It was June 22, 2014.
Belgium were toiling in the blazing heat of the Maracana against Fabio Capello’s Russia. It was a lifeless 0-0 which saw Russia’s Alexander Kokorin missing the best chance of the first half. Romelu Lukaku, for all his promise and talent, was struggling. In the 57th minute, the Belgium manager Marc Wilmots decided to make a change. A signal from him and Lukaku’s number flashed up.
In the 88th minute, Origi received the ball on the left flank. He ran, galloping in tandem with Eden Hazard, and passed the ball back to his compatriot. Hazard accelerated beyond a Russian defender and cut back a gorgeous pass. Origi was there, unmarked and waiting, and smashed the ball into the net.
Boom. One-nil. The Belgians were going to the last sixteen of the FIFA World Cup.
It was Origi’s first ever international goal. He was 19 years, 2 months and 4 days old.
A player at Lille, he was in the Belgium World Cup squad only because of an injury to Wilmots’ preferred striker, Christian Benteke.
“I’ve followed him [Origi] in the last four months,” said Wilmots after the game. “He has the profile of a young player but he is disciplined and fast. Nobody knew him when I first fielded him but you can see his qualities and the way he has integrated into the team.”
Three days after the events at the Maracana, a baby dolphin was born at the Boudewijn Seapark in Bruges. The new calf was named ‘Origi’ after the young striker. A month after this bizarre honour, on July 29, 2014, Liverpool Football Club made an announcement: Divock Origi had signed a five-year contract with the club.
Origi was born in Belgium on April 18, 1995, when Liverpool had the likes of David James, Stan Collymore and Robbie Fowler in their squad. Divock came from a footballing family in which his father, Mike Okoth Origi, was one of the first Kenyans to play professional football in Europe. Family is extremely important to Origi. When he signed for Liverpool, his uncles and cousin who play in the Kenyan league were all by his side. A close link to his heritage means that he can speak Kiswahili and Dholuo, as well as Sheng, a slang-language crafted by the youths of Nairobi.
Origi’s father, Mike Okoth or “The Magic”, left Kenya in 1992 to pursue a better career in football, not knowing that 22 years later, he and his wife Linda, would witness their son become the first player of Kenyan descent to score at a World Cup.
“I grew up at a time when my dad was among the few Kenyans playing in Europe,” Divock told The Nairobian. “I admired him right from the first days when I could tell right from wrong.”
His father’s guidance proved decisive when he joined Lille at fifteen. To Mike, his son’s development was first priority, and France provided coaches who had an interest in nurturing young players. After the World Cup, Mike credited his son’s growth to his discipline: “For us as a family, discipline is paramount. It is the virtue that we instilled in Divock. In football you can never make it far unless you behave well.” Then, as if it were an afterthought, Mike added, “And apart from that, he is also technically gifted and has real talent!”
When it came to choosing his next club, his father’s advice won out once more.
“My father told me to choose with my heart and I chose Liverpool,” recalled Origi. “When Liverpool came, I came to visit here and straight away, I felt part of it. Everyone knew me, even the video analysts. They knew exactly how I played and my heart just said ‘Liverpool’.”
Maybe because of such sensible family upbringing, Origi comes across as very articulate and mature beyond his years. He is, in many ways, a perfect Jurgen Klopp player: fast and strong, but more importantly, eager to learn and eager to die for the cause.
In New York, there is a breakout hip-hop musical called Hamilton. Its hero, Alexander Hamilton, is an orphan-immigrant who later became a founding father and the face on the ten dollar bill. In this adaptation of his life story, Hamilton raps that he is “young, scrappy and hungry.” Hamilton’s description of himself is also Divock Origi in a nutshell. Origi is greedy, but not selfish. Intelligent, but self-aware. And he has his eyes on the prize.
“I came to Liverpool and saw how professional all the players were. I was 19 years old,” said Origi. “I only started playing top football when I was 17 and a half. I only have a small experience in the first team. Coming here, seeing how the big players worked, it inspired me. I have made steps because I have been young and am starting to see the difference.”
Origi seems to wear his heart on his sleeve and does not shy away from being unguarded. Rather, he embraces it, buzzes off it, becomes enthused by it. You can see it in interviews when he talks about his manager and his teammates. You can see it in the way he runs the channels and celebrates goals. And you can see it in that extra 4kg he put on so that he can “play like a man” like Klopp had asked.
There are still more ups and downs to come in Divock Origi’s Liverpool career, but like Jurgen Klopp’s said in his first match in charge of Liverpool, “We will have fun with this player!”
Now, like Klopp, you can’t help feeling that there is something about this kid.
On Valentine’s Day, 2016, Origi received an immaculate pass from Philippe Coutinho just seconds after coming on as a substitute against Aston Villa. He raced onto the ball and slotted it into the net. Four-nil Liverpool.
The kid who made ‘Ligue One’s Worst Team of 2015’ turned, and ran straight for the jubilant Liverpool away end. Fans streamed down from the stands and enveloped him with their joy, their yells, and their hugs. One fan, however, got hold of the Belgian and planted numerous kisses on his cheek and mouth, leaving the teenager a little dazed.
“I turned and the first thing I saw was the fans,” he said later. “They were so happy and I wanted to celebrate with them. I think maybe on Valentine’s Day they were a little bit more emotional so I had some kisses, but it was nice to see.”
When asked about how such a passionate response made him feel, Origi said: “I could feel the love, definitely.”
And now the love is growing even more.
Can you feel the ground shifting?
- Mike Okoth’s interview
- Origi’s interview with The Nairobian
- Origi’s interview with The Telegraph
- Origi’s interview with The Liverpool Echo
Photo Credit: Getty Images