EURO – A GENIUSSeptember 26, 2015
Inside his own half, facing his own goal, he chested a weak clearance from his goalkeeper and brought the ball down right onto his feet. He then made a half-turn to his right, taking with him his marker who had closed him down immediately. We all thought he’d lose the ball right there. But in a flash, he quickly changed direction and went the opposite side. Then on the half volley(the uneven pitch had made the ball take a few bounces), he slashed a delicious floating ball towards the inside right channel, right in the path of a winger who was already on the move, running past the left back and clear on goal.
We gasped. I jumped and shouted. My best friend,Bryan Oketch, started laughing and clapping in awe. Then he simply told me, “Huyo ndio “Euro” unaskianga”
Erick Baki or “Euro”,as he was affectionately called,was by far the most talented football player I had ever seen. He was named after Euro 2004 tournament mainly because the guys around him thought his level of playing was at par with that of European footballers. I first heard about him inside our crowded Class Seven North where my desk mate and best friend, Bryan Oketch told me about him. At that time,in true adolescent behaviour, we would spend considerable amounts of time discussing a female classmate’s anatomy more than any other topic. But then here was a boy of slight frame, with dusty hair and a pair of torn, white Adidas boots in his right hand that made boys pore over him more often than a female’s backside.
Euro wasn’t just your average run of the mill footballer, who could trap a ball,make a pass,tackle hard or last the whole 35 minutes of an Under 15s football match. He was heavenly. A player so talented he made you fall in love with the game all over again.
It took me a while to finally catch a glimpse of this boy they called Euro. This was due to my strict religious schedule of going to church every Saturday morning and catching EPL games with my father in the evenings. So whenever my classmates would be out there playing for local Under 15 sides,I’d be found in two places,church or home. Thus, time had to be created. Bryan Oketch,who was an Under 15s player himself and whose younger brother, Baron Oketch currently plays for Western Stima, took me to one of the games specifically to watch Euro. Heaven knows,it was worth the wait.
I became a regular at local football games chiefly because of Euro. I watched football because I wanted to see him play. I wasn’t alone, hundreds of other football fans flocked local football grounds to watch him play. I didn’t care which position he played,but he seemed to spend most of his time in the middle of the pitch. In modern football parlance, we would call him playmaker. He was an oddity. A rarity. Almost like a perfect diamond juxtaposed between the perfect conditions of high temperature and high pressure deep under the earth. He never struggled on a football pitch. He owned it. At times it felt as if he was a Grandmaster Chess player. That by performing a few acts of football ingenuity, he would make the other 21 players on the pitch adhere to his every whim. He made his average teammates look supremely talented. He made opposition players look hopelessly bad. He wasn’t even aware of that though. It was oblivious to him. He just wanted to kick a ball.
Modern football is awash with stories of how entire football clubs prepare to face the majesty of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. A cook to spoil the broth or a hotel manager to wet the blankets just to knock these two alpha footballers out of their comfort zone before a football match. Euro was our equivalent. Coaches planned and plotted. Defenders were instructed to break his leg or scratch his face. Referees were pressurized to book him. But all these failed. No one could get close to him. He was perfection. A pass was never too strong or never too weak. A run was never too early or never too late. A shot was never too high or never too low. Everything was perfection.
With that kind of talent, it was only a matter of time before the right phone calls started coming in. One of those calls was from Nakumatt Supermarkets who asked him to appear in their TV ad. He couldn’t say no. He became the youngest football player to appear in a TV ad in Kenya (which isn’t a dubious title to be honest)
But, perhaps a more important phone call, that of a well connected football agent, never materialized. I know this because had he received that call, then he would certainly be in Europe right now having trials or even training with one of the teams there. Most of us thought that Europe was his destiny. He was too talented to rot in our local football mediocrity.
However, life doesn’t always turn out the way we wish. Euro never got to Europe. He is still in Africa, Kenya. He currently plays for Muhoroni Youth in the KPL, which in itself is no mean feat. Few players get to play in the Kenyan Premier League and even fewer get to pull on the shirt of a decent Premier League side like Muhoroni Youth. But with Euro, there is a feeling of potential unfulfilled. A feeling of what might have been had his path been slightly different or had he been lucky. For, Euro, big things were expected. None has been delivered. At least not yet.
Maybe he peaked too early. Maybe he didn’t get a lucky break. Maybe his time is yet to arrive and maybe he will set the KPL alight in future. Or, maybe that was ‘it’ for him, that he’ll never be as good as he was back then, and that he will disappear into the horizon in a whimper, never to leave an indelible mark in professional football. I pray that it shouldn’t end that way. That he gets his chances and fulfills all that he threatened to deliver with relative ease as a teenage boy wonder. Today’s Top 8 Semi final match against KPL Champions elect, Gor Mahia wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
We are all rooting for him. Everyone who grew up in Kisumu in the mid 2000s and watched local football regularly would root for him. Because we all agree that Euro was, and quite possibly, still is the most naturally talented footballer we have ever seen kick a ball.
I wrote this piece out of nostalgia and obviously memory may fail me in certain parts. However, a post I put up on Facebook has led me to the player himself and I hope to speak with him, his Under 15 coach, players he played with and his current teammates at Muhoroni Youth. I’ll do a follow up story on this.