Kenyan legend Dennis Oliech sort of fell of the radar after his brief stint at Gor Mahia but Mozzart Sport managed to get hold of arguably the greatest football export from the country for a one on one interview.
The forward has enjoyed a glittering career that sees him hold the record of Kenya's all time top scorer with 34 goals and is one of only three Kenyans to have played in the UEFA Champions League alongside Victor Wanyama and McDonald Mariga.
We have not heard an official word from you with regards to your retirement, have you hang your boots or not?
At the moment I took a break because I had payment issues with Gor Mahia, but I usually have individual training at home.
On Sunday, I got a call from (Adel) Amrouche who asked he asked me if I’m still playing and I said yes. He told me he can get a club for me in South Africa and it is something I have been thinking about. I intend to resume full training soon - I think I still can play for a season or two.
You last played competitive football in early 2019 before fracturing your arm, how are your fitness levels now?
My fitness levels are not top-notch, but for footballers, it only takes one or two weeks and with road work, a perfect diet and good rest. Fitness is not bought you just have to train and if I train I know I will be okay.
You have had almost two years out of the game, how has life been outside the pitch?
Life has not been good because I still want to play football, if life was good, I would be working for the Federation especially on academies which is something I have a a passion for. I want to be in football, maybe still playing or helping the federation.
What projects are you currently working on, we have seen photos of you on social media attending some games around Dagoretti?
Last year a group of friends and I had a football tournament called Five Star in Dagoretti which was successful but we were unlucky to get a sponsor. Our local MP (John Kiarie) chipped in and at the moment we we are planning the second edition.
We have not seen a lot of football on our estates and the crowd we attracted was more than we anticipated - even more than Premier League games. I would just want to get a sponsor and hopefully this year in June we make it even bigger.
You have watched a number of Harambee Stars games and being part of the side that went to the Africa Cup of Nations back in 2004, how do you gauge the team?
To be honest this has been one of the best local teams ever assembled in Kenya. From what I saw it is a really good team and if they stick together and not be like us who after playing international matches went back to our clubs and that was it, they have to play more friendly matches.
That is what messed us, I remember after leaving AFCON we had Burkina Faso in our pool who we comfortably beat 3-0 but after that, they have become a powerhouse and qualify for almost every edition but our team died off after that.
Of all the players who played in the Egypt and Togo clashes, who were you most impressed with?
I have been out of football for sometime so I cannot tell the players by name but Eric Ouma played well. My agent contacted me and asked if I can get hold of him to go to France. I connected them and I am eager to see if the move will materialise.
There is also this new winger from Bandari (Abdalla Hassan) who scored, we talk on WhatsApp and I think he is a brilliant player, we have to see another friendly match as soon as possible and not wait for the World Cup qualifiers.
There has been a lot of comparisons between you and Michael Olunga about who is the best striker, what do you make of the argument?
Olunga is currently the best striker, before it was me. Unless we are put together to gauge who is the best. But to me, he is the best striker and I was the best of my generation.
Olunga has really helped us but we need more Olunga’s because his career will one day come to an end. This has to stop, you cannot easily tell who is the best striker in Nigeria because they are many.
????️ "Ukiniuliza nani mkali kati yangu mimi na Michael Olunga, jibu ni rahisi sana. Mimi nilikuwa mkali wakati wangu sikuwa na kufananishwa naye, ila kwa sasa Olunga ni mkali kwa sababu ni wakati wake."— Mozzart Bet Kenya (@mozzartbetkenya) April 12, 2021
G.O.A.T amezungumza. pic.twitter.com/1uywTP33V4
Having played for Harambee Stars for more than a decade, what is your most memorable moment in the National Team jersey?
My most memorable moment is not on the pitch but the unwavering support that we got from the fans because if it was about games my most memorable moment would be qualifying every edition of the AFCON.
What can Kenya do to consistently qualify for tournaments like AFCON?
The team we have now is the best local team so I think the only thing we can give them is more support especially from the Federation.
When you finally call time on your career, will you think of venturing into coaching?
I will not pursue a coaching career as I don't think I can do that here (locally). When I retire, I want to be involved in the federation to make sure things are run smoothly especially in the National teams. This is what most former footballers are doing.
Former players are very key if we are to improve the game and we have to find a way to ensure most of them are involved in the game. That is what happens in Europe and other developed countries.
Having spoken about being in management, do you one day see yourself running for Presidency at the Football Kenya Federation (FKF)?
I like to be in the shadow, I would rather be an assistant. The top position should maybe be for Musa Otieno, I can vie with Musa, in the next four years we have to do that.
What is your most memorable moment at club level?
For me it has to be playing in the Champions League because that is the highest level in football but I would have loved to play at least six seasons of Champions League.
Now that I did not achieve that dream, I want to inspire little kids to get to that stage because we are only three Kenyans who have played in the Champions League and if you compare that to Nigeria so I really want 10 Kenyans to play there.
You have rubbed shoulders with elite players in the Champions League who is the most memorable player you met?
Ronaldinho was the best because his technical abilities were second to none, I do not know what happened to his career but he was really talented.
I hope Ronaldinho apologized to Oliech when he came to Kenya ! Hii si poa ???? pic.twitter.com/BwUllYIjek— Alawi (@alawiabdul) May 21, 2019
I have seen your jersey in Luciano Speletti’s jersey collection, how did it arrive there?
To be honest, I do not remember how it got there, I don’t know if he bought it. I do not want to lie about it then he later comes out to say he does not know me.
Luciano Spalletti’s jersey collection is next level ???? pic.twitter.com/9maqqzYXwm— Dugout (@Dugout) May 28, 2019
How would you describe your football career?
I would say my career was a good one, I had my run. I am among the longest-serving National Team players. I am humbled that fans were behind me, I came from a footballing family, all six brothers played football but it was not the best. I would have loved to play in England but I did not make it, that is my regret but I now want to help other kids get to that level. If you can’t get there help other people get there.
Did you have interest from any clubs in England?
I got an invite to go to Sheffield, I can’t really remember if it was United or Wednesday when I was in France but I blundered. I needed a visa to go to England but instead came to Kenya to apply for a visa which was declined but after a couple of years, I went to the England embassy in Paris and I was given after a few hours, I was really mad!.
Speaking of regrets do you rue not taking the Ksh890 Million offer to change your citizenship from Kenyan to Qatari in 2004?
I would say I am 50-50 because right now if I’m offered that amount I will take it but its too late. The way I know Arab countries it was probably a wise decision then - you can have the money but will not enjoy peace. There are people in Kenya working there and they are not having an easy time, if it was a European country of course I would have changed my nationality.
Having played in Europe for a number of season, is there a big name player you are still in contact with and would love to embark on a number of projects with?
I will not lie that I have contacts with big players but the player who talks to me is Taribo West, he always tells me to open a church in Kenya. He says, “Dennis, you have to open a church in Kenya - I will come help you,” and I tell him okay, one day I will open a church in Kenya.
You had a short stint at Gor Mahia, what can you say about the club especially now that we are witnessing their decline?
Gor Mahia is a big club you can not say negative things about it what I can say is that Gor Mahia need better management. The other day I saw people saying it should be sold to a private investor and follow the model of Simba but Gor is a big club, their management is poor if they continue like that they will soon be average.
If they continue with this trend it might take five or six years to get to the top again. When I was there they sold like six top players and that is where they blundered.
That was a huge mistake and I hope they will rectify it soon.
There are young players aspiring to be the next Dennis Oliech, what is your advice to them?
My advice to them is don’t be like Oliech, be more than Oliech that is why I am saying we need more professional football academies in Kenya to nurture these kids.
Most of the academies now ask for high fees and that is why I am saying the Federation needs to set up these structures which will in turn, ideally feed the Under 14, Under 17 and Under 20 junior National teams. This will set us up for success.
We have seen a number of footballers struggling financially after their careers, what would you tell current footballers to avoid such situations?
I can’t really talk about finances because I’m not an expert in that but they should at least invest something. If you have some money start a business for your partner or wife, our players wait to make millions of money but that will never come. If you want to make millions go to Europe, here you will never make a lot of money. Not all will make it to Europe ofcourse so if you are here in Kenya, just invest with the little you have even if it means buying a motorbike, it will give your around Ksh500 daily which is not bad.
Towards the latter stages of your career we saw a decline in form, where do you think your career took a hit?
My career took a hit when I left Ajaccio for Dubai, that is when I left the European limelight. I wish I remained in France - even if it meant playing in the Second or Third division.
I would advise most of the players to go to Europe because it is the best footballing destination, you should only go to Asia when you are about to retire from the game.
Who is one coach you can credit for having a huge impact in your career?
You know I have passed through the hands of a number of coaches but I can never forget the one who gave me my first opportunity in football. We footballers cannot say the best coach because one of them will read about this interview and wonder why I did not select them.
Are you still in contact with some of your Harambee Stars teammates like McDonald Mariga and would you like to partner with them for a project?
We do not communicate with Mariga as much we meet once in a while. If I have something to work with him I can easily get him. For example the Federation plan I was telling you about, he has to be included. Former players like Titus Mulama and Jamal Mohamed have to be there.
We are just waiting for our time in the next three or four years, we will vie for the seats.
We have seen Mariga give politics a shot, is it something that you would one day consider?
It a tempting move because if Mariga won the seat he would be very key in pushing sporting agendas in parliament which is a good thing. If one day I become the Dagoretti MP, I will do the same. Only sports people know the value and I believe if we get more of them in decision making at the top things will change for the better.
I hope Mariga can vie in Western Kenya in future because that is his home area and he can easily get to parliament.
You had a number of properties in Nairobi but there are allegations you have sold most of them, do you have any regrets about selling them?
I have regrets, yes, but I was doing this to treat my mother and brother (Kevin). My mother’s hospital bill came to around KSh40 million and we had to pay around Ksh84 million for Kevin’s (Oliech) bill, you cannot hold on to an asset and your relatives are ill and need your help.
The problem was maybe we did not appeal to the public to help us cushion the financial burdens.
You invested a lot of money into your events promotion company Fishborne Entertainment back then when your football career was on the rise. Do you have any regrets?
I loved reggae music and I still do. I figured out I could turn out my passion into a business since I had access and connections to high profile reggae artistes and that is how Fishborne was founded. I paid a lot of money to bring artistes such as Richie Spice, Morgan Heritage amongst others to perform live in Kenya but the business never broke even due to lack of sponsors and good partners.
Back then reggae music was associated with the ghetto youth and criminals which was not good for business but right now reggae music is played in most entertainment joints daily. It has become really huge, not just in the ghettos like before. So yeah, it was a brilliant idea, but wrong timing. I wish I did that now. That said, we enjoyed the special moments.