Michael Olunga is the first Kenyan to play in the J.League

Records seem to follow Michael Olunga wherever he goes. During his short time at Girona in La Liga, he was not only the club’s first player to score a hat-trick in the division, but also the first Kenyan to do so.

Michael Olunga and J. League

The towering striker, fondly known as “The Engineer”, switched to Kashiwa Reysol in 2018 and helped them advance to the J1 League. He was the first Kenyan to play in Japan’s top division and score a goal. His time at Kashiwa was surprisingly successful, as evidenced by an eight-goal streak on November 24, 2019, in a 13-1 win over Kyoto Sanga.

“If anyone in Kenya hears about the J.League now, he or she will have me in mind,” Olunga told FIFA.com. “This is great because I also work a lot harder to get the J.League known in general on the African continent, which has a positive effect on the growth of football in Japan.”

Like the rest of the world, Olunga stays at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and tries to maintain a degree of normalcy while exercising alone. “When you are at home so often, you find that you can work in such an environment. You realize that if you can’t work on the field on the field, you can replace some of the hard work at home maybe it’s a good time to help us work on aspects of our game that we can’t perfect on the field. “

Olunga has scored a whopping 32 goals in just over 40 games at Reysol. What does he attribute this to?

“When I came to Japan in 2018, it was the middle of Kashiwa Reysol’s season and they weren’t performing so well,” he said. “I tried to fit into the team but I didn’t play that much and only scored three goals. It took me a little time to adjust, but in my second year the new coach (Nelsinho Baptista) and I came started in the preseason for the team.

“I write success back down to hard work and stay focused even if you think you’re losing everything. Ultimately, it’s about believing that you’re able to do great things. There are many great players in the world, but with confidence, which I think is the most important aspect of a player, if you have it, you will do wonders on the pitch. “

In the last game of Kashiwa’s 2019 season, Olunga scored an incredible eight goals. This is a record in the J2 League. More importantly, however, he moved the club back to the top league just a year after his relegation.

“I had returned from the national team and it was the last game of the season,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t expect to score eight goals in this game. My goal was to have a hat-trick because I was fourth in the goalscorer list with 19 goals. I knew I had to do something special because I had one Hat scored. ” -Trick is not some other thing that happens in soccer.

“I reached my goal in the first half and knew I had 45 minutes to try something that seemed impossible. I went out in the second half and gave him a good shot. I think it was his perfect way to end that. ” Season 2019 “

Olunga’s adaptation to Japan was supported by his willingness to interact with his teammates and coaches and to learn as much as possible about the culture. He also took Japanese food. His favorite dish is Unagi (Japanese freshwater eel). He speaks passionately about the level of Japanese football and fervently about Japan’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia ™, which almost eliminated Belgium.

And it is this competition that he is desperately trying to lead Kenya to. The Harambee Stars have never qualified for the world final. When qualification is resumed, Kenya will compete in Group E in Round 2, where they will face Mali, Uganda and Rwanda.

“Every single player dreams of participating in the World Cup,” said Olunga. “When you look at these teams, Uganda and Mali were at the 2019 African Nations Cup and they also reached the round of 16 while we were eliminated after the group stage. If you see it that way, we are.” one of the weaker teams in the group.

“But football is changing and everyone has the opportunity to play at home and away, so in a way you have the same advantages as your opponents. It’s about working hard and taking advantage of your home games.” Finding ways to get results, and sometimes you need a bit of luck. You cannot rely on luck. We will work hard and try to do it well. “

Olunga is also optimistic about the future development of Kenyan football.

“Kenyan football has really improved in recent years,” he said. “The last time (before 2019) that Kenya took part in the African Nations Cup was in 2004. It took us 15 years to get back to the continental showpiece. There was a big gap.

“There has been a change of leadership and now the new regime is trying to bring in new ideas and train coaches and bring in a new aspect of the game. I think they really changed Kenyan football, even though we still are.” not where we want to be by 2020. We can see positive growth. I think we have a great future. “

Olunga, who grew up and watched and admired Robin van Persie, celebrated his 26th birthday in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is very likely that he will take on this challenge as quickly as during his career. After a breathtaking season with Gor Mahia, he made the leap to Europe with Djugardens in Sweden, but as his time in Japan has shown, success didn’t come immediately.

Michael Olunga
Michael Olunga

“The first six months in Sweden were not that easy since I came to Sweden from Africa in winter with the temperatures and general culture shock – the pace of the game was quite high. There were many factors that favored me not working. This are situations where you, as a player, can find yourself. You try to adapt as soon as possible because it is a competition and the sport is limited – only 11 can play. The experience there made me stronger. “

This tough experience has shaped his approach to moving to Japan, and his hard work, flair for Japanese culture, and success on the pitch have made him a cult hero among Kashiwa Reysol believers.

“My vocals at Reysol are based on Boney M’s ‘Jambo-Hakuna Matata’, a famous Swahili song,” said Olunga. “Usually they sing it as a hymn for foreigners when they arrive in Kenya. They sing foreigners who tell them that Kenya is a peaceful country. Hakuna Matata means that there are no problems.

“When the fans made a song for me, they probably googled famous songs in Swahili and found it! I heard them sing a game and I liked it because it represents my culture. If I am sung in Swahili, I want to The team gives more because I feel the culture. That’s why I love singing. “

And while Olunga grinds every day during his personal training, he knows that one day he will be reunited with his supporters and they can sing together again.

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