Stars defender relieved to be back in camp as Swedish league prepares to open up

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 00:00 |
Harambee Stars defender Joseph Okumu clears the ball during Kenya’s Africa Cup of Nations match against Algeria in Egypt last year. INSET: Okumu in action at the tournament. Photo/File

Twenty-two-year-old Joseph Okumu is back in training with his Swedish top flight side IF Elfsborg as the country prepares to start their football season that was set to kick off on April 4 but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Harambee Stars defender and former Chemilil Sugar player joined the Swedish side last August after a stint in the USA with Real Monarchs.

“After staying indoors for more than a month, it was very relieving to finally get out and go back to training.

Keeping fit indoors was difficult and being here without family or friends was hard.

We were not under lockdown but the club had advised us to remain indoors nonetheless.

I talked a lot on video with my family and friends and that helped,” Okumu said in an interview with K24’s Shon Osimbo on Monday night.

He added: “We have restrictions in training but contact is unavoidable especially when playing.

Elsewhere, we try and have minimal contact. We are not allowed to sit in the changing rooms, for instance.

For now, we have not played any friendly matches either. After training, we just play amongst ourselves.”

A Kakamega High School alumnus, Okumu played for Chemelil in 2016 for half a season before moving to South Africa’s Free State Stars for a season. 

He joined Real Monarchs, the reserve team for MLS side Real Salt Lake in 2018, before moving to Sweden in 2019.

Okumu in action at the tournament. Photo/FIle

“I am doing my best in training as I look forward to helping the team get to the top of the standings and fight for the title when the season finally kicks off, “ said the soft-spoken lanky defender.

Elfsborg finished eighth in the 16-team league with 43 points in the just-concluded season.

Okumu is one of the few sports personalities who have taken it upon themselves to help the vulnerable in society during this pandemic. He has partnered with a local supermarket to give shopping vouchers to families around Nairobi’s Roysambu area.

The initiative, dubbed ‘Going Above and Beyond ‘ will see 160 families in Roysambu Constituency—where Kahawa Sportive Soccer Academy is located—benefit.

Like others in Europe, the Swedish league has been hit by the virus with Elfsborg players and coaches reportedly having to take pay cuts. Other teams in the league have implemented short-term measures while others have laid off staff.

The said moves come at a time when the clubs could be feeling the reward of the first year of a six-year TV deal with Discovery-owned Eurosport, reportedly worth $52 million (Sh5.2 billion) per year which is double the amount clubs were bringing in from the last broadcast deal.

Swedish media has reported that clubs are getting advance payment of this sponsorship money just to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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