The 2010s ends on Tuesday and so the perfect time to look back at players who have shone in Harambee Stars colours over the decade and made the most impact as we create a fantasy national team.
To select the team, we based on a combination of performance, players’ ability, longevity as well as the opinions of coaches and fellow Citizen Digital sports journalists.
This decade has witnessed some truly gifted attackers and as a result, we have opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation to accommodate as much forward power as possible.
Not every player was available for the full decade and there have been some tough calls (sorry, Eric Johanna, Jamal Mohamed, Patrick Oboya), but we’ve whittled the list down to the cream of the crop.
Harambee Stars Team of the Decade: Arnold Origi (GK), David Owino, Eric Ouma, Edgar Ochieng, Brian Mandela, Victor Wanyama, Titus Mulama, McDonald Mariga, Michael Olunga, John Baraza, Dennis Oliech (C).
Arnald Otieno Origi
Since the exit of Francis Onyiso from the national team, no other goalkeeper has stood out as the irreplaceable No. 1 as much as Origi. Even when his teammates had a day off, the shotstopper had the ability to take matters into his own hands, literally.
Ugandans know this better, and marked out Origi as their barrier to their African Cup of Nations journey in 2010 when he did everything at the Namboole National Stadium to force a barren draw. With Uganda needing at least a win, Origi simply stepped up and said No!
Over six feet in height, incredible reactions, good reader of the game and cool in ball distribution, Origi would have probably remained Stars’ No. one till now had he not opted to settle in Norway.
Brian ‘Niang’ Mandela
When former Harambee Stars head coach Sebastien Migne lost him through injury just before the 2019 AFCON, the man responsible for leading Kenya back to the continental showpiece for the first time in 15 years admitted his plan for the tournament had been dealt a big blow.
So central in Migne’s plans was Mandela that after Stars crashed out in the group stages, the Frenchman admitted that his defensive formation had almost been impossible to execute without the Maritzburg United centre half.
He is simple in his job, but very sure on when to do what. Poignantly, he is a master of coordination on the backline that any goalkeeper would want in front of him. His physical endowments also give him a big advantage as a centre-back.
Edgar ‘Fighter’ Ochieng
His career entered its sunset early into the decade, but still remains one of the best the past 10 years have yielded in his position.
As his nickname suggests, Ochieng was a real fighter, the former Mathare United man had the body and strength you need to shield opponents for the ball when need be.
Quick in judgement and comfortable with aerial balls, Ochieng was reliable in thwarting opponents swiftly in his days. A true leader at the back.
Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma
A modern-day full back; speed, agility, a touch of attacking instinct and one of the best crossers of the ball. He can play deeper into the opposition as a wingback thanks to his willingness to run and run.
At 23, the diminutive left back already has 28 caps under his belt and recently signed for Swedish giants AIK. While injuries have meant the player has missed a number of games for the national, there’s no doubting his ability.
David ‘Calabar’ Owino
When he used to feature in the specific role in his days at Gor Mahia FC, Owino was transacting the right-back business superbly. This being a position Kenya has not been so lucky to produce notable competition in the recent past, Owino can be remembered to have handled the role with much conviction compared with his peers.
He has been unlucky though in the national team since moving to Zambia’s Zesco United with roles changing. He looked timid in his last outing for Kenya during the 2018 African Cup of Nations, but there are enough reasons to accord Owino his deserved repect, the man given his nickname Calabar from his heroics as Harambee Stars held Nigeria at home.
The current Harambee Stars captain thrives more in a defensive role from the midfield. He has however been sometimes made to work as an offensive midfielder, but his history even at his current English giants Tottenham Hotspur clearly puts him as an ideal number six.
His skill to dispossess and kill moves from the midfield is top. His tackles are hard and will call for a tough opponent to bear them throughout 90 minutes.
He can hold the ball to calm the pace when his team is on the receiving end, and notably hardworking. If called to do spot kicks, Wanyama rarely disappoints. His leadership in the team since he was given the armband has been nothing but enviable.
During the 2018 AFCON, it took Wanyama’s bravery to point out to Migne something was not working in his approach against Tanzania during the break.
Insisting Kenya could not lose to Tanzania even to his peers strongly to the amazement of Migne was something his teammates will remember him for. Eventually Kenya came from behind to win 3-2.
And, he can win big games for you. Barcelona know him well, Liverpool too knows he can strike when you least expect.
Of all the coaches who handled Mulama, they attest he had a natural gift to get the best from the strikers. He is not the man you would expect to score goals for you every now and then as a right winger, but assist almost every game.
In his own words, Twahir Muhidin, former Harambee Stars coach, said Mulama had reaped the best from the academy football and new how to make strikers play. Another coach who handled him, Jacob Mulee said he was sharp in his passing and knew how to make goals for Dennis Oliech particularly.
Mulee recalls his brilliance in setting up Oliech for the goal against Cape Verde that took Kenya to the 2004 AFCON, a goal that Mulama himself said he was sure he Oliech would score upon his introduction in the game.
Importantly, the coaches also say Mulama was admirably disciplined in his club and national team duties.
In a set up of three-prong attackers ahead, Mulama would be ideal in Kenya’s XI of 2010-2020 as a winger who helps fellow midfielders do their job with a leaner number without trouble.
The only East African to ever win a Champions League gold, Mariga was a gem in Kenya’s midfield in his days. He was not a man of moving back with the ball. He knew how to bulldoze to the front or how to softly get there. His shooting power was what coaches want.
When your frint men are really tied down, Mariga know how to get goals. He could also play as a dependable 10 in case rotation was needed.
When Angola played Kenya at the Nyayo National Stadium in an African Cup of Nations qualifier, Mariga’s goal that won the match emphasises how important he was in the midfield set up. Not forgetting his stature, his presence in the field was noticeable before he kicked the ball.
If there is a striker whose positioning, execution and urgency of striking even from a half chance are super in the Stars set-up at least for the last past 10 years, then that is Olunga.
The Engineer can smell a goal before it really happens, that’s why he scores even in quite difficult metches. He has a powerful shot, his work rate is high, his height favourable for aerial balls contention although he prefers his legs to strike and his hunger for goals is amazing.
Mentally, he carries the team’s burden with passion and undoubtedly high sense of patriotism. No wonder, his prolificacy in front of goal both for Kenya and clubs he has featured for, from his time at Gor Mahia to the current Kashiwa Reysol speaks for him.
He may not have played much for the national team past 2010, but if he was lined up with Oliech and Olunga, that would have been probably the most potent attack of the recent past.
The Sofapaka coach was a classic scorer and a feeder of fellow attackers. Humble on and off the pitch, he knew how to somehow stay silent on the pitch and make himself noticed when scoring goals.
Baraza was a good finisher, even on the chances that were not as promising. As Muhidin recalls, Oliech had found the best partner in him, in Harambee Stars attack in their hey days.
Even when his age was at an advanced stage in the football arena, he would easily outdo younger players contesting for the same slot. It explains why he won the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Golden Boot four times, despite playing outside the country for a considerable period.
Dennis Oguta Oliech
No doubt in him, Kenya found a rare talent that made him, and it has been difficult to replace him in the national team.
Kenya’s all time top scorer to date, Oliech had unique power on the ball, shooting accuracy and impeccable positioning as s striker.
Once he got a through ball with a space of a yard from the opponent, it wa 80 percent a goal.
His speed was amazing, explaining why coaches would throw him to the flank sometimes and still get the best out him. Attacking from the middle, he would overwork the opponents as he was fond of always moving forward no matter the opposition. Retreating was not his thing.
It is sad he stopped playing for Stars when he was supposed to be at his peak, before he could get a proper man to hand his boots.