Striker Micheal Olunga is one of three highly rated footballers from East Africa expected to join elite European clubs by the end of January.
Others are deadly Ugandan forward Farouk Miya, who is headed to Belgium having been lured by bigwigs Standard Liege, and Tanzanian prodigy Mbwana Samata who is reported to be mulling over a host of offers from top teams in Belgium and France.
These moves represent a paradigm shift from the past where emerging talents from East Africa were almost never considered good enough to move directly to Europe.
European clubs consistently handed opportunities to players from West, North, and and even Central Africa.
Olunga, 21, is currently in Sweden following an invitation from top flight football team Djuargarden.
The Harambee Stars forward is understood to be undergoing a ten day trial with the eleven time Swedish champions. He will proceed to negotiate a development based contract if found to be good enough.
“The rule here is that a player cannot be signed without the coach’s consent. So the coach must see me, and decide if he is actually interested in me,” Olunga was quoted as saying by sections of the European media on Friday.
Regarded by football fans and pundits alike as the “future” of Kenyan football, the lanky Olunga played a vital role in Gor Mahia’s unbeaten campaign in the Kenyan Premier League last season.
The Liberty Academy alumnus also shone for Harambee Stars, scoring a hat trick for the U23 team in an Olympic Games qualifying match against Botswana, plus a well taken header against Cape Verde Islands in that famous World Cup qualifier in Nairobi last November.
“He is the best striker in Kenya at the moment. I believe the formula here is for him to follow the route used by (Macdonald) Mariga to play in the Scandinavia for a few years before heading to England or Italy,” former Kenya international Dan Shikanda said.
At the same time, Miya’s club Uganda’s Vipers SC announced it had received a record $400,000 (Sh40 million) in transfer fees from Liege for the striker.
Uganda’s Daily Monitor however reported that Austrian club Slazburg are keen to hijack the move and have even dispached its former player, Ugandan captain Ibrahim Sekajja, to Rwanda to convince the player.
The player is currently competing at the Africa Nations Championship (Chan) in Rwanda.
Tanzanian Samatta, who was recently crowned African based player of the year, is expected to fetch his club TP Mazembe at least five times more than Miya’s transfer fees.
Belgium club Racing Genk alongside French clubs Olympique Marseille and Nantes are hotly pursuing the 24 year old.
Shikanda says the emergence of these talents could herald a new start for East Africa football – a region with statistically the weakest football standards on the continent.