Kenyan striker Michael Olunga has taken to social media to thank Kashiwa Reysol and their fans for their support towards him at the club, as he turned out for new club Al-Duhail of Qatar in a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Al-Sadd in the Qatar Stars League. Olunga made his official debut for Al-Duhail on Tuesday however his signing was not announced by the Qatari giants until Saturday, around the same time Olunga paid tribute to Kashiwa and the J.League paid their own tribute to the 2020 season MVP and Golden Boot winner.
Arriving at Kashiwa from then-Chinese Super League side Guizhou Hengfeng in 2018, Olunga had a quiet first season as Kashiwa were relegated at the end of that year. However, staying at the Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium in the buildup towards the 2019 J.League 2 season, Olunga exploded into life, scoring 27 times as Kashiwa won the 2019 J2 title and returned to the top flight at the first time of asking. His most memorable haul that year was an 8-goal slugfest as Kashiwa dismantled Kyoto Sanga 13-1 at the final day of the 2019 season.
Olunga was retained as Kashiwa took part in the 2020 J.League 1 season and his stock kept on rising despite the difference in division. Even though Kashiwa were powerless in stopping Kawasaki Frontale from cakewalking their way into the 2020 J1 title, the men in yellow had a season to be proud of in 2020. They finished 7th as they showed no fear against the J1’s big boys and went on to snatch the silver medal in the 2020 J.League Cup, losing 2-1 to FC Tokyo on January 4th. Olunga lead the way for Kashiwa with his 28 goals, nabbing himself the Golden Boot in the process. His presence in Japanese football throughout 2020 was so prominent, in a season dominated by Kawasaki’s players, Olunga managed to bag himself the 2020 J.League 1 MVP award, the first African to be crowned as the J.League’s best player of a season.
Unfortunately for Kashiwa and their fans, Olunga’s appearance in the 2020 J.League Cup final proved to be his final match for the club. 2019-20 Qatar Stars League champions Al-Duhail has been keeping tabs on Olunga’s explosive performances week-in-week-out for Kashiwa and shortly after the J.League Cup final they managed to get their man. Olunga penned a three-year contract with Al-Duhail, joining a team being coached by former Ivory Coast, Rennes, and Nottingham Forest head coach Sabri Lamouchi and having former AS Roma, Bayern Munich, and Juventus player Mehdi Benatia on their books.
Olunga made his Al-Duhail debut on Tuesday with his new side taking on an Al-Sadd team being coached by former FC Barcelona maestro Xavi. The Kenyan played 67 minutes in his debut however a hat-trick from Algeria international Baghdad Bounedjah meant that Al-Duhail went down 3-1 to their opponents.
On Saturday, once Al-Duhail made the announcement regarding his signing, Olunga took to Twitter to thank Kashiwa and their fans for their support towards him throughout his two-and-a-half years at the club.
“It is with great pleasure that I hereby thank the entire Kashiwa Reysol family for your support for the past two and a half years,” Olunga said in a statement, “My sincerest gratitude goes to the management, the team, and the supporters. I appreciate the confidence you all showed in me and for the opportunity you provided for me to represent you on the football pitch. I enjoyed my stay in Kashiwa and I wish you all great success in your future endeavors.”
Olunga also appeared in a video posted on Kashiwa’s official Twitter account, where he voiced his appreciation for everyone at the club, wished Kashiwa success for the 2021 season, and dropping hints that he’s open for a return to the Chiba Prefecture-based club sometime in the future.
In response to Olunga’s token of appreciation, the official social media accounts of the J.League posted their own tribute of Olunga, with a video of the Kenyan’s highlight reel from the 2020 season alongside a message of appreciation.
“As he heads on his next adventure in Qatar, we want to thank Michael for his time in league and wish him good luck,” read the J.League’s message for Olunga, “Farewell to the 2020 J1 MVP, farewell to the 2020 J1 top scorer, farewell to Michael Olunga, and good luck to you, Engineer…Our Engineer!”
The message continued, “Kenyan superstar Olunga led not only the Kashiwa Reysol attack, but the entire J1 League with his goal-scoring prowess. The forward’s 28 goals were 10 more than anyone else and earned him the league’s MVP award, few players have made as massive an impact as Michael Olunga in such a short space of time.”