As Ken Odero asks on his blog, Was Mathew Ottamax’s career a case of bloated ego, unfulfilled potential or was he just misunderstood? The story of Mathew Ottomax is about a man who played for the 2 biggest clubs in Kenya, won a league title with each of them, played for the national team and left at his peak.' Mathews Owino ‘Ottamax’, who is currently a goalkeeper trainer, is our Kenyanstar of the week.
KS: Mathews to start us off, to which club do you swear your allegiance between the two Kenyan giants Gor-Mahia and AFC leopards?
Well first of all it is important to state that I'm currently a goalkeeper trainer at Nakumatt FC even though we are yet to formalize this engagement. That having been said, Nakumatt played Leopards in a friendly match the other day and it was evident from the reception i got that the leopards still have a lot of love for me. This feeling is mutual because tribal factors aside, even my friends at Gor-Mahia know i have always had AFC at heart so yes, AFC Leopards it is.
KS: How easy or difficult was it to make the switch from Gor-Mahia to AFC leopards?
I wouldn't say it was a difficult decision because at the time there were wrangles at Gor-Mahia and when Leopards came knocking even my core support agreed that for the sake of my career I'd be much better off at The Den.
KS: Tell us how your story began, and how you rose to these heights?
How i started was more accidental. I had been sent to the shops by my mum so on my way back i found two teams just about to start playing football. One of the teams didn't have a goalkeeper so they asked me to hold brief for them in goal. I was going to decline but they went ahead to take my 'slippers' and use them as makeshift goal posts. So then it seemed reasonable to me that being the temporary goalkeeper would also be an opportunity for me to guard my slippers so no one would steal them. That was the beginning.
KS: So you became a goalkeeper for this team...
I enjoyed the match that day and hence forth I would make a point to go play in the goal whenever there was one of those matches in the neighborhood. I thought it was a good break from spending most of my time in the house. I joined MYSA in its early years of foundation and I developed well through the ranks. I even had a chance to represent Kenya at the Under 14 level but missed as the match would be played when we were travelling with MYSA to our first Norway Cup.
KS: When was your big break?
KS: How did it happen?
I was in high school, in form one and i had trouble paying my school fees so i was sent home. I opted to pass time by joining the Re-Union training Camp. At that time Peter Kenneth was the Chairman. He came to me and asked why i wasn't in school and i explained. He asked me who pays my school fees and i told him it was my mum. He then took up my school fees from then till when i finished schooling. In return i would play for Re-Union.
KS: Did playing opportunities come at Re-Union?
It looked like i would have to wait for a long time. The first choice goalkeeper for Re-Union then was the legendary Mohamud Abbas who also doubled as the team manager. His number two in goal was one Charles Bushira. But there was this one time senior players went on strike due to unpaid allowances so the team officials had to quickly assemble a team that would honor the weekend matches. Like many of the players for that weekend, i was picked up in school on Thursday and told i would be playing over the weekend. Those days we played two matches every weekend. I soaked in six goals in my first two matches for Re-Union that weekend. We played Bata Bullets on Saturday and lost 3-2, on Sunday we played AFC Leopards and lost 3-0. But from then on we stabilized and that is how i started playing regular football.
KS: Mathews, you were in the AFC Leopards team that last won the league in 1998. What do you think Leopards need to do to bring back their glory days?
I think they need to cut down on politics or probably get one strong leader. Our days we had one Peter Onalo who ran the club with an iron fist. Over the past few seasons including 2016, AFC leopards have been assembling some of the best squads in the league but the politics at the club does not give them a chance to compete on the pitch.
KS: What is the difference between your days and now?
Of course there was a bit of stability, but the biggest difference is the money factor. During our days there wasn't a lot of money.
KS: Let us talk about Kenya vs Djibouti...
I saw this coming...
KS: Kenya won the tie 9-1 on aggregate. But that one goal, did you intentionally allow it to go in?
No, it was just a combination of genuine mistake and bad luck. We dominated Djibouti and as a way of keeping me in the game the defenders kept playing back passes to me. The goal moment was bad luck and a miss kick because my shoe got a bit held by the tall grass at the stadium.
KS: Who is that one striker that always gave you sleepless nights during your playing days?
Allow me to name several please. There is Nick Yakhama, The late Steve Okumu and Elkana Swaka
KS: Which do you consider your most memorable match?
When we played Nigeria Under-23. Most Kenyans didn't watch that match. It ended in a goalless draw and i was named man of the match. I think I was the first and among very few Kenyan goalkeepers who have gone to Nigeria and Kept a clean sheet.
KS: What do you make of the current status of football in Kenya?
It is in shambles. * See we don't even know when the league will kick off. I think football administrators have no consideration of players who are a key component of the game.
KS: Compared to your playing days do you think we are making progress?
Yes! There is progress. We have seen some of our top players play for top European clubs and this is something that will open doors for other Kenyans. We also saw the other day KPL players get some exposure in a match against Hull City FC courtesy of Sportpesa and yes there is increasing inflow of corporates sponsoring football in various categories. All this i think is progress.
KS: Tell us about your time at Gor-Mahia as Goalkeeper trainer.
Basically i joined Gor-Mahia technical bench at around the same time Frank Nuttal was hired. I understand, or was made to believe that the club was going through some financial difficulties at this time and there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver, and we did deliver including winning the league in 2015 unbeaten. Coincidentally, that same year I went the entire season with no pay. Once in a while i would be given small amounts of money and requested to be understanding since the club had no money. Lastly it is important to say that i didn't leave Gor-Mahia, I was forced out. I was told the coach had said he didn't want to work with me.
KS: How could you work with no pay? Was it just you or all other members of the technical bench?
Mostly me and the assistant coach. I think our services were abused and not appreciated but personally for me i do this for the love of the game and for the players I train.
KS: Because of careful management of their image rights sports people earn from product endorsements during and long after their playing time. How have you faired in this regard?
I got endorsements with Guinness beer in my playing days and I’m glad to say this has been picking up in the industry for instance we have the case of Oliech and Betways.
KS: Who do you think are the top three Kenyan goalkeepers currently?
Arnold Origi, Boniface Oluoch and Patrick Matasi in that order. I particularly think Origi has been very disciplined and hard working.
KS: Some people say you are arrogant with a bloated ego. Do you feel the same way about yourself?
My character is that I'm always myself and I'm not a Yes man. It lands me in trouble a lot of times but i don't shy away from airing my views.
KS: Your social media outbursts, aren't they doing some harm to your image?
Probably yes but i do not intend to stop. It is who I am. If i feel pinched i need to find a way to say I have been pinched and with technology, social media is one of those avenues.
KS: There have been accusations that you have a drinking problem...
The accusations have been that i go to training drunk which i can tell you today it's not possible. I respect my job and sometimes i leave the house at 5am to arrive at the training ground on time especially the days we start off at 8. Those are rumors maliciously spread by my detractors. I'm an adult and yes i indulge but responsibly, mostly after the training sessions.
KS: What was your Relationship with coach Ze Maria?
Largely we had a good relationship save for a few instances which is normal. Ze-maria is a very good coach and i respect him but he is the one with a bad ego compared to what they say i have. In my opinion he does not respect Kenyans football wise.
KS: Tell us about the 2010 derby match that you tried to stop...
What happened at that match was very unfortunate. I wasn't trying to stop it in bad faith, I was just trying to get some attention from everyone to what really mattered; people's lives. That was the first floodlight derby match if I'm not wrong and it had rained the entire afternoon. People had over indulged. I had come with my family and i pre-warned them the scenes weren't so good. The match had just started when i gained entry into the stadium via the VIP area but i could see fans struggling at the first terrace gate, others being stumbled on. It looked really bad. I tried to bring it to the attention of the police officers but they didn't seem bothered. I requested the Gor-Mahia bus driver to ferry some of those fans to hospital but he said he would need permission from his employers. I approached Carol Radul but i saw she was on set so there was little i could do. In that moment Gor-Mahia had been awarded a free kick so i decided i would go have the referee stop the match until the victims of the stampede had been taken care of. I was already on the pitch but before the referee could spot me the stewards were all over me with blows. It was a sad day.
KS: Why don't we have more Kenyan goalkeepers going to play professional say in Europe?
I think we do not believe in ourselves then we find an excuse in form of the perception that European clubs do not sign African goalkeepers but look at Idrissa Kameni (from Cameroon) and tell me if that is true.
KS: Did you ever get a chance to play in Europe yourself?
Yes i had an invitation to play in Sweden but had a hitch in my Visa application process so it did not materialize.
KS: Why did you leave the Harambee Stars technical bench?
What i saw at Harambee Stars was very disheartening. It wasn't good for football. Football is much more than what I saw in the national team. Mental preparedness and facilities are very key if we are to be competitive in our football.
KS: What is your parting shot to your fans and readers of Kenyanstar?
I just want to thank them for staying true to the game and always supporting the players and teams in general.
* - The Interview was conducted a few days before the release of KPL 2017 season fixtures. The fixtures are now out and we know the first matches will be played on the 11th of March.