May 19, 2020 Patrick Korir

One on one with defender Wycliffe Otieno

Wycliffe Otieno in a league game at Camp Toyoyo in Jan 2020

Were he to venture into acting, Nairobi City Stars center back Wycliffe Otieno Onyango would easily pick up a villains role, almost certainly.

Packing up 80kgs in a six-foot frame, Wycliffe – not too much of a talker – tags along with a mean face, a clean shave accompanied with a Rick Ross-like beard.

Not to be mistaken tough, hiyo ni sura ya kazi tu (work mode)! Wycliffe is nonchalant, and as cool as a cucumber.

The Upper Hill School alumnus was part of the crop of players called in to restock Nairobi Stima in mid-2012, after spending time with Kenya School of Law (Thola Glass).

After three dutiful years, he was roped in by Kariobangi Sharks in mid-2015 whom he lead to Kenyan Premier League promotion at the close of year 2016 and to the domestic Cup – a ticket to continental football – in 2018.

With his good omen in tow, he arrived at Simba wa Nairobi, in mid-2019, to form the ‘Wall of Nairobi’ with Salim Shitu Abdalla at the heart of City Stars defense, a partnership that turned out to be one of the best defenses in the NSL. The net effect? It immensely contributed to the team’s promotion back to the Premier League after four years in the cold.

He sat out the first City Stars game of the season against Shabana then made the bench in the next three games. 20 minutes in the fifth game against Coast Stima endeared him to coach Sanjin Alagic and after that, for the next 22 games, he clocked the full 90 minutes to improve his appearances to 2,000 minutes (82.3% of playtime) with one Man of the match award.

The articulate gentle giant, whose preference is possession football, speaks to us . . . .

City Stars; Share with us your schooling background, from Primary to High school

I went to Daima Primary School in Huruma. I didn’t quite play school football in primary to be honest…the school wasn’t so much into football labda zile za breaktime na PE lessons.

 City Stars; In high school that is where potential if fully noted and noticed. Was that the same for you? How far did you go with high school football?

I went to Upper Hill high school for my secondary school education. My time there was a bad one for football in the school as my arrival coincided with the departure of Mr Orero, the deputy principal then.

To add salt to the wound, my departure from the school coincided with the re-arrival of Mr Orero, this time as the principal of the school, something that heralded the school’s emergence as a dominant force in the school games. So yeah, I never quite played “meaningful” football in High School.

City Stars; From High schools there is that transition to league football. Share with us your formative steps to club football.

After High School, I first joined Thola glass/Kenya School of Law in the second tier before moving to Nairobi Stima in the mid-season transfer period.

City Stars; In mid-2015 you landed at fast rising Kariobangi Sharks. Talk to us about that step up.

Yeah, I joined Kariobangi Sharks in 2015 during the mid-season transfer window. They had a very interesting project that they thought I would fit into very well and what can I say, I was sold.

City Stars; Still on Sharks, in December 2016 you were in the squad that ended Nzoia’s unbeaten home run to earn promotion to KPL. Share with us that feeling as well as your debut season in the topflight

Yeah beating Nzoia on the final day of the season to clinch promotion to the KPL was awesome. We had a very decent squad for our debut season so I settled in quite fast. The transition was seamless I would say.

City Stars; After Sharks you kind of ‘disappeared’ from football. Injury?

Yes. It was an injury enforced break. I sat it out for a whole season doing rehabilitation. Thank God it was a short season. But it was a very tough time for me. Working alone is very difficult especially for us footballers as we are used to a team setup and working in a group all the time.

Thankfully, City Stars had faith in me and gave me an opportunity even though I wasn’t even at 100% when I joined. The coach was patient with me. Something that I am very grateful for

City Stars; You arrived at City Stars in mid-2019 at a time when the club was going through rigorous changes from the office to the team setup up. Talk to us about your early days at Simba wa Nairobi.

Yes. Very positive changes. The project that was underway at Simba wa Nairobi was irresistible and I felt I could rediscover myself and grow with the club as it sought to re-establish itself as a force in Kenyan football.

City Stars; After a slow start you established yourself at the club and with Shitu formed a formidable defensive pair; the best in the NSL. Talk to us about your partnership

Hahahaa..” The walls of Nairobi”…it’s a good partnership. I have a good relationship with Salim on and off the pitch. We learn a lot from each other and compliment each other well.

But we also have well able center backs in (Edwin) Buliba and Teddy (Esilaba) who are constantly pushing for a starting berth at the heart of the defense. We benefit a lot from this competition as there’s no room for complacency. I believe the four of us can play in any pairing and it would still be a decent partnership.

 City Stars; In January you opted to stay on at City Stars for a further one year to the end of next season. What informed your extension?

I opted to extend my stay at the club because of the progress of the project and I also feel that I’m growing. There is a lot to come from the club n I want be a part of it.

City Stars; Other than being a header clearance specialist you dribble and play ball from the back. Is that your normal style of play?

I wouldn’t say that I have a particular style of play. I am very adaptable and would fit into most systems and philosophies of the game although, I must admit, that I am a sucker for a possession-based style of play.

City Stars; On a one v one, name the striker(s) you never want to come up against

I would say the combination ya (Meddie) Kagere and (Jacques) Tuyisenge ilikuwa moto (too hot!). Those guys were relentless.. They chased every ball for the entirety of the game. They never gave you space to breath as they were constantly pressing and making those runs into the spaces behind. You had to be alert for the whole ninety minutes when playing against them.

Hahahaha.. But bring them on. I fancy a challenge. I enjoy playing against top strikers that give you problems to solve for the entire game.

City Stars; You have played under numerous coaches. Name some of those that have positively shaped your football. 

I have learnt different elements of the game from different coaches that that I have played for. I’m always open-minded and yearning to learn and challenge myself. Every coach has their way of viewing the game and you just have to try and see it the way they do because they are the ones who come up with the blueprint of how the team will play.

City Stars; Lastly, you are very eloquent and a good orator. When you retire shall we see you as a football anchor, analyst?

Hahaa.. Maybe.  I fancy that I’d make a good sports anchor if I get the opportunity, but I believe it goes beyond just being eloquent. It is one of the options, along with coaching, that I’m seriously looking at once I hang my boots.

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