This soccer legend went from kicking off international matches to kicking off hope

Musa Otieno, CEO of Kick Off to Hope, standing next to a goal post during a training session in Jericho, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Irene Mumbi, bird story agency

As a young boy, Musa Otieno discovered the power of soccer to transform lives. Now, the retired footballer is using his early life lessons to help others.

Velma Pamela, bird story agency

He could be living the life that many fans believe retired international footballers have earned – a life of luxury, touring the world and spending holidays at high-end destinations. Instead, Musa Otieno, the most-capped Kenyan international soccer player ever and former player for South African football club Santos, is way too busy. While his role as a coach hardly looks like slowing down, he is also giving hope to vulnerable people in his home city of Nairobi.

Otieno, the seventh-born in a family of eight children, was fortunate enough to sign his first professional football contract while still in high school, a factor that he said made him realise the magnitude of what football could do – for him and others.

“AFC Leopards S.C. paid my entire school fees in high school when I signed with them in 1992 while studying at Ofafa Jericho High School and that is when I realized that football pays – as I earned more than some of my teachers,” Otieno said.

A year later, the lanky defender made his debut for Harambee Stars, the Kenya national senior football team, in an international match against Zaire, before he moved to Kenya Breweries Football Club and later signed for Cape Town team Santos, playing in the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) .

Otieno went on to become one of Santos’ longest-serving players, staying with them for 14 years, making 311 appearances and scoring 38 goals.

Musa Otieno, CEO of Kick Off to Hope, sitting down for an interview with bird story agency in Jericho, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Irene Mumbi, bird story agency

Santos FC, known as the “The Peoples Team” thanks to its insistence on non-racial inclusivity during the apartheid period, remains the only team that was not a founder member of the PSL and yet won the title. This was thanks to a stellar 2001-2002 season, in which Otieno played an important role. In addition to winning that season’s league title, Otieno also helped the team clinch the ABSA Cup in 2003, the Bob Save Super Bowl – currently known as the Nedbank Cup – in 2001 – and the BP Top 8 (currently the MTN 8) Cup, in 2002. He also served for a year – between 2011 and 2012 – as an assistant coach for Santos upon his retirement as a player.

It was not until his retirement that he established a charity organisation in Makadara, Nairobi, where he was brought up. But in many ways, his journey of giving had begun earlier.

“The journey started in 2004 when I decided to give my life to Christ as together with other friends started to spread the Gospel through the game of football. We could go to interior and marginalized areas with the aim of spreading the Gospel through the game of football,” he shared.

In 2008, Otieno joined the American Cleveland City Stars on a year-long loan deal from Santos F.C. He helped the club, which was competing in the United Soccer League Second Division, win the title that year, scoring a goal and appearing seven times for the club. It was during his time in the United States that he met some the key people who would later becomin involved in the charity now known as Kick Off to Hope. Otieno is the CEO of the Kenyan branch of the charity,

There are three other branches of Kick Off to Hope, with one in Burundi, one in Germany and one in the United States.

While Kick Off to Hope – Kenya began by focusing on providing football skills to young players in marginalised communities, the charity soon widened its support, with the result that the organisation is now about much more than football.

“We saw the need of including women in our early morning workouts and it was after the workouts that they conceived the idea of creating a union through which they would get empowered. We then decided to commence sewing and computer classes within the organization and as at now, our first cohort are out, empowered and engaging in relevant financial-generating activities,” Otieno explained.

Musa Otieno, CEO of Kick Off to Hope, stepping on a ball during a training session in Jericho, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Irene Mumbi, bird story agency

Today the organisation has close to 200 beneficiaries. One of those is 17-year-old George Mwangi, who was introduced to “Coach Musa” through a friend at just nine years of age.

Today he is in high school thanks to the organisation which takes care of the larger share of his schooling needs.

Mwangi is also a member of the Kick Off to Hope Under-17 Football Team, benefitting not only from football training but also from some of the life-skill sessions that are part of the programs provided by the charity.

“I heard about this organization when I was a small boy, from a friend. The following Saturday, I came to see Coach Musa who assisted me with playing boots and absorbed me in the team. Today, I’m 17 years old, in form one and I’m grateful to this organization as it caters for my education needs,” Mwangi disclosed.

Otieno’s experience as a licensed CAF B holder coach and Football Kenya Federation coach instructor has led to stints at top teams in Kenya and even the national team. Right now, however, Otieno’s coaching experience is focused on the young players in the Kick Off program.

Nicholas Mutuku, another beneficiary who is part of the senior team at Kick Off to Hope and also doubles up as a coach, said that he was inspired by Kick Off’s wider goals, in addition to the thrill of being turtored by a Kenyan socce legend.

“My dream is to scale the heights and achieve my ambition to play football in Europe and eventually come back to give back to the society the same way Coach Musa is doing,” he said.

bird story agency