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Michael Olunga: Concern Grows As Harambee Stars Captain Puts On Another Dismal Show
- Michael Olunga has come under intense pressure after a lacklustre performance against Russia
- The Harambee Stars captain has struggled in recent games and has squandered chances to score
- The 2026 World Cup qualifiers begin next month leaving coach Engin Firat with a riddle to solve
At one point in the game between Russia and Kenya on October 16, three minutes after the restart, Michael Olunga received a wonderful through-ball from Antony Akumu.
Anyone who has followed Olunga's career from his days at Liberty Academy to Tusker and Gor Mahia, before all those stints abroad, expected the Kenyan captain to find the back of the net.
Here was a striker who many would have in their top five lists of the best forwards that the country has ever produced. Top three even. Strikers are judged by their goal tally, and in all fairness, the CV of the 29-year-old precedes him.
But with only Ilya Pomazun in the Russian goal to beat, Olunga somehow dragged his shot wide before falling down to the turf, hands on his head, fully aware of what a great chance he had missed to widen Kenya's lead.
On any other day, the incident could have been forgotten quickly cause, after all - even the best miss. But there is a growing concern about the Al-Duhail man losing his form in front of goal whenever he puts on the national shirt.
Apart from the aforementioned chance, Olunga missed at least two other decent opportunities in another insipid performance. He had a similar outing as the national side fell to minnows South Sudan last month.
However, he had a brilliant outing against Qatar, running the defence rugged before setting up Amos Nondi for the late winner in Al Wakrah. He also scored the solitary goal in the 2-1 defeat to Iran in March.
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With the 2026 World Cup qualifiers fast approaching, Kenya's coach, Engin Firat will be desperate to have his top striker back in shape. The Turkish tactician has, in the past, promised to stick with his captain.
"Michael is one of the best players I have had in my coaching career and I am very happy to have him. He is so important to us as a leader. I am happy with his contribution to the team and how he helps the young players. He is a great leader for me and the team," he said per Capital News.
Is Firat's formation a problem for Olunga?
Firat has largely set up his team in a 4-4-2 formation since he took over the Kenya job. The 53-year-old prefers to line up with two out-and-out strikers, Olunga and Masoud Juma. Last month, he threw in a third striker from the word go, with Elvis 'Machapo' Rupia lining up with the two.
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Behind them, Kenneth Muguna often operates in a free role, complemented by the double pivot of Richard Odada and Antony Akumu. Muguna's set pieces have sometimes been suspect in some of the games, thus depriving the two strikers of a chance to put their gigantic frames to work.
Odada has arguably been the standout player of Firat's reign as Kenya's coach, with the defensive midfielder bossing proceedings on both ends of the pitch. Both forwards have had a good number of chances to score, thus eliminating doubt about the formation or 'no proper service' talk.
What fans think of Olunga
"Something is wrong with our Captain. Wasted chances against Russia."
"Michael Olunga is not good for the team, should be dropped fast, not the kind of leader you need in the team."
Time to try Benson Omalla?
The fact that Firat has continuously snubbed last season's top scorer, Benson Omalla has not gone down well with most fans. The Gor Mahia striker has similarly started this season in good shape but continues to miss out on national duty.
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While the 22-year-old has shown all the signs of becoming a top striker, it would be immature to immediately make him the country's lead. What Firat needs to do is incorporate him under Olunga's wing as the former Kashiwa Reysol man works on his form.
The chances have been there and a good striker never forgets how to score. However, Engineer needs to rediscover himself soon because missed chances against Gabon, Seychelles, Ivory Coast, Burundi, and Gambia in the World Cup qualifiers would be more costly than the ones he missed against Russia and South Sudan.
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.
He might not have hit the same levels in Europe's top five leagues as Victor Wanyama - but coming from Kenya and rising to the Qatari and Japanese leagues is a win in itself.
He was recently linked with a move to Everton but as Sports Brief previously explained, Olunga cannot seal a direct move to the Toffees or any other English Premier League side.