Injury hell showed me my true friends, says Philemon

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Philemon Otieno heads the ball past Senega’s Sadio Mane during the 2019 Afcon tournament in Egypt. Photo/FILE

When he sustained a nasty knee injury while playing for Harambee Stars last August, Philemon Otieno thought he would quickly get treated and return to action soon.

However, it was anything but as what followed left him drained emotionally and financially.

The Gor Mahia right-back suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury while turning out for Harambee Stars during the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier against Tanzania in Nairobi.

Injuries of these nature can be career-ending and require quick treatment as well as special care if one is to return to action.

But for Otieno, hope turned into despair as he was left alone after the injury with no one ready to foot the bill for his medical costs.

Gor are reported to have distanced themselves from the situation, saying the player got injured playing for the national team while Football Kenya Federation (FKF) cited lack of finances for their inability to take up the case.

That back and forth left the player in the middle and as the two parties haggled, his situation worsened.

Philemon after being red-carded in the match. Photo/FILE

After close to a month and no solution forthcoming, a desperate Otieno, keen to save his playing career, reached out to family, friends and well-wishers to help him raise funds for the surgery.

They duly obliged. He singles out his family, fans and fellow players including Harambee Stars team-mates Michael Olunga, Aboud Omar, Joseph Okumu, Francis Kahata and Joash Onyango for coming through for him in a big way to help him raise the Sh450,000 needed to complete the surgery which was done in September.

“This battle has come with lessons and especially to keep those close to you intact because life is full of surprises.

I thank God especially for my wife and also the Gor Mahia management who stood with me especially the chairman Ambrose Rachier.

It just shows how to value people and as a professional, I will come back stronger and work for my club and family (Gor Mahia),” says the 26-year-old.

“When I look back, the whole episode has been tough for me because football is not only my passion but my job.

The baggage and trauma is beyond the body and I had to consult and pray a lot. I had to accept and begin the journey of treatment and healing.

It was a true test and I had to live through every single bit of it. I would say I definitely learnt a lot through the process,” he adds.

But while Gor and FKF were blamed for neglecting the player in his hour of need, Otieno has no hard feelings. 

“We have to understand that it was already clear that the federation had no money and explained it while at the same time, my club was undergoing financial difficulties after SportPesa pulled out.

It was a difficult time for everybody and I will not say either side did not try. The important thing is we found a solution at home and it went well,” says Otieno.

While securing surgery was as difficult, the healing process has equally taken its toll on him. 

He tells of a very sensitive processes that demands a lot of care and patience. 

“I know so much about my body now and how to protect it given my many sessions in hospital.

The surgery itself is not the problem because essentially it takes at the most an hour and a half.

However, the healing demands personal dedication and commitment otherwise one can lose it.

It was no easy task because I had to attend multiple physiotherapy sessions in Upper Hill with my doctor and ultimately follow guidelines religiously so as to get better again,” Otieno says of the process conducted at Nairobi’s Labha Hospital.

Additionally, four sessions with the physiotherapist were done four times a week at a cost of Sh2,000 each. What’s more, he was far from his team-mates, making it a very lonely process. 

It is a setback that has seen him miss the 2019/20 season until its suspension due to the coronavirus last month.

However, he is on the mend, having started training and was even involved in a 65-minute run in a recent friendly match. 

He is also pleased with his club, who have stood by him and even offered him a contract extension to 2021 as well as head coach Paul Polack who has been encouraging him.  

“He has been checking on my progress and because of that, I cannot wait to repay his faith.

They are patient and not rushing me which is good. I miss the pitch and my team-mates.

The banter and the competition but I am sure all is well planned,” he says. 

The coronavirus pandemic came at the wrong time for Otieno who was just close to action but he has not given up hope, taking advantage of the break to build up his strength.

“I am on strength and conditioning phase where I am building muscles. From there, I will hopefully be ready.

After that, it will be entirely up to the team doctors and coach. I am so eager,” says Otieno. 

The player, who can also feature in midfield, is encouraging players to learn how to preserve their bodies given football is a short career while urging clubs to invest in health insurance. 

“I encourage bigger investments in health insurance for players. That is the ultimate license because otherwise their careers will be doomed.

I was fortunate that people came through for me and my insurance helped but not all can be that lucky. Sometimes we have to tame a problem before it arrives,” he concludes.

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