April 17, 2020 Patrick Korir

One on one with keeper Levis Opiyo

City stars keeper Levis 'Lovae' Opiyo

They call him Levis Opiyo Omondi, aka Lovae, a lad schooled by Thika United back in the years at Tetu High. In 2015, in his third and last year at the club, he was handed his big break by Briton Tim Bryett to debut in the Kenyan Premier League.

Detours to Western Stima and Posta Rangers in 2016 matured him to become Mathare United’s lead goalkeeper in 2017, his best season yet, which earned him a nomination to the end-of-year awards after tending goal in 27 of 34 games.

He may have missed on a podium finish in the awards but that firmly squeezed his resume through to Kenya’s rated keepers’ list.

If he wore no gloves you wouldn’t identify him as a keeper, for he is your perfect server and passer of the ball; he’s one that dribbles – at the back!

In August 2019 he arrived at Nairobi City Stars – a club he picked ahead of AFC Leopards – laden with new experience from Germany and Vihiga United.

His role model is Peter Pinchez Opiyo, his elder sibling, and incidentally, a current teammate at Nairobi City Stars.

He is discrete on what he wants in the near-turn – a place in Harambee Stars. And he’s crystal clear on one thing; he can never be a coach!

City Stars: Share with us your football journey while in school (Pri, Sec) and how you arrived at club football

Levis: I schooled at the Kenyatta Primary School in Thika before moving to Kabuyefwe Friends High School. In form 2 I moved my schooling to Central Province soccer powerhouse Tetu High.

My football star started shining while at Kenyatta Primary School where I was the only one to reach the National ball games, twice. That made me an attraction to High Schools that all offered me scholarships.

At Tetu High, we emerged champions of Central region in 2010 and 2011 to qualify for the National school games.

City Stars: Your early years were at Thika United. How was that initiation for you into Premier League football and at what point dd you start looking beyond Thika for playtime?

While at Tetu High School there was this Safaricom Sakata Ball tournament that was played in 2010 and 2011. I featured in the two tournaments and emerged as the best goalkeeper on both occasions (with Shimanzi in 2010 and with AC Thika in 2011).

That convinced my home team Thika United, who had been watching me keenly, to snap me up. They offered me a full Scholarship. And that’s how I joined the Premier League.

During those days the Kenyan Premier League was very tough. And for a lad straight out of High School it was even tougher.

Thika officially registered me for the Premier League in January 2013 and to help me grow, considering goal keepers Lukas Indeche, Zamu Adisa and Joel Bataro were in their ranks, they sent me to second tier side Mahakama FC (together with winger Francis Chege, midfielder Michael Bodo, striker Fahim Mohammed) on a six-month loan to gain experience.

At Mahakama it never took me time before I started featuring in games and by the end of my loan the team was firmly at the top of its league. But the loan was not renewed and I returned to Thika where I slowly began to make the bench in second leg games.

In my last season at Thika United (2015), British coach (Tim Bryett) was announced as head coach and it didn’t take him long to realize my capabilities. He handed me valuable games and I ended that season having featured in 13 games.

After that season I moved to Posta Rangers for six months then to Western Stima for the remainder of that season. In 2017 I graduated to become Mathare United’s lead keeper. I then returned to Rangers for the 2018 season onward.

City Stars: What has been your best season yet while in with the Premier League

Lovae: Definitely 2017 in one of the best-known club in Kenya – Mathare United.

While at the club I met the best coach in Kenya (Francis Kimanzi) who likes to play ball from back. That really made me happy because that is my strong point. He gave me confidence and encouraged me every time to play that way.

So game by game I grew my performance and ended up playing 27 of the 34 games that season and it was little wonder I got nominated for the season-ending goalkeeper of the year award. I emerged fourth.

City Stars: At some point you left the local scene to join a club in Germany. When was that and what was the experience like? Why did you return back to Kenya?

Yes, that was in 2018. I left Posta Rangers and headed out to Germany for trials and signed for a club known as Fortuna Babelsberg which was playing in the lower tier.

The experience was good; I learnt a lot but the league was not competitive enough because of the tier they were playing in. Due to funds, lack of, I decided to return home after the season to join Vihiga United on a short-term deal to the end of the 2018/19 season.

City Stars: Why a keeper? You look like you could slot into any position upfield

Ha ha. I started football as a midfielder at 10 years of age at Islamic Youth Academy (later named Fullchester). One day in a certain tournament our goalkeeper didn’t appear and my coach Beto asked around; “Who can play as keeper?”

“I can,” I said. And I found it so interesting. And that’s how I transformed from an upfield player to a goalkeeper.

City Stars: You arrived at City Stars weeks into their preseason in July 2019. Why the late arrival and what informed your decision to join them? What was the attraction in the NSL?

Yes. That time I was at AFC Leopards waiting to seal a deal but I heard about City Stars targets and how they were recruiting experienced players. I was made aware they had a good structure, a good set plan, and that’s when I decided to join.

Interestingly the coach (Sanjin Alagic) was convinced I was the kind he wanted during a friendly game against AFC Leopards at Hope Centre.

At City Stars I met many players whom I had worked with in different teams earlier, others that I had played against. That made it easy for me to settle.

City Stars: As a keeper, you are judged by your command from the back and a key indicator of your performance is clean sheets. Name some of the defenders that have helped you fail to concede goals

Levis: Yes as a keeper you must have a good understanding with your defenders so that they protect you well. I am happy I have heard a chance to play with top brave defenders in the league. They include Joash Onyango and Maurice Ojwang at Western Stima, George Wise Owino at Mathare United, Collins Okumu, Joakins Atudo, and Charles Odete at Posta Rangers, Bernard Ochieng at Vihiga United (now Wazito) and Salim Shitu Abdalla at City Stars.

City Stars: You are known to be a ‘dribbling’ keeper. Is that your style of play? Isn’t it risky to keep passing the ball at the back?

Levis: Hahahahaha. Yes that’s my style of play. Of course, it’s risky but again you have to believe in your capabilities, and for me that’s what I believe in; playing from back although you must be very keen.

Luckily, I have found coaches (Francis Kimanzi and Sanjin Alagic) who encourage their keepers to play like that.

City Stars: Share some of the objectives you aim to achieve while at City Stars

Levis: At the moment in City Stars we are doing good and topping the NSL. My aim is to see them maintain the top spot, win the league and earn promotion to the Kenyan Premier League.

City Stars: As a keeper, some forwards just keep you on edge. Name some of the nightmarish strikers who have come up against you

Levis: Michael Olunga, Meddie Kagere, Jacques Tuyisenge, and Dan Sserunkuma are certainly on that list.

City Stars: Who do you look up to?

Levis: My brother, always my brother (Pinchez). Because he advises me all the time and he pushes me a lot. When I make mistakes, he corrects me. And when I make the right decisions, he applauds me.

City Stars: Your personal targets as a keeper?  

Levis: To play for the National team – Harambee Stars. I believe in myself and I know I have all it takes to be there.

When I was in Germany recently I couldn’t land a higher-tier team as I had no international caps. That kept me thinking and I promised myself I would shift extra gears to break into the national team.

In the last few international games, we have seen a regular interchange of goalkeepers at the National front which gives me hope that with improved performance I can also contest a position at Harambee Stars. That will crown my career as well as give me a better chance of breaking abroad.

City Stars: What do you do on your rest days?

Levis: I don’t particularly have off days as I always go to the gym and then later I relax at home.

City Stars: Favorite food?

Levis; Kuku, Chapati, Ugali, Rice and Goat meat. And fresh juice

City Stars: Which goalkeepers do you look upon and why?

Levis: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona) and Ederson (Manchester City) – because we play the same style

City Stars: Football comes to an end one day. When that day comes what will you venture into and what initiatives have you made towards that course?

Levis: We have seen some players end their careers miserably, but I don’t want to end mine that way.

One thing is clear; I do not want to be a coach, but plan to be a manager in a team, or in a business. Soon I will head to school to pursue what will help me manage people.

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