Kenyan international centre-back Joseph Okumu cemented his status as one of the country’s top footballing exports this week, after sealing a move to French Ligue 1 side Reims from Belgian top-flight club KAA Gent.
The French side, led by the talented young coach Will Still, forked out €12 million, or Ksh1.89 billion.
The 26-year old Okumu, born in Chemelil, joined Reims on a five-year contract. His inspiring story has seen him go from coming up as a Kakamega High School football star in Western Kenya to playing in South Africa, the United States, Belgium and, now, France all while overcoming major obstacles along the way.
His earnings, and profile, are set for a major boost as for the first time in his career, Okumu will be playing in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues. Born on 26 May 1997, Okumu debuted for then-top flight side Chemelil Sugar in the Kenyan Premier League in 2014. He quickly emerged as one of the hottest young prospects in the league.
Okumu continued to play for the club until 2016, when he left for South African side Free State Stars. In South Africa, he struggled for game time and only made seven appearances for the club. Facing the biggest setback of his career, Okumu’s contract with Free State Stars was terminated in 2017.
Okumu took a break to recalibrate and get his career back on track. He ventured out to the third-tier of football in the United States in 2018, a far cry from the riches and prestige of Ligue 1.
In the US, he made eight and twelve appearances for the lower-league sides AFC Ann Arbor and Real Monarchs respectively. His performances earned him a move in 2019 to Swedish top-flight side IF Elfsborg, marking his European debut.
He impressed coaches, scouts and fans alike at the Swedish club with his solid defending and control of the backline, making 34 appearances and earning a big move to Belgian top-flight club Gent on 21 June 2021 for €3.5 million – as Europe buzzed with word of a talented young Kenyan centre back.
Continuing his great form, he became a fan favorite at KAA Gent and a regular starter. He also featured for Gent in the UEFA Europa Conference League. He made 61 appearances for Gent and scored two goals.
His latest move to Reims came amid rumored interest in the player from clubs across Europe. He made his debut for Kenya’s national team, Harambee Stars, in 2016 having previously featured for the country’s u21 and u23 teams.