Our Stories

Talent, Discipline and Hard work: An Interview With Arnold Origi

He is from one of Kenya’s greatest football families. His massive talent has catapulted him to the top of the country’s goalkeeper charts. The Lillestrom netminder continues to scale greater heights and he says, he just got started.

His name is common music to Kenyan ears, thanks to his unmatched talent and skill. He takes honours for being one of the nation’s most disciplined footballers, both on and off the pitch. While he continues to rise, he has not escaped controversy. On several occasions, he has been criticized for declining to play for his country. The last time he was in goal for Kenya, Harambee Stars conceded a late controversial goal, that led to chaos at the Nyayo National stadium.

While he is not pulling stunning save on the pitch, he is watching another of his family members, fast-rising cousin, Divock Origi whose name continues to hit headlines in England. Kenyanstar had an exclusive sit down with Arnold Origi and here is his story.

KS: Kindly tell us about your football journey from Kenya to Norway…

Well my journey started coincidentally in 1995 in Dandora while playing for Young Mighties in the Dandora MYSA Championships. I say coincidentally because I had been playing as a striker for our team then. We were waiting for our game to start and I decided to play in goal in a game called ‘royal rumble’. I guess that my agemates who were born in Eastlands know this game. I played well in goal and it happened to be the day that our goalkeeper wouldn’t show up for the game because he was grounded by his parents due to poor results during his end of term exams. My teammates seeing how well I did in goal in the royal rumble game forced me to play again in goal during our MYSA championship game.

I played well in the game and it happened that MYSA scouts looking out for players for the selection of the Mathare United U-12 Norway Cup team were there watching. I was later invited for the trials. All went well and I made the trip to Norway and that’s how it all started. Later on I played for Ngara youth Pelico in what was then called Division 1. I later joined Pumwani Sportive in the then Super 2 League. It was there that I was spotted by the then Mathare United coach Gabriel “kingi” Njoroge who was also my coach at the Norway cup team. He asked me to go and train with them. I obliged and again all went well and I signed my first professional contract in 2001.

However, competition was stiff as the goalkeepers ahead of me were Duncan Ochieng, Enos Karani and Alex Mwangi. There was little chance for me to play and so in 2002 I was sent to play for the Mathare Youth side in the second division. I played there for a season and did very well and my performances earned me a call up to the national U-23 side and also got me back to the mathare senior team this time with Francis Kimanzi as the head coach in 2003.

I became the second choice keeper, an understudy to Duncan Ochieng. I would make my debut against Gor Mahia at the City Stadium. Everything went well and from there on I became the first choice keeper.

The good run continued and this earned me my first senior national team call up under Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee. Unfortunately, I would later be dropped after Ghost was fired and Twahir Muhidin hired. Muhiddin didn’t do so well and after a poor result in Morocco, he got fired too and Mohammed Kheri was appointed the new coach. Kheri recalled me and went on to give me my first international cap in a friendly at Kasarani in 2005, against Ghana.

The Ghana match went well and it was from there that my run as the number one goalie for the national team, something which has given me so much, started. My good run in the national team and Mathare United earned me a 2-month stint in Sweden with Bodens Bk, in the Swedish Nationwide League, before coming back to Kenya where I played for Tusker for a year in the 2006 season. I later joined Moss FK in the Norwegian nationwide league in 2007 and I played there for 5 years before moving to another Nationwide league Ull Kisa. I stayed in Kisa for a year before joining Lillestrom in 2013 where I am playing to date.

KS: You are probably the number 1 goalkeeper in Kenya. What is it that has kept you there for this long?

(Laughs) I am not the number one at the moment because in the past few games I haven’t been called up. But I thank God that I had quite a long and consistent run as the number one. What kept me there was plain and simple hard work. I knew and was aware of the responsibility that one has as a national team player and I also had an ambition that I was going to set a standard or rather the bar if you like as high as possible. The only way I could do that is through hard work. Sometimes the goalkeeping coaches who were there when I was there thought that I was crazy. At times it was difficult for them to keep up because almost at all times especially when we had our camps at Kasarani or somewhere where transport wasn’t an issue, we were the first to go to the pitch and the last to leave.

I however, have to say that Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Kheri – the coach who gave me my debut- inspired me as well. Mahmoud Abbas achieved a lot with the national team and he rightfully got the title ‘Kenya One.’ I wanted the same title and this kept me going and working. I would have loved to play with the national team at major tournaments – The Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup- not once, not twice but consistently and win at least one Continental Cup. As it stands today, Mahmoud Abbas remains the one and only Kenya one. As for Mohammed Kheri, after the Ghana game I remember him speaking to the press and when he was asked what he thought of me and my performance in that game, he said, “Kenya has found a goalkeeper for the next 20 years. This really inspired me and I can also say his(Kheri) words are what kept me going with the national team. I wanted to see this prediction come true

KS: Tactically, what does it take to be a great goalkeeper?

To be a top goalkeeper you need to understand the game. You need to think as an outfield player. Top keepers do not stay in goal but they play in goal and the only way you can play in goal is by understanding the game. This will help you read the game better which will eventually help you make good decisions in positioning yourself; knowing for example when to come out of goal in case of a long ball behind the defense or a cross. In return, this will minimize your mistakes. A top goalkeeper is the one who commits the least mistakes in the course of the season.

KS: You suffered a nasty injury in 2008 against Zimbabwe. Dennis Oliech -Kenya’s top striker then- came in to replace you. Kindly take us through this moment.

Yeah, the injury in 2008. This injury has a huge impact in my career. It somewhat halted my progress because I was at my peak for both the national team and my club Moss. Besides that though, the injury also made me stronger as person and an athlete.

I was just on the back of a very good season in 2007 with my club Moss and was looking forward to building on it in 2008, and top clubs in Norway were already showing interest. My performances with the national especially in the build up towards that match were also putting in a good case for me in my quest to make a step to another level in my career. The injury did not happen in that game but it’s something that had been building up for a long period.

It all started in the winter while training with Moss in the preseason. I developed a stress fracture on my knee cap something which at the time I suffered the injury wasn’t serious and 3 weeks with easy alternative training in the gym would have been okay. I was however, young some would say and stupid, but I rather choose to say ambitious. I wanted to go to the top and nothing would stop me, not even the small pain on the knee. The fracture developed and I remember the day before the game in training the pain was almost unbearable and I was limping heavily. The assistant coach then Yusuf Chippo saw that I was limping and came to me and asked if I was fine because I looked like I was in a lot of pain.

I confirmed to him that I had some pain in my knee but it was nothing to worry about. I promised to play. We had beaten Guinea two weeks before and a win against Zimbabwe at home would send us top of the table with 6 points. I remember the vibe was good both in camp and outside the camp. The whole country was buzzing and there was an air of expectation. I wanted to be part of this great moment that was about to happen so I wasn’t throwing in the towel.

The game itself was amazing. We were good and I remember Mariga opening the score and Nyayo almost collapsed. The atmosphere was electric with ‘spider man’ up in the floodlights doing his thing. I also remember Dennis Oliech running rings around the Zimbabwe defense and we had a good connection in that game. We had worked on counter attacks the day before the game where he made runs behind the defense and I tried to find him with a deep drop kick behind the defense. It was working very well especially in the second half and he was having the game of his life. He scored the second goal half way into the second half and the atmosphere at Nyayo stadium was out of this world. The crowd started chanting his name together with that of Raila Odinga and Barack Obama. ‘Oliech Odinga Obama’ were the chants. Zimbabwe started pushing for an equalizer and started to press us really hard and it is during this period that I produced three good saves and all over sudden I was in the chant. ‘Oliech Odinga, Origi, Obama.’

I was feeling good and unstoppable. I wanted Zimbabwe to shoot because I felt I could stop anything they threw my way even if we played the whole day. Then came the moment. I think we had 3 to 5 minutes remaining. A simple corner kick was floated and I thought I would calmly go out for it and lie down to run the the clock down a bit.

Unfortunately my studs got stuck in the grass and I slightly twisted my knee and there it was- a career and life changing injury happened. I remember looking at my knee and not liking what I saw. I immediately knew something was wrong. I remember Dennis Oliech asking for my gloves. I was worried because I couldn’t imagine Dennis playing in goal. We had already made all our substitutions which meant we were to play with ten men. Things didn’t look good, but luckily the only thing he (Dennis Oliech) had to do on his debut as the goalkeeper for the national team was take a goal kick. (Laughs heartily)

On a couple of occasions you have sent into Kenya different sporting gear to mostly young goalkeepers. Why do you do this, and why is it important for a footballer to give back?

KS: On a couple of occasions you have sent into Kenya different sporting gear to mostly young goalkeepers. Why do you do this, and why is it important for a footballer to give back?

Yeah I do this because first of all my dream is that Kenya becomes one of the top if not the top goalkeeper producing country in Africa. My dream also is to have a generation of goalkeepers in the national team where all of them are plying their trade in Europe. I believe if I get the time to train with a few kids this can be achieved. As a result of the time I have spent playing in Europe, I am convinced that I know what it takes for a goalkeeper to play in Europe. However, this needs time and at the moment I do not have that apart from a few weeks or days when I am on holiday back at home or with the national team which is not enough.

So the only thing I can do for now is to encourage them and this is what’s my intention with these equipment. Besides that, for a long time goalkeepers haven’t had someone who they could look to and come to whenever they needed playing equipment. Outfield players have had so many outfield players; Mariga, Oliech, Robert Mambo, Victor Wanyama, Ayub Masika, Johanna Omolo and many others. For goalkeepers I feel it is my responsibility to take care of them. I might not be able to help all of them but the two or three I can help, I will do so wholly because I know how much it means to them and the boost it can give to their young growing careers. It’s Important for a footballer to give back whenever they can because these young kids really look up to us. We are their role models and giving them something is a symbol that you have recognized their talent and you think they are good enough, otherwise you wouldn’t have given them the football shoes or gloves. The kids know this as well and I am 100% sure that this acts as a massive encouragement to them.

KS: You have had several run-ins with the previous administration, including Sam Nyamweya and Robert Asembo. They accused you of sabotage. How do you describe your relationship with Sam’s regime?

I wouldn’t really want to start any confrontation with Mr. Nyamweya in the press. His tenure as the president of the Kenya FA is over and I know he is a proud father and grandfather. I think I saw somewhere in the social media that he was enjoying life and especially as a grandfather. I saw his picture with his grandchild and he looked really happy. So I choose to respect that and not start any confrontation with him in the media.

KS:There is a new regime. In your opinion – Have things changed?

I honestly really don’t know how things are or how they are doing because I haven’t been in Kenyan football long enough after they took office to make any sober judgement on what they have done. I was there early when they took office during the Guinea-Bissau game and I can honestly say that there was a huge change then as far as the organization around the national team was concerned. I don’t know if that standard is still the same today because I haven’t been in the team after that. If it is still as good, then well done but as I said before I haven’t been around long enough in their tenure to make any sober judgment.

KS: You previously have declined to come play for Harambee Stars due to a couple of reasons. Why was it so?

(Laughs) I think it’s quite funny and interesting that it has always been stated that I declined or dishonored the call ups. Well, just to make it clear there is no single time I have ever declined or dishonored a callup to come play for the national team. The number of times that I never showed up for games was simply because the release letters asking for me to be released came very late. I have been a very important member of the teams that I played for here and the clubs that I played for or even play for now weren’t so keen on letting me go because of fear that I might come back injured. I also have to say that the respect the clubs over here have for our country as a football nation isn’t that big. So anything that would give or would have given them any reason to deny me legally a chance over and play for the national team they would have used it and used it brutally. I could have created problems and forced my way to come and play for the national team, but as footballer player you also have to be professional and respect your employer. The number of times that the letters came on time there wasn’t any problem and I always came and did my duty to the best of my ability.

KS: In 2016, after Guinea-Bissau scored a controversial goal late into the match at Nyayo, you confronted the match officials in a not-so friendly manner, in protestation of the goal. Violence erupted. Robert Asembo later said that you should bear the blame for the violence.What do you say about your actions in that match. Do you feel guilty?

No, I do not feel guilty even for a second. Football is a game full of emotions and allover the world we always see referees decisions being aggressively protested by players when they think it’s a wrong decision and they do not agree with it. You don’t see supporters creating havoc and disrupting the match. They (players) contest decisions, get booked like I did if the referee thinks that the protests are too much and unwarranted and the match goes on. You do not see what happened in Nyayo happening. It was an important match for us and up to date I am still convinced that the ball didn’t cross the line. I protested and got booked but to be honest I don’t think that was the reason for the violence.

KS: We haven’t seen you part of the national team recently? Have you quit international football?

The sole reason why I haven’t been in the national team is because I haven’t been selected. However, I don’t complain or mind because I see the man manning the posts at the moment is a very good goalie. I am a huge fan and good friend of Boniface Oluoch. I think he is a top goalie and has been doing well in the games that he has been playing for the national team and fully deserves his position as the number one goalie for Kenya. I would have been disappointed if the person playing in goal currently wasn’t good enough.

KS: Last year, you had a training ground bust up with Basel Zakari and you were suspended. How was it so yet you are known to be quote disciplined?

Whatever happened between Basel and I is something that happens in almost every training pitch in the whole world. In my opinion i think it’s only positive. As long as the players don’t end up hurting each other and they can leave whatever happened on the training pitch, shake hands and move on then as a coach I would be happy because it just shows that I have players that care and that I can easily trust them to do the job that I want them to do. Basel is a winner and I am a winner. We had a different opinion on how things should be done or need to be done. We shook hands after training and up to now even though he has left Lillestrom we respect each other and are friends.

KS: A number of former Harambee Stars players have accused ‘Kenyan internationals’ of ‘not reporting and speaking out’ when bad things like alcoholism and sex were occurring in the national team camps. Do you feel you are a victim of these claims?

I personally have never seen any issues of alcoholism or sex while in camp in a way that was abnormal. I have seen players enjoying themselves after we have played games mostly away but why should I get involved or why should anybody get involved in a person’s business when he came and did his job. I don’t think anyone has the right to get involved or meddle in a grown man’s business after he’s done his job. I have never seen these cases before the game. I heard about the same before the game against Zambia which I must admit was very unfortunate and disappointing but I never saw it.

KS: You have reportedly had offers from Monaco. Is this true? Also have you received an offers from elsewhere?

(Laughs) Do not believe everything you read in the press.

I however, still believe that I have 7 or 8 years left in my career. I see Buffon playing at the very highest level at the age of 39 and he is still going strong and doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon. Mark Schwarzer played in Champions League for Chelsea and the Premier League for Leicester at the age of 39. El Hadary the legendary Egyptian goalie just recently played the Africa Cup of Nations past his 40s. So I still believe I have a number of years. It’s just a matter of taking good care of yourself and your body and living a disciplined life.

KS: Liverpool Echo quoted you saying, “Divock has everything you need to be a top striker. He can be the best. The only hindrance to him becoming the best is in himself..” What is your opinion so far on Divock playing at the top level?

I said that about Divock and not because he is from my family but because I really mean it and he has shown that quite a number of times. For instance at the World Cup. He went and showed quality at the very highest level in football. Then he went to Liverpool and before his ankle injury in the game against Everton, he was really putting in some top performances game after game. You cannot fluke top performances at that level game after game. You really must be quality to perform at that level. He had a dip in form recently but this is normal with a player of his age. It comes a point where you need or have to find yourself and identity yourself as to what kind of player you want to be or are. It’s part of development process that a young player has to go through. He is giving Liverpool a different kind of dimension in their play, which I think will help them solve the problem that they have when facing the so called “smaller teams”. He is the kind of striker who will make tireless runs behind defenders, something which is a nightmare to many defenders and even though he might not get the ball he creates room in dangerous positions for the creative Liverpool midfielders like Coutinho, Mane and Lallana. This is what this players need and have been lacking whenever playing against the smaller teams who look to stay compact and deny these the players the space. Plus he’s had 3 assists in the last three games that he’s played. He is working hard, he is humble and it’s only a matter of time before he starts finding the back of the net again.

KS: How does it feel being part of a great football family? Any pressure?

(Laughs heartily) No. No pressure at all. If anything it helps you stay focused and grounded. If you have a father that has captained both his club and the national team, and has the title as the only captain to ever lift a continental trophy in the country and then an uncle that was the first Kenyan to play professional football in Europe and the first Kenyan to play Continental football in Europe, you have no choice but to be humble. What else can you bring to the table as achievements on the football pitch that these guys haven’t achieved? No you just have to stay humble and keep on working and hope that you can be able to achieve something that’s worth mentioning at the family dinner table. So no I have no pressure. Just thanking God that He has blessed me with people who have laid a difficult challenging path that I have to follow and try and maintain.

KS: Thanks for your time Arnold. All the best ahead! Courtesy of Kenyanstar.co.ke