The Rise of David Owino: An Improbable Switch and the origin of ‘Messi’

By Clinton Lusuli:

He is ranked among the most decorated young left-backs we have in the Kenya Premier League as well as the Kenya National team. Did you know he was naturally a right-footed player?  He was coached by his elder brothers in his developmental football stage, a rare opportunity. A young man who at seven years of age almost lost his life in a car accident was it not for the mercies of God. He came direct from high school to a Premier League side Mathare United as an offensive midfielder who then seals a position in the left-back up to date. On behalf of Football Made in Kibra we take this opportunity to narrow down and unfold the football journey of non-other than David Owino Ambulu ‘Messi’~ Left-back || Mathare United.

David Owino warms up before a past match [IMAGE-Fabian Odhiambo]
David Owino, was born on 20th July 1998 at Ruiru Hospital in Kiambu. At this time his family was living in Katwekera, Kibra where his football journey started way back in 2004. At this time he had just joined Ayany Primary School, Kibra. “I was in class 1,   6 years of age. I used to follow my elder brothers who by then were playing for Kibera Lexus at Langata grounds which by now was built a highway. This I did in hiding because they never wanted to take me with them. At the ground I used to meet some other boys whom we could make a group and play as the other team trained until a time when the then Coach Oveto took it to himself and started to engage us too. At this time we just played bare feet” illustrates the soft-spoken Owino.

He also adds “One time in 2005, I can say the miracle of my life happened. As I followed behind my brothers who were heading for a game at Woodley Stadium, at a place called Karanja I was almost hit by an oncoming car. It stopped right in front of me. Some guys then came and took me back home. After that is when my Mum gave my brothers the responsibility of taking me along with them whenever they were headed to any game. My life is just but a miracle.”

The incidence also touched Coach Oveto adding onto the seriousness of handling the little boys who had added up to ten in number and ensured a good relationship between him and Owino. After a while coach Oveto left the team and Owino’s brother Vincent Ouma (Zizo) took over as the Coach.”At first, I didn’t know, I just went to training as usual and found things had changed” says Owino. At this time Owino was playing as a number 10.

The year 2007 was the first year for him to wear football boots. “We were to play the Carolina for Kibera Tournament under 10 categories. As a motivation, Coach Oveto bought me my first ever boots. In the first game, I could not afford to use them well since I was not used to it. I had to remove them and play bare feet “explains Owino with laughter. In this Tournament they went all the way to the finals which they won 1-0, the lone goal scored by him, a free-kick. He was named the tournament’s Top scorer. In the same year, he was played in the under 12 category in the John Packard Tournament which they lifted the Trophy by winning 2-0 over Young boys Fc and he was named the overall Best Player of the Tournament. “After these Tournaments, my uncle who was playing for the senior team nicknamed me ‘Messi’ because of my ability to dribble past a number of players so well. A name I am well known of in my hood” explains Owino.

Come 2008, I then started playing in the under 12 category because their coach, Coach Zizo believed he was up to it which he had proven in the past tournament. This also came to be in the Carolina for Kibera Tournament where they reached the Semifinals and he was named the Best Player of the Tournament in the u12 category. They also won both the John Packard and Amani tournaments and the now “Messi” was named the Best player in both the tournaments. “My brother being the team Coach insisted I work hard so that I could make it to a better future” he adds.

In May 2009 during training, Owino injured his right foot ankle. He had to stay off the pitch for up to three weeks as he was nursing the injury. He then returned and could use the right foot but with fear with difficulty. “From then is when I started practicing to use the left foot then with time it started adapting. Since I was also playing number 10, I now became ‘Messi’ in using the left foot” he illustrations as he laughs. That year they won a total of four tournaments namely, Carolina for Kibera, John Packard, Amani Kibera, and Pamoja. He was named the Best Player in all the four tournaments under 12 categories.

The Year 2010 Kibera Lexus only won the Amani cup. This is the same year he first met his agent Mr. Isaac Mackimei whom he says has been very instrumental in his life as a whole. After this then Owino made a personal decision to concentrate more on classwork with less football because his agent insisted he needed to perform well in classwork too. This is the same year he first met his Agent of whom they started working. The agent needed him to also perform well in classwork. It is out of this that in 2011 Owino decided to put more effort into the books. At this time he only appeared for training on specific days. His focus was much on his academics.

Owino comes from a neighborhood that has housed such household names as Erick Marcelo Ouma [IMAGE- Fabian Odhiambo]
The next year 2012, then proved to be a great year to him. This was after the players who were greater than him; the likes of Erick Ouma left the school. He believed it was his time to shine which he indeed did. This was the first time he represented his Primary school in ball games. He went all the way to the Nationals in Mombasa. “It was a great experience to change the environment and to add on I was then the first-ever player to reach this level from my school,” says Owino with a broad smile.

Owino then joined Olympic high school in 2013 just like any other student. He went ahead to train with the school team. Unfortunately during this time, he could not be played because of his body size. He says “I was so little as compared to the other players. I was benched even in training. During the friendly games and ball games, my job was mostly to fetch water for the players and wash jerseys.”  At Olympic, he was noticed one time after the school went for a friendly in Ngong’. The team had scored the opponents 7-0 then the Coach decided to bring in players who had not played. He gave in a good display and it is here when the Principal Mr. Okumu got impressed. No sooner had he started to get featured at Olympic high school than his agent come calling.  “My Agent believed much in academics. So he transferred me to Laiser Hill after only two terms since he was the one paying my school fees. The Olympic high school Principal came to Laiser hill wanting to take me back but my Agent refused” adds Owino.

At Laiser hill Owino also joined like any other student. He was never introduced as a footballer. He says his agent advised him to let the school identify it for themselves. In Form one he remained cool with little shows.  Then came Form two, he was noticed during the Interclass football competitions. From here it’s when the Coach called him to train. This is the stage when the football scholarship came in since he was now taken in as a footballer. Since Laiser hill were facing a two-year ban, they never participated in school games until 2015.

The left foot was something he had to learn to use after injuring his right ankle [IMAGE- Fabian Odhiambo]
Then came the year 2015, the ban had elapsed and now we could participate in school games. Owino never received playing time until when the unfortunate happened. It was during the Nairobi Metropolitan semifinals. They were playing against their rivals Upperhill. He says “I was on the bench. The coach knew I played in the offensive. But then our left-back got injured. Since I was the only left-footed player on the bench I was called upon. It shocked me because this was a big game and I had not played in any game all the way up to this stage. So I came in as a fullback, I gave out my best to the extend I provided an assist. We won the game and everyone including the Coach came asking why I didn’t tell him I can play the left-back so well. From that game, I sealed the position in the first eleven. We went all the way to the finals which we lost to Passenga. We also played in the Governor’s Cup of which I was named the Best player. This is when the passion for playing football started building in me heavily.”

In 2016, it was Owino’s final year in high school and among the best years so far. He was named the games captain in school. At this time his position switched from the fullback to playing as the last man in the team. “We played well all the way to the Nationals finals against Barding. We were trailing 1-0 then the Coached risked me to number 10 leaving behind only three defenders. I gave an assist forcing the game into penalties where we won the Nationals for the first time. The school Principal Mr. Kirimi rewarded me back in school. In the same year, I played for Mathare United in the Kenya Premier League under 19 tournament which we won. What a beautiful year it was, hahaha” he concludes with soft laughter.

Owino also explains the big boost in his football career widely came to be out of the vast experience he received during the school holidays. He says his agent used to take him to Ethiopia where he trained with St. Georges as well as in Holland where he trained with the County teams. He says this really shaped his mindset and experience.

Now, direct from high school in January 2017 Owino signed for Mathare United as an offensive midfielder. He says this was made possible because Coach Kimanzi had seen his display in the under 19 categories which played out as an added advantage. They agreed to a four years contract that entailed two years to train with the team and two years of playing time. By then there were veteran names the likes of Edward Seda and Whyvonne Isuza playing the same position. Owino saw it as a perfect opportunity for him to learn from them little did he know things would take a different direction soon. The same year, his debut came in Thika stadium. Mathare United were playing against Thika United.

“I was playing in the offensive midfield. I assisted the first goal from a corner kick. I also scored the winning goal and we won 3-2. It was a perfect day for me I can say,” he explains with a smile. One time during a game against Zoo FC, their left-back got injured and the Coach decided to bring in Owino as the fullback three. He took it upon himself well. Never did he know he was sealing it as his position as from then he is well known for it up to today.

Free-kick: He has worked his way up and now dines in the same table as former International Kevin Kimani [IMAGE- Fabian Odhiambo]
On asked about the challenges he has faced so far he says, “I haven’t experienced any tough challenges beyond what I can handle. I believe in patience and I also thank God because I was able to settle quickly at Mathare United. They have a nice system of play that I fitted in so quickly.”

“I can’t say I have achieved much in the Kenya Premier League yet but my hard work has been seen because it has made it able for me to receive a number of National team call ups. The u20 qualifiers against Sudan in 2016 were the first ones. I have also been in the National u23, the Reserve senior team, I have been in the Senior Local team and recently I received call up to the First National Team that had scheduled to play against Comoros. At first, I never knew I could play the Kenya Premier League but it came. I also have the urge to believe that I will play in Europe” tells Owino.

In the community, David Owino is a Co-founder in the Voice of the Boy Child in Kibra. They have visited a number of children’s homes. They have also been able to host tournaments. He also helps in training the young boys and girls in the hoods upon request by a team.