Forget the passport, mimi ni mkenya- Liverpool star Divock Origi

Divock Origi in action(main), with family(top), Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp gives him instructions(bottom)

On April 18, 1995, in Ostend, Belgium, one of Kenya’s most successful football families ushered in a newborn. A baby boy. His mother, Linda Adhiambo and father Mike Okoth, name him Divock Origi.

Like every other child, Origi went to school and spent most of his time with his father – Okoth, then a professional footballer in the Belgian Pro League.

At the age of 15, Origi moved to France after signing up with LOSC Lille, a step that later cleared the path to the start of his professional football career. After playing at the World Cup and scoring a crucial goal to steer Belgium past the group stages, Origi would in 2015 sign up for English giants Liverpool FC.

When The Nairobian visited the young striker in Liverpool, United Kingdom. The Belgium-born star could not hide his joy and love for Kenya.

“Don’t worry about me being nervous, this is actually the first time I am talking to a Kenyan journalist. I actually did not know that my story would be worth all the trouble from Kenya to England. So, how is home?” Origi wondered while opening his double-door refrigerator to fetch a drink.

Origi lives in a small town called Formby

— a civil parish within the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton in Merseyside, United Kingdom. It’s a quiet street. Posh looking homes line either side of the street

— it’s a homey neighbourhood, one who’s planning leaves a lasting impression on any visitor’s mind.

I learn that some of his neighbours include football greats like his former Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers and Ivorian star teammate Kollo Toure.

“What drink would you like to have, fresh juice or soft drink?” he asks, interrupting my thoughts.

Whereas the list of football clubs in Merseyside cuts across teams that play in the professional leagues to semi-pro and amateur leagues, Liverpool Football Club (LFC) still stands tall followed by Everton. It’s an honour to play for LFC.

At the beginning of the interview, Origi gave a detailed account of his childhood days

— how his father worked so hard to see that their family had the best in a foreign land far away from home.

“I grew up at a time when my dad was among the few Kenyans playing in Europe. I admired him right from the first days when I could tell right from wrong,” narrates Origi.

Football family

To Origi, the fact that he is from a family of footballers is not by chance, but rather by the grace of God. As such, Origi says he has not taken his family lineage for granted. He instead uses their connections to learn, grow and possibly get better with every sunset.

“When I think about my late grandmother and how she used to talk to me, I become very emotional.

“Recently, when I was signing up with Liverpool, Uncle Otis came all the way from the United States just to stand with me; Uncle Austine calls me every now and again. We normally have long chats and lots of conversations about many things beyond football. And of course my cousin and friend Arnold needs no introduction,” he says with a smile.

During the interview, Origi veers frequently to Kiswahili

— he even throws in a number of words in Sheng. He explains that the knowledge of Kiswahili and Dholuo was imparted on him by his parents. He however credits his mastery of Sheng to his sisters, cousins and other relatives.

“Whenever we meet with my cousin Arnold (Origi), we speak in sheng. That is also our language in Nairobi.”

I miss Nairobi

Origi is not a frequent visitor to Nairobi. The last time he visited was about five years ago, but the experience is indelibly etched in his memory. To him, it’s like it was just the other day. That was back in 2010.

His two-month stay in Kenya was no doubt a thrilling experience. He boasted of his vast knowledge of Nairobi and its environs, to as far as Kakamega.

“I still remember my days in Komarock estate; the days when it was all normal, and even though I am born and bred in Belgium, I could easily fit in and feel like any other Kenyan.

Hizo (those) days, we used to go outside and play with the neighbours, cycling or at times sneaking out to board a matatu to town and visit other friends. Mimi ni mtu wa mtaa buda and I miss Nairobi a lot. I can’t wait to be back.

What makes the LFC forward stay in touch with the goings-on back in Kenya is the ever growing world of social media. He says the Origi cousins, nephews and nieces have a chat group where they ‘converge’ on a daily basis since they are spread in various parts of the world.

“Niko na mabeshte wengi sana Kenya (I have many friends in Kenya) and we meet at times and talk. I would have loved to visit Kenya frequently, but again there is work to do. Now that I am in the Premier League, I do not think there will be time because EPL has a very tight schedule. But when I get the chance, I will jump onto the next flight to Nairobi.” he adds.

Kenyan football

Origi does not know much about Kenyan football, but doesn’t miss a chance to interact with Kenyan players in Europe. During his days in France, he says he often met former Harambee Stars striker Dennis Oliech, among others. He says he follows other Kenyan players in Europe, the likes of Ayub Timbe Masika and Southampton midfielder Victor Wanyama.

“Meeting Wanyama alone was great, but playing against him was even better. It was quite an interesting development. Wanyama is a nice, cool guy and we get along quite well. Kenya is a land of great people and during the 2014 Fifa World Cup, I remember meeting some Kenyan fans at the hotel where we were staying. It felt nice to see people from back home cheering and supporting me. Some even approached me, we talked and they took pictures,” he says.

Playing for Belgium

How could he be so much in love with Kenya, yet he chose to play for Belgium? Contrary to media reports that his father influenced his decision to play for Belgium, Origi says it was actually his own decision, and that he has always wanted to wear the Belgian national jersey.

“To be honest, I started playing for Belgium in the youth team stages. As a kid, Belgium was all I knew. We played football with my schoolmates as well as at the academy. It was not such of a decision to make. It was inevitable that I would end up playing for Belgium in the senior team. However, let it be known that mimi ni Mkenya. The fact that I grew up in Belgium does not make me any different. Things like passports and papers are just but material issues. What matters most is my beliefs, cultural values and love for my people,” says Origi.

Origi further recalls that just before the 2014 Fifa World Cup, Adel Amrouche - then Kenyan coach, pursued him through his father in vain. Attempts from other quarters for him to change his mind also came to nought.

My dad is my critic

At the time, Belgian head coach Marc Wilmots had not named his team to Brazil, but Origi says he always wanted to play for Belgium.

“There are people who reached out to Uncle Austin and even Arnold, but in the end, the choice was always going to be mine to make and when the time came, I chose Belgium,” he adds.

The striker further reveals that his relationship with Mike is not necessarily one of a father and son, but more of two grownups.

“My dad is my number one critic na nikicheza matope he tells me off, that ‘leo ulicheza matope.’ He would never scream at me or push me at all. Instead, he provides a solution to my problems and many a time, he gives me pieces of advice and instructions on how to go about stuff,” he narrates.

Divock adds that even though his father knows more about life as a footballer in Europe, “he only plays an advisory role. It is me who makes all the decisions."