Celtic target Joseph Okumu profiled: From Kenya to Sweden via the USA

By Euan Davidson

June 5, 2021

Celtic target Joseph Stanley Okumu has had quite the footballing journey.

Aftonbladet report that Celtic and Rangers are in a “bidding war” for the defender, along with clubs across Europe, including Ligue 1 side Lorient.

Born in Kenya’s third-largest city of Kisumu, Ukumu was raised a stone’s throw from Kogelo, the birthplace of Barack Obama’s father. If that seems like some fun but irrelevant trivia, it’s not, because Ukumu ended up following a similar route to Obama Sr.

Okumu’s footballing education was received at Chemelil Sugar FC, owned by – you guessed it – the Chemelil Sugar company. It didn’t take long, though, for scouts around Africa to enjoy the centre-back’s talents. The 6’4″ defender was soon snapped up by Free State Stars in Bethlehem, South Africa. It was an unorthodox journey already, spanning nearly 5000km.

But Okumu wasn’t done there. After just one season in South Africa, American scouts encouraged the prodigious talent to try out for Michigan outfit AFC Ann Arbor. It was an opportunity Okumu didn’t miss, and he took no time to get to grips with the USL2 [AFC Ann Arbor]:

“Okumu immediately made a splash leading a defensive stand that held teams scoreless for the first five matches, and only allowing four goals during the entire season. He was named 2018 TopDrawerSoccer.com National Player of the Year in the National Premier Soccer League and was named Team MVP that successfully defended the Great Lakes Conference Championship.”

So, if you’re keeping up: that’s nearly another 14,000km on the dial. And it gets wilder.

Okumu battles for possession against Senegal / (Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Joseph Okumu continues to impress, from Kenya to the US

After his defensive displays for Ann Arbor, the only way was up. But it wasn’t straight to the MLS, no. Real Salt Lake’s affiliate side Real Monarchs SLC were the ones to snap up the centre-back.

Referred to as Stanley in the US, the Monarchs couldn’t believe what they were getting from Okumu. An announcement made at the time of the signing said [Real Monarchs]:

“Not only does Stanley give us defensive depth for the rest of the season, he is a player that we believe can develop into something special at this club. It’s not easy to go halfway across the world and play in a new country, but Stanley showed during his time at AFC Ann Arbor that he was up to the task, and credit to him, he earned this opportunity and we couldn’t be happier to have him.”

Just another 2,600km for Okumu, then. And the attention only grew. All it took was 13 competitive games for European clubs to register an interest [Transfermarkt]. As he rose through the youth international ranks with Kenya, Swedish side Elfsborg snapped him up. And they’ve been delighted with him ever since.

Elfsborg’s sporting director Stefan Andreasson said of Okumu [Daily Record]:

“I have said it once before, that he is the best centre-back that has ever been in the Allsvenskan – you can say that sometimes.”

Oh and by the way, if you’re still counting: add another 7916km to the overall total.

Okumu: a star for Kenya / (Photo by Visionhaus)

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Okumu’s range of skills is broad, to say the least. A rugged, physical defender he may be, with excellent timing in the tackle, and aerial prowess given his size. But he’s also a rangy passer, more than comfortable on the ball, and can play either side of a back 2.

Capped twice by Kenya, the Elfsborg star works well in a team that presses high up the pitch. Highlights from Sweden show his decision making is sound. Happy to either play the ball out of danger or make a clearance, Okumu is a clever defender with solid fundamentals and reading of the game.

Of course, it isn’t just Celtic who are keen. Lorient have lodged a €2.5m bid, according to Get French Football News. Our rivals south of the Clyde are impressed, too. But with Kristoffer Ajer set to leave Celtic, it’s vital that the Bhoys bring in defensive options.

Okumu might take a while to adapt. But given his fierce ambitions, lack of problems fitting in at clubs across the world, and his obvious talents, he’s a must for Celtic this transfer window.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: there’s 2000km between Boras in Sweden, and Glasgow. Not that it’ll bother Okumu too much.

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