Sundays were for church, but for Benson Omala Ochieng he often ended up on the football pitch near his home in Nyamasaria, Kisumu.
The 18-year-old first started playing for a neighbourhood team, Chipolopolo, which was named after the Zambian national football team.
His father, Peter Oluoch, watched as Benson come alive on the football pitch scoring goal after goal. It eventually became clear that his second of four boys had a future in football.
Shortly after, scouts from Manyatta United spotted his prowess while Benson was playing in an inter-primary schools’ match and he was then poached from Chipolopolo.
“Manyatta are a serious organization, with several youth teams from the Under-10, Under-12, Under-14 going up and they also focus on developing kids wholesomely. The organization is the envy of all kids growing up in the neighborhood. I was very happy to join,” he recalls.
Football saw him secure scholarships at Lake Primary School and then at Kisumu Day High School.
“I think that opened my father’s eyes. The fact that football pays my school fees really impresses him,” he adds.
Benson first made an impression at a bigger stage during the first season of Chapa Dimba in 2018 when he won the Golden Boot in the Nyanza Region and in the National Finals.
His professional football career began in 2019 when he joined Western Stima.
“The move happened so fast. We lost to Ombok Red Devils in the semifinals of the Nyanza Region Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom Tournament but I impressed,” he recalls.
Manyatta United came back stronger in 2019 and won the Nyanza and National Finals. So impressed were sports journalists that their association named him Player of the Month in December 2019.
He also got to travel to Spain with the Chapa Dimba All Stars team, which trained with professionals there and watched a match between Barcelona and Girona.
“We played high profile friendly matches. That too was a big opportunity for me to improve my game,” he adds.
So impressed were Western Stima with the young striker that they wanted to sign him when the Nyanza finals were on in 2018, but that would have meant that he would not have played for Manyatta United in the National Finals.
“I signed immediately after that and the journey has been amazing,” he says.
The Form Four student at Kisumu Day Secondary School was scheduled to sit his final secondary school examinations this year but the Covid-19 pandemic has seen this postponed. This means that he has to continue trying to have a balance between school and football.
“While at Western Stima I used to train with the school team in the morning and later in the evening. I had specialized one-on-one individual sessions with coach Salim Babu. I only featured in home games played around Kisumu and its environs. It wasn’t easy to balance the two but passion pushes you to do things you love,” he says.
Being a student restricted his ability to travel as such he was only able to play in select matches.
Last July, Benson joined Gor Mahia, the reigning Kenya Premier League champions, where he hopes to continue with his development and ambition to play in one of the leagues in Europe.
He had a lot of offers from other clubs in Kenya and abroad but he chose Gor Mahia for a reason.
“I wanted a bigger challenge locally and I know for a fact Gor Mahia is the best team in Kenya. My goal is to score as many goals as possible for the club and move to a better team outside Kenya in the near future. I am still very young and a lot of teams outside the country are following my progress and I think there’s no better place to prove that I am good player than at Gor Mahia,” says the striker, who looks up to Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.
“They are very hardworking and I like their style of playing. They inspire me a lot and I hope to get where they are in the future,” he says.
Looking back, Benson appreciates the role Manyatta United and the Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom Tournament have shaped his passion for football.
“The people at Manyatta taught me football at the basic level and very important life skills. I will always be grateful to them – they believed in me from when I was a young boy. I am what I am today because of the time and resources they invested in developing our talent,” he says.
“Chapa Dimba gave me the platform to show my talent to a bigger audience and the rest is history. They are doing this to very many youths countrywide. It is an opportunity that has changed my life forever,” he adds.
For Patrick Korir, Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom Tournament’s Deputy Director, Benson’s rise and the opportunities that have come are testament of the talent in the grassroots that needs to be exposed.
Safaricom has supported a variety of sports over the 20 years it has existed and the Chapa Dimba tournament has become something that football-playing youth around the country look forward to every year. Chapa Dimba gives youth around the country an opportunity to showcase their talent and an avenue to nurture their aspirations in playing football.
Patrick says that the foreign scouts who attended the two finals in Kisumu and Meru were impressed by the variety of talent on offer.
The national team’s coaches have also noticed Benson’s talent. He recently received a call-up to the Harambee Stars’ reserve squad that is preparing to face Zambia in an international friendly match at the Nyayo National Stadium on Friday 9 October. He is also lined up for the two-legged 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier set to be played in November.
“I am still very young and the call-up, therefore, means the technical bench recognizes my ability and that is very satisfying and fulfilling at the same time,” he said.
“I have caught the eyes of the National team selectors now the onus is on me to prove to them that I deserve a place in the first team,” he added.
Manyatta United Team Manager Anthony Obala puts Benson’s continued rise to hard work and God’s grace.
“We have never had any disciplinary issues with him. He works hard and can actually play in a number of positions across the pitch – not just as a striker. He follows instructions and that is why I think he is headed to the top,” he says.
He, however, advises Gor Mahia to continue supporting his development.
“Let us not forget that he is still a young boy. My advice to Gor Mahia is that they should not place all the burden on his shoulders as far as the goal-getting duties are concerned. He is also very shy and rarely talks and that is an area they need to work on as a team and understand him first. His talent is unquestionable. He is still a work in progress,” he concludes.