Primary School

2010: Copa Coca-Cola top scorer

2011-2012: Ambira high school

2012-2014: Kakamega high School

2011: JMJ Academy

2012: FC Talanta (National Super League)

2012-2013: JMJ Academy

2014-2015: Gor Mahia FC (Kenyan Premier League)

2016: Loaned to Posta Rangers (KPL)

2017: Gor Mahia

2018 to date: Tusker FC