Five Kenyans Who Have Played in Europe’s Top Leagues After Joseph Okumu Joins French Club

Five Kenyans Who Have Played in Europe’s Top Leagues After Joseph Okumu Joins French Club

Martin Moses
updated at September 7, 2023 at 5:54 PM
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V. Wanyama
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M. Olunga
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  • Joseph Okumu has become the latest Kenyan to move to a top European League
  • The defender left KAA Gent in Belgium and joined Stade Reims in France
  • Victor Wanyama and McDonald Mariga are among the most successful Kenyan footballers

Joseph Okumu's trajectory is the type of story that would inspire any Kenyan boy or girl looking to make it to the highest levels of football. From Chemelil Sugar to the United States to the Swedish and Belgian leagues, the former national U-23 captain is an embodiment of dedication and hoping that someone somewhere is watching.

After impressing with KAA Gent in Belgium, Reims came knocking, with the 24-year-old sealing a five-year move to the French club, becoming only the fifth Kenyan to feature in the top five European leagues.

Joseph Okumu, Dennis Oliech, Victor Wanyama, McDonald Mariga, Michael Olunga
Joseph Okumu has joined Ligue 1 side Stade Reims. Credit, @StadeDeReims.
Source: Twitter

The English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A leagues have always been touted as the best leagues in Europe, with Portugal's Primeira Liga also coming through the ropes rapidly.

Sports Brief takes a look at the other Kenyans to have played in these leagues as Okumu settles into his new surroundings.

1. Victor Wanyama

Wanyama remains the only Kenyan to have played in the English Premier League, which is often considered the most intriguing and competitive league in Europe.

Wanyama sealed a move to Southampton from Scottish giants Celtic in 2013 before moving a ladder higher to join Tottenham Hotspur in 2016. His greatest achievement was reaching the Champions League final with Spurs in 2019 and that cracker of a goal he scored against Liverpool.

2. McDonald Mariga

Mariga is Wanyama's elder brother, with the midfielder coming close to joining Manchester City in 2010, only for him to fail to get a work permit. He had earlier already featured for Parma after joining them in 2007.

In 2010, he sealed a move to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan and became part of the all-conquering side that won the treble, including the UEFA Champions League. He later moved on to Real Sociedad in Spain for a short-term loan.

3. Dennis Oliech

Depending on who you ask, 'The Menace' Oliech is the greatest striker the country has ever produced. His exploits for the national team in the 2004 AFCON qualification and in the tournament remain embedded in the minds of many.

He first joined French club Nantes in 2006 before moving to Auxerre and Ajaccio in the same league.

4. Michael Olunga

Olunga is definitely the most successful Kenyan player of the current crop of footballers in the national team set-up. The Harambee Stars' captain currently plies his trade for Qatari's Al Duhail after stints in Sweden, China and Japan.

His greatest highlight came when he joined Spanish top-flight club Girona in 2017. He had limited appearances in La Liga, but he did score a memorable hat-trick for the club.

Johnstone Omurwa recently moved to Estrela, a top-flight Portuguese top-flight club and could as well make the list. The defender is set to rub shoulders with other royalties like Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon.

The list doesn't include players who played in the countries mentioned above but in the lower level leagues like Ayub Timbe and Clarke Oduor, who have played in the Championship, or Ismael Gonzalez, who played in Spain's second division.

Why Olunga can't join Everton directly

Not many local players have had the chance to play abroad in the lucrative leagues, but Olunga ticked this off his bucket list with stints in Sweden, Spain, Japan, and Qatar.

Olunga might not have hit the same levels of playing in Europe's top five leagues as Victor Wanyama, McDonald Mariga, or Dennis Oliech - but coming from Kenya and rising to the top of the Qatari and Japanese leagues is a win in itself.

He was recently linked with a move to Everton, who survived relegation by a whisker last season, but as Sports Brief previously explained, the Harambee Stars captain cannot seal a direct move to the Toffees or any other Premier League side.

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Martin Moses
Martin Moses is a sports journalist with over five years of experience in media. He graduated from Multimedia University of Kenya (Bachelor of Journalism, 2017-2021)