May 28, 2020 Patrick Korir

One on one with midfielder Peter Opiyo

Peter Pinchez Opiyo in a past game for Nairobi City Stars

Preludes are not needed for one Peter Pinchez Opiyo Odhiambo, for his reputation precedes the mid fulcrum.

Capped 34 times for the Kenya National team, Pinchez, whose younger sibling Levis – his teammate at Nairobi City Stars, refers to as ‘Pish’, had his star rise in 2009 after joining Gor Mahia from Thika United albeit on loan.

Calmness on the ball defines him, intelligence and spot-on deliveries are part of his acumen, and with those credentials it was little wonder that he earned a place in Antoine Hey-coached Kenya National team to command starts in high profile games against the likes of Tunisia and Nigeria towards the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup campaigns.

His lows include missing opportunities at German side Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2009 and South African sides Maritzburg United, SuperSport United and Vasco Da Gama a few years later, and a near miss to the Danish topflight in 2015.

There were highs aplenty for the passer by excellence, that includes being named the 2009 Kenyan Premier League Midfielder of the Year and runner up Young Player of the Year and runners-up Player of the Year, winning the Premier League title with Tusker in 2012, the domestic title at AFC Leopards in 2013 as well as the coveted CECAFA Senior challenge Cup with Kenya the same year after a 19-year hiatus.

He arrived at Nairobi City Stars in January 2020 and led the team to promotion back to the Premier League after four seasons in the second tier.

The Chania High alumnus has scaled his football to Oman, Qatar, Finland and Turkmenistan and is not done yet.

He aspires to go into full farming after football and he now talks to us of his journeys to Asia and Europe, and why some trials were a ‘waste of time’.

City Stars; Take us through your background from primary to high school

Primary school was not bad for me. Went to Kenyatta Harambee Primary. Just like for most kids, school was fun at that age. This is where I did my KCPE.

City Stars; Share with us your football journey in high school and how far that took you.

 There was a problem after Primary school. My father didn’t have money to take me to my favorite school which was Chania Boys.

Why Chania Boys? Because they had the best crop of players who could reach the National School games in soccer.

I had to settle for Broadway High, a day school nearby, for form 1. Football wise we managed to make it only to the district level.

The second year in High School I said to myself; “I must play in the Schools Nationals”.  And why was that so important if you may ask? Because coaches from all over the country come to scout for talent there. I knew I was one.

A friend, who happens to be Bidco United goalkeeper coach now (Collins Washi Omondi), took me to his former school Kyulu High, in Eastern Province and he promised me national school football.

And indeed, when I arrived at the school there was enough material such as Saidi Mwarami, Davies Anemba and Mwandich to take us there. We made it that year.

Thika United noticed my talent at those games, and since they had a partnership with Brookside to scout and nature talent, they saw me through High School for the rest of the years. That’s how I ended up at my preferred school Chania Boys, from third term in second form all the way to fourth form.

City Stars; Talk to us about your football journey after high school – your early days at Thika United then moves to Gor Mahia, Tusker and AFC Leopards.

Opiyo; After I was done with school, life at Thika United wasn’t rosy, playing time was hard to come by, with internationals Anthony Mathenge and Nicholas Muyoti running the show.

The club gave me the option to seek a club I could move to and I sought to go to Gor Mahia which they agreed to.

City Stars; At Thika you didn’t have playtime. But suddenly after a loan move to Gor you became an instant star and broke to the National team. Explain the sudden spike

Opiyo; I found Gor Mahia was rebuilding under Coach James Siangá (RIP) and I joined them in (February) 2009 on loan.

Being young and bubbly, and given the fact I couldn’t be absorbed at Thika, the youth in me, and the lot I found at Gor had everything to prove. I guess that’s where everything started hitting a high for me including a National team call up.

City Stars; Playing for Harambee Stars; and winning CECAFA in 2013. Describe the feeling.

Opiyo; Fantastic! It’s every players’ dream to play for the national team. The caps are extremely important and that opened a lot of doors for me. Winning CECAFA simply crowned my four years in the national team setup.

Just the other day my child asked me if I have ever met the President (Uhuru Kenyatta) and I said yes; “we won CECAFA and we went to State House to see him.” Let’s just say I am my child’s hero because of that trophy.

City Stars; You had several trials in 2009 and 2010 in Germany and South Africa. Tell us about them

Opiyo; While at Gor I went to Germany for a trial (Fortuna Dusseldorf – Nov 2009) but it didn’t go well and I had to come back.

My loan to Gor ended after two years and Thika United decided to send me for trials with various clubs in South Africa which failed even before I got on the plane.

Part of the reasons they were not successful was because the club President’s had spoken  about the trials. But the most critical part – the team coaches  – had no idea of my arrival. A clear case was at Maritzburg United.

I had to come back and finish my contract with Thika in 2011. In 2012 I moved to Tusker and won the Premier League then moved to AFC Leopards (June 2013) with whom I won the Shield Cup over rivals Gor.

City Stars; In 2013 you moved to Oman. Later you moved to Scandinavia where you established yourself, and then later to Qatar. How do you compare the football out there? 

Opiyo; While at ingwe I moved to Oman (Sept) and signed a two-year deal with Al Shabaab but Leopards refused to release me, so I had to come back.

It was a blessing in disguise as my next move (Mar 2014) was to Scandinavia (FF Jaro in Finland). And Leopards duly agreed to release me. That move changed my football completely as I was taught everything anew. I doubt that would have been the case in Oman.

The first few months at FF  Jaro were very challenging; cold weather, very fast football. It was difficult to adapt, but eventually I got the rhythm.

The second year I was doing great, until a knee injury spoilt everything. I had surgery in Helsinki and had to return to Nairobi for rehab. That was a very tough time for me but God’s grace was sufficient.

After 8 months I was ready for a comeback. And that’s when God brought the Qatar deal (to Al-Markhiya in 2016-17). The season was perfect and we got promoted unbeaten.

I then went back to Finland to join SJK (2018) and did fairly well, and then decided it was the right time to taste other waters.

City Stars; After Finland you moved to Turkmenistan. Share the experience

Opiyo; That’s when a move to Turkmenistan champions Altyn Asyr sailed through. But issues with the country were complicated; the Visa never arrived and I didn’t even go there.

City Stars; How do you compare football in Europe and Asia to local football?

Opiyo; Football in Europe is very different compared to Africa and Asia. Europe is far much ahead, the quality of the game is really high, very fast passing game. And the infrastructure is top notch.

Asia has also seen great improvement over the years, but unlike other continents which are doing better by the day, they find themselves always lagging behind as far as work ethic is concerned.

City Stars; You arrived at City Stars, a team in the NSL, in Jan 2020 ahead of a long list of top tier clubs. That shocked many. Share with us the attraction to Simba wa Nairobi 

 Opiyo; Joining City Stars was a very easy decision to make. I loved the vision of the President (Jonathan Jackson), the quality of the coach (Sanjin Alagic) and the players that had joined the club. That sealed my decision.

The club is professionally run just like some of those I turned out for abroad. What I loved the most other than that was meeting young enthusiastic players such as Chumsy (Kevin Okumu), Maloba (Oliver), Chale (Charles Otieno) who were all raring to go.

Collectively the team has a good blend of players from the young to the experienced.

City Stars is now a promoted lot. Can they match up in the top league next season

 Opiyo; The promotion announcement was one of my happiest moments. The players I found in the team had already played their part and it was only a matter of time that City Stars were declared champions of the NSL.

Can they match up? Definitely yes. With the President’s support, the kind of coach that we have, we only need to add a few more quality to help the already able playing unit.

City Stars; Your biggest regret(s) in football? 

Opiyo; When I injured my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) in late 2015. I couldn’t do anything to prevent it though.

This led to a lost opportunity in Denmark, in what was a sure deal. That would have been a gate to real success.

City Stars; Which coaches have inspired your game over time? 

Opiyo; Locally, coach Sammy Omollo ‘Pamzo’, was the best for me.

Of course, (German) Antoine Hey who handed me my first cap for the national team, the lion himself Adel Amrouche – he had a big heart and taught me to have character.

Then came the best, Alexie Eremenko (Finnish coach at FF Jaro in 2016), basically brought all those together, taught me football afresh, added a bit of quality and positioning in the game.

City Stars; Locally, which players do you look up to?

Anthony Mathenge and Nicholas Muyoti. I learnt a lot under their guidance.

City Stars; Still on the local scene, Who did you dread coming up against?

Opiyo; Players who made me lose sleep were midfield generals Humphrey Mieno and Abdi Simba formerly of Bandari and Sofapaka.

The team I hated coming against in the league was always KCB; they were really organized

City Stars; You are known as the master passer. Where on the field (position) are you most comfortable playing? And who did you enjoy playing with most? 

Opiyo; I enjoy playing as a supportive defense mid player. And I enjoy playing with a technically gifted co-midfielder.

City Stars; When not training and playing football what else occupies your time?

Opiyo: I farm farmer back at my home, I love to chat with friends and travelling to see new things.

City Stars; After retiring from the game, what next for you?

Opiyo; Farming for sure, football agent and physical coach.

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