NAIROBI, Kenya- “He is the next Dennis Oliech,” declared former Shabana FC coach, Gilbert Selebwa, when he first set his eyes on Masoud Juma when the player was training with the National Youth Talent Academy at Kasarani three years ago.
Blessed with a venomous right-foot shot coupled with blistering pace, comparisons with Harambee Stars record goal scorer Oliech, otherwise known as ‘The Menace’ for Juma were not wide off the mark.
However, at 19, the age Juma was at the time Selebwa caught sight of the SportPesa Premier League (SPL) side Kariobangi Sharks FC forward, Oliech had already established himself as a Kenyan international, playing professional football in oil rich Qatar and attracting interest from top clubs around the world.
In stark contrast, Juma did not enjoy the development which Oliech benefited from during his formative years at the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) Academy where he made trips to Norway to play in international youth tournaments.
Before he found his way to the Youth Talent Academy established as part of the Vision 2030 Government master plan, Juma had never kicked a football outside his native Isiolo- a town situated in the Upper Eastern sub-region, and lies 285 kilometres north of the capital Nairobi-which is the gateway to the arid North Eastern Kenya.
Born and bred in Isiolo, Juma started his football at Tumaini Primary School before joining Isiolo Barracks Secondary for his O-levels where he featured for Isiolo Youth FC in the fifth tier of the national football pyramid.
He then joined Kambakia Christian Centre (KCC) FC in Meru the following year. The team was then featuring in the FKF Division One Zone A Group 1 league, now the National Super League (NSL).
Juma rejoined Isiolo Youth until February 2014 when fallen domestic giants; Shabana spotted him while training with National Youth Talent academy at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
He scored five goals in three months at Shabana before moving to SPL side Bandari FC.
It’s at Bandari where Juma earned a call up to the Kenya Under 23 team that was preparing for a 2015 All Africa Games qualifier.
However, Juma did report to camp after sustaining an injury during a SPL tie against Sony Sugar FC at Mbaraki Grounds a day before he was due to join the national side.
His spell at Bandari was dogged by injury lay-offs and then Dockers head coach, Twahir Muhiddin preferred to use him as back up for Ugandan George Abege.
Nonetheless, Juma was to play a key role as Bandari won their first and only domestic trophy when he scored in their 3-1 victory over Nakumatt FC during the 2015 GOtv Shield final at the Nyayo Stadium to crown his stay at the Mombasa-based outfit.
A move to Sony in June 2016 in search of playing time saw him raise his stock by taking the SPL by storm with a penchant for spectacular strikes and come January, newly promoted Sharks swooped for his services.
Finding the net regularly as the 2016 National Super League runner-ups established themselves in the top-tier, Juma, 22, was called up to the senior Stars squad and on June 10, 2017, Head Coach Stanley Okumbi named him in the starting XI of their 2019 AFCON qualifier away to Sierra Leone to mark his debut.
It capped a remarkable story for the player who rose from a pastoralist community to wear the cherished shirt of his nation but his Stars quickly descended from a dream come true into a nightmare.
A 1-2 reverse saw local football fans tear into Okumbi and his team selection, with Juma who started ahead of then SPL top-scorer, Stephen Waruru, shouldering the blame as supporters frayed him-perhaps unfairly- for missing a glaring ninth minute opportunity to give Kenya the lead.
Put through on goal, Juma had only Sierra Leone goalkeeper, Maurice Solomon, to beat but to the horror of the watching Kenyans at home and ecstasy from the home support, the Sharks striker saw his shot saved as the huge sense of occasion got into his nerves, affecting his composure.
Slated on social media, keyboard warriors poured vitriol on Juma and Okumbi for alleged favouritism to Sharks players in the national team since the SPL team’s Patron happens to be Football Kenya Federation President, Nick Mwendwa.
There was no respite for Juma when two unsuccessful trials led to more trolling on social media that forced him at one time, to respond to his critics, incurring even more online abuse.
First, the striker went to Sweden where he spent two weeks seeking to impress top tier side AIK Fotball and lower division Jonkopings Sodra who opted not to take up his services.
A week later, Juma landed in South Africa for trials with Premier Soccer League (PSL) champions, Bidvest Wits and again he could not secure a deal.
Labelled a failure, Juma drew heart from the fact that Michael Olunga, the LaLiga Girona FC striker also failed trials at Wits before he joined Swedish topflight team Djurgardens from SPL champions, Gor Mahia FC where he had a remarkable season; scoring 12 goals in 27 games.
“It doesn’t matter whether you fail or pass, what matters is how you will collect yourself and make it happen.
“Even Olunga attend trials in SA and he failed but (is) now his among the best strikers and our national team main striker. And sorry (to) those who like criticizing players because (when) you criticize, it’s a challenge,” Juma, going under the alias Masud Sudd, wrote on his Facebook page at the height of the online slander.
“It will make me grow even more, I don’t need you guys to get where I want,” he added in a post that elicited mixed reactions from those who supported him against the abusers.
True to his words, the harsh criticism only added fire to his belly as he went about proving his detractors wrong on the platform where no one could touch him- the football pitch.
Juma netted five to inspire his side to their first-ever GOtv Shield final, including a brace in their semi-final demolition of his former club Sony but local titans AFC Leopards SC denied him and his Sharks teammates a fairytale ending when they hit them 0-2 for their 10th domestic cup.
“He is a player who works extra. He will give you more than 100 percent. He is committed and always hungry to score.
“When you have such a striker, you can easily plan for an opponent because you know his scoring prowess is top notch,” his coach William Muluya hailed.
Not done, Juma roared into contention for the SPL Golden Boot when he notched a brace in each of their ties against Posta Rangers FC and Chemelil Sugar FC.
And last weekend, the Sharks front man was in unforgiving mood when he plundered four past the hapless Muhoroni Youth FC to accelerate their departure from the SPL that was confirmed a day later to take his tally to 15 with two games to go.
His blitz against condemned Muhoroni saw him open a lead over closest Golden Boot rivals, Gor duo Jacques Tuyisenge and Meddie Kagere as well as Nakumatt’s Kepha Aswani who are tied at 12.
“At the start of the season I had a target of 25 goals in all competitions. I was not aiming for the Golden Boot but I believe I can hit my target because I’m now only five off,” Juma stressed, pushing himself to notch at least a hat-trick and a brace in the final two games.
Whether he achieves his lofty goal or not, 2017 will go down as his breakthrough season having not scored more than five since he joined the SPL.
Juma is the rank favourite to follow in the footsteps of John Makwatta (2016/Ulinzi Stars FC), Jesse Were (2015/Tusker FC), Dan Sserunkuma (2014/Gor), Jacob Keli (2013/KCB FC), John Baraza (2012/Sofapaka), Waruru (2011), Baraza (2009) and Francis Ouma (2008/Mathare) who bagged the Golden Boot award under the current SPL format.