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Kenyan defender Joseph Okumu opens new chapter with Gent move

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The story of the rise of Kenyan footballer Joseph Okumu continues after the defender inked a four-year deal to join Belgian side KAA Gent on Monday night, making the switch from Swedish top division side IF Elfsborg.

Okumu will play in Belgium until June 2025 after impressive displays with Elfsborg where he helped them finish second in the Swedish top tier last season, earning them a place in the UEFA Europa League this coming campaign.

“Joseph is a great central defender who will also add footballing ability to our defence. He has a very good vertical passing and it is no coincidence that he has attracted the attention of many clubs. We are glad he chose us,” Gent Football Director Tim Matthys said on the club’s official website.

Okumu had been the subject of transfer speculation with several teams around Europe circling around his head for his signature, but he ultimately chose the path to Gent. Belgium has been a favourable destination for many African footballers.

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Joseph Okumu being unveiled at Gent

Many of the current stars in Europe have had their journeys blow off from a start in Belgium. Kenya’s MacDonald Mariga and Victor Wanyama all started their football journey in Belgium while the likes of John ‘Mo’ Muiruri also made their names there.

The 24-year old expects to follow in the same footsteps and continue his tremendous journey of growth.

The defender, nicknamed Crouch because of his height made a name for himself at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations where he was called to step in after experienced centre back Brian Mandela was ruled out of the tournament with injury.

He had just joined Elfsborg from US second tier side Real Monarchs and his performances there propelled him to another level.

Among the clubs which were also interested in him include Scottish giants Rangers whose head coach Steven Gerrard was said to be eagerly looking forward to landing the defender.

Okumu started his football with the defunct Chemelil Sugar in Kenya, where he was handed his debut straight from High School by coach Francis Baraza. He only played for half a season before making his first move abroad at the age of 18, joining South African side Free State Stars.

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Joseph Okumu in action for IF Elfsborg. PHOTO/Courtesy

He however couldn’t break through down South and had to cut short his stint and come back home. He was weighing several opportunities to play for local sides as he waited for his next big move with Tusker FC said to be heavily interested.

He however made the decision to move abroad again, this time going to the United States where he signed with AFC Ann Arbor, before moving to Monarchs.

In May 2019, he switched to Sweden, joining Elfsborg where he ended up playing 41 games for the side. He leaves Elfsborg after they have played nine games in the top tier and are currently placed fourth in the standings.

Gent finished seventh in the Belgian league last season and Okumu will still have a taste of European football as the club have qualified for the Europa League conference play-offs.

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