Firat touts former Gor Mahia defender as the next Harambee Stars breakthrough talent

4th July 2024

The Harambee Stars head coach has touted the former Gor Mahia defender to scale even greater heights.

Engin Firat. PHOTO| FKF
Engin Firat. PHOTO| FKF
  • Engin Firat has labelled Omija as a case of what would be neglected talent.
  • Omija started his career at Gor Mahia where he only made one appearance during the 2019/20 season before moving to Sharks for the 2020/21 campaign, making 20 appearances.
  • He left Sharks to sign for Dhofar, where last season, he featured 19 times and scored one goal.

Kenya head coach Engin Firat has revealed how his nose for scouting untapped unearthed youngster Alphonce Omija for the senior national team Harambee Stars.

The 21-year-old Omija, who features for Omani club Dhofar, earned his first call for Kenya’s 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against Burundi and Ivory Coast played in Lilongwe, Malawi on June 7th and 11th respectively.

Though he was an unused sub against the Swallows in a 1-1 draw, Omija finally got his chance to debut for the East African nation against the African champions in a game Kenya secured a 0-0 draw at the Bingu National Stadium.

With Kenya suffering injuries to key defenders – Joseph Okumu of Ligue 1 outfit Reims and Erick Ouma of Ekstraklasa club Rakow Czestochowa, Firat deployed Omija in the defensive role alongside Johnstone Omurwa, Daniel Anyembe, and Aboud Omar.

Play here and stand a chance of winning the over 371 Million SportPesa Mega Jackpot

Despite coming face to face with the Elephants attacking trio of Simon Adingra, Emmanuel Latte Lath and Jeremie Boga, Omija produced a superb game, making 89 touches, 64 complete passes, three accurate long balls from the back, three key passes, six ball recoveries and won five aerial duels.

The former Gor Mahia and Kariobangi Sharks player went further to play for the entire game and helped Kenya secure the vital point which increased their tally to five in the six-team Group F.

Omija's display saw him retained in Kenya’s Emerging Stars squad for the invitational 23rd edition of the COSAFA Cup in South Africa where Kenya landed the invite following the withdrawal of Malawi, and they got pooled in Group B alongside record-winners Zambia, Comoros, and Zimbabwe.

In their opener against the Chipolopolo at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Omija’s display once again caught the attention of many Kenyans as his contribution saw the Emerging Stars beat seven-time winners Zambia 2-0 courtesy of goals from Austin Odhiambo and Patrick Otieno.

ALSO READ: Harambee Stars to find out challengers for AFCON 2025 spots on Thursday

He also featured for 90 minutes as Kenya suffered a 2-0 defeat against Comoros in their second fixture of the tournament. Omija stood tall to deny Comoros from going 3-0 up, clearing a danger from crossing the line before getting full minutes in Kenya’s 2-0 win over Zimbabwe in the final pool match.

The 54-year-old Turkish tactician has revealed how Omija patiently waited to play for Harambee Stars and took his chance without blinking an eye against the Elephants.

“Everyone from outside is maybe surprised (seeing the qualities of Omija) but I am not surprised because when I saw Alphonce for the first time, I was sure about him.

He waited for his chance and he took it against the African champions and he did his job well. Also, he is only a boy who is 21,” Firat told SportsBoom.

Firat, who took charge of Kenya in 2022 after replacing Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, further explained why Omija was a good example of neglected talent pointing out that were it not for him to scout the player, he could not have been noticed.

ALSO READ: Gor Mahia land in group of death in returning CECAFA Kagame Cup 2024

“You should also remember that Alphonce (Omija) was in the Kenyan league and nobody gave him a real chance, nobody. So, when I invited him (for the first time to join Harambee Stars camp), nobody knew where he had been and most people didn’t even know who he was,” added Firat.

The former Moldova coach continued: “If you look clearly at our team now, you will see that most of the players get the first chance to play for the national team with me and I don’t care how old they are and where they play.

“We have a lot of examples from Ronney Onyango of Gor Mahia to Omija and it doesn’t matter which rival we are playing. When I believe the boy is ready at the moment and he can help the team, he will get his chance.”

Firat, who guided Kenya to their first trophy since 2017, winning the Four-Nations tournament in Malawi in March after beating Zimbabwe 3-1 in the final, believes Kenya’s future looks bright with his style of management.

ALSO READ: Paris, here we go! Shujaa announce squad for 2024 Olympic 7s duty

“We will leave a team with a big future for Kenya. If you look at the team, nearly  80 to 90 percent are players, who either started with me, or had finished with the national team but came back because of me.

Therefore, I can easily say this is my team and I am very hopeful that all of them will do great things for the future,” offered Firat.

While in Kenya, Omija started his career at FKF Premier League champions Gor Mahia where he only made one appearance during the 2019/20 season. He then moved to Sharks for the 2020/21 campaign and managed 20 appearances.

He left Sharks to sign for Dhofar, where last season, he featured 19 times and scored one goal.

Firat, who graduated from Sports University in Germany and started his professional career as an assistant coach for German legend Horst Hrubesch in Samsunspor in 1997, said he was among the few coaches in Africa, who allowed local players to play for their national teams.

ALSO READ: Exclusive: Gor Mahia appoint Brazilian Leo Neiva to take over from McKinstry

“Anyway, you know there are not so many coaches in Africa, who give local players many chances like me,” said Firat, when asked if he had faith in Kenya’s Emerging Stars to perform well at the COSAFA tournament.

“I believe in these boys and I am sure with the technical staff together, these boys will do a good job. For us the most important is that these boys will be ready for the next task which is to help our national team reach great heights.”

Under Firat’s reign, Kenya has seen the rise of young players breaking into Harambee Stars squad among them Ronney Onyango, Omija, Geoffrey Ochieng, Amos Wanjala, Chrispine Erambo, and Sylvester Owino to mention but a few.

ALSO READ: Athletics coaches championing change in Iten win 500,000 through Tujiamini Gold Award by SportPesa