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Stop and breathe Dennis

Different people react to becoming a celebrity in different ways. There is no handbook that prepares anyone to become famous or popular for that matter but a lot of how you handle yourself depends on your individual character; although a lot of people change that character when they become famous or rich.

I wouldn’t call former Harambee Stars Captain and Ajaccio striker Dennis Oliech a friend but I do know him. I have his phone number, which I have used on rare occasions and, when we meet at the stadium, we greet each other. I can say I know him because I have followed his career to the letter.

In fact, what I do know about Dennis is that he hasn’t had an easy life. He was discovered as a gem in the rough way back when he was in high school. He didn’t have many role models in terms of Kenyans playing for big clubs in Europe to emulate but his talent saw him reach heights that aspiring footballers in Kenya only dream of.

It was, however, only natural in my eyes when it soon became clear that Dennis didn’t really know how to handle fame and the piles of cash that came with it. It’s not unusual. I see it in the media industry, among famous musicians and actors in Kenya. They suddenly make it big, get fans, the money follows and you crash bang into an identity crisis.

You become mean when you weren’t, you want special treatment wherever you go and for some reason you forget what got you on top in the first place – hard work and discipline.

Dennis has been on top of his game, in Kenyan terms, for a very long time – almost a decade. I still remember his mother being offered 200 million Kenya shillings (about $2.3 million US) way back in 2004 just to get Dennis to sell his Kenyan citizenship to Qatar. I know many people who wouldn’t have given such an offer a second thought but his mother said a flat “no”. Some people ridiculed her but, personally, I have never felt so proud of the Oliech family.

The family refused to sell their souls as many Kenyan athletes have done over the years and it was only befitting that the rewards followed.

A move to France and the rest is history. Around the world Oliech may not be a household name but in terms of football in Kenya and his earnings compared to other Kenyan footballers, I still believe that he has been our greatest export.

Yes Victor Wanyama is breaking through and I’m proud of him too because at this rate he will surpass any heights crossed before by a Kenyan footballer but Dennis has been shining in Europe for a while.

Dennis fought for players’ rights when the federation wouldn’t pay them and he has, on several occasions, spoken out against the mistreatment of players.

Dennis has scored goals for Kenya and, for the most part, been a great captain to the side.

We have a lot to be thankful to Dennis Oliech for because he has done well for Kenya.

However, why do we as fans never demand more where there is still potential?

Talk of Dennis not sleeping in camp with the rest of the squad didn’t start under Adel Amrouche. It’s something that our football coaches and managers over the years have allowed to happen so he does it with impunity. He refuses to ride in the bus with the squad and he is accorded special treatment in instances where he should be setting an example to the rest.

I am disappointed that, unlike goalkeeper Arnold Origi, who was also suspended for the Nigeria game, Oliech didn’t see why he should train and camp with the side ahead of that crucial match last week. They were also training for Malawi where Dennis should have been in the starting line-up but the Captain then didn’t see why he should bog himself down sleeping at Kasarani when he could be enjoying himself on the Nairobi social scene.

Then he got upset when Amrouche insisted and complained that he wasn’t being respected by the new coach. Respect is earned and it’s two ways dear Dennis.

Victor Wanyama stepped forward to reliably captain Kenya against Nigeria and, after Dennis’ behavior, I don’t blame Amrouche for giving Wanyama the captain’s armband permanently. Wanyama has stepped up despite his growing celebrity status, to remain committed and humble towards the national team.

I have seen comments on this Dennis issue on social media and I know many Kenyans are split down the middle on whether Dennis should be left to do what he wants because he has done so much for the country already or whether, as it stands now, the captains armband should remain with Wanyama because Dennis has been setting a poor example for his teammates.

Believe it or not, I have been one of Dennis’ biggest fans. Talent like his doesn’t come around every day and I respect his achievements.

He needs to know that, with success, money and fame, comes a responsibility so great that sometimes you cannot enjoy life as you would want to. It’s the cost of your success.

You can no longer just live life as if no-one is watching because we are. So many young footballers want to grow up to achieve half of what you have achieved, so please allow them to meet the Dennis we once knew; the Dennis who worked hard, was disciplined and focused; the Dennis who told the Qataris where to put their money because he was so proud to be Kenyan.

As much as I support Amrouche’s wish to rebuild the national team, I would really love that new-look national team to have Dennis Oliech in it.

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