🇰🇪 Eric Ouma: From the dungeons of Kibra slums to conquering Mohammed Salah

🇰🇪 Eric Ouma: From the dungeons of Kibra slums to conquering Mohammed Salah

You have to go back to August 2013 when the Western Stima U19 side won the Kenyan Premier League U19 Champions in Ruaraka to trace some of the best talents that the country ever produced.

The Hesbon Nyabinge were a formidable side with most of his players having represented the Kenya U20 team in tournaments with the young Tusker team, led by Anthony Mwangi, having the current Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga. While Stima ran 4-0 winners in the day, it was the less hyped players like Eric Ouma who have since gone to make steady strides in the country's football.

Born in September 1996, Ouma spent most of his early lives in Kibra Slums-Kenya; one of the biggest informal settlements in Africa. While he started playing at a tender age, it was at Kakamega High School that most people took notice of his talent.

Eric Ouma (squatting 2nd from left) during his Kakamega High School Days

"Kakamega did a lot for me to be honest. Many of the coaches I know spotted me while representing the school but I started football before I came here," Ouma opined to Futaa.

But unknown to many, Ouma's path might have taken a different direction as he had received a calling letter to Dagoretti High School. While the school has been a football powerhouse too in the country, Ouma says that it is the current Nairobi City Stars coach who advised him to move to Kakamega who had trials with the successful players earning education scholarships.

"I was to join Dago (Dagoretti High School) but Muyoti convinced me to move to Kakamega. Muyoti told me about the trials and when he had everything in place, it was my father who gave me the transport money to Kakamega. I did my best and they absorbed me. I don't know how my path would have been if I was to join Dagoretti but I think it was the right decision to move to Kakamega," he adds.

Kakamega had produced some of the big names in the country and as an aspiring footballer, it was an opportunity he was never going to let go. He says of how he was up against some of the best talents in the country and was convinced he was among the best when he made the cut.

"At Kakamega, we believed we were the best because it was something instilled in us. You were going to train with some of the best young talents in the country and that improves you as a player. It was a good foundation for my football and I'm forever indebted."

While they made inroads in the school games, it was the Kenyan Secondary School Ball Games in 2015 that placed Ouma's teammates in the national limelight. Coming up against an equally good Kisumu Day at a fully packed Bukhungu Stadium, they were to emerge Champions.

Most of Ouma's teammates walked straight to Kenyan Premier League teams after finishing school in 2015. While the left-back joined Kenyan giants Gor Mahia, defender Joseph Okumu and midfielder Apollo Otieno walked straight into the Chemelil Sugar starting team.

At Gor he had to be an understudy of Rwandese Abouba Sibomana but once he got his chance under Brazilian Marcelo Zi Maria, he didn't look back.

"Breaking into the Gor Mahia team was never going to be easy. I remember people telling me that moving to Gor was a bad move since I wasn't assured of my place but that was the challenge I wanted. I wanted to be up against the best and I was glad about how everything went.

"It was my first season in the top flight and it was challenging because I was no longer a young boy but a player who carried the hopes of a proper fanbase. Any slight mistake and you'll be served for dinner," he adds.

Ouma was to leave Gor in 2016 for Georgian club Kolkheti Poti, another move that was questioned by so many people, with the national team coach then Stanley Okumbi stating that he wasn't going to give call up to players who featured in 'non-competitive league', it was a challenge Ouma took at heart.

Stints with KS Kastrioti came later a stint he said wasn't the best since he suffered an injury."My European journey didn't start as I had expected because I was coming into a new environment for the first time without being around my family.

"It was tough more so when I moved to Tirana and only to be shipped to Kastrioti. I had to look into myself and ask questions. It was a tough period but I was convinced each day that I would make it," Ouma opines.

A breakthrough came in 2018 when he moved to the Swedish lower side IF Vasalunds, a move he says open doors for him.

"I knew straight away when I arrived in Stockholm for the first time that it was the opportunity I was waiting for. There are a lot of teams in Stockholm and I had an idea that many scouts regularly visited the lower teams to spot talents to ship to the top flight and I took that seriously.

'I worked like I never worked before and when my move to AIK came in 2020, I was the happiest being around. It was hard work rewarded and could t hide my joy. Vasalund gave me the environment to thrive and I'm glad that I did they were happy with my outing with them too."

The national team for Ouma has been something he dreamt of ever since he stepped into Kakamega High School. He says the urge of wearing the Kenyan colors is something that spured them since they had the national team coaches in their school.

"I have to thank Nyabinge (Hesbon) for being where I am. He played a huge role in my first call-up to the U20 (Kenya) team. He was part of the coaching team and I want to believe I didn't disappoint him when I was called upon to defend the colours of my nation. He really laid the blueprint for my rise to the senior national team," he says.

Of all the opponents he has been up against with Harambee Stars, Ouma says Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez was the guy who gave him nightmares followed by Liverpool winger Mohammed Salah but he says he was never intimidated by any.

"I know a lot of people have talked about my duel with Salah in the qualifiers as he didn't do much but then again maybe he wasn't in rhythm with the team. I watch him with Liverpool and how he tears opponents apart and you have no option but to be in awe. I'm glad I did well against him recently but thanks to the entire team for doing their work well too.

"Of the players who have troubled me, Mahrez is up there. It was at the African Cup of Nations and everyone saw what he did in the tournament. He is a good player and he had proper players around him to compliment his efforts. The Senegal team had proper opponents too. We lost the games but I had picked a lot of lessons that have helped me in my football."

Ouma finishes by stating that the best is yet to come from him as he aims to help AIK qualify for Europe and see Stars be a regular team in international tournaments.

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