Are glory days beckoning for Kenyan football again?

1583

BY DAVID ONJILI

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of the nation went to Jamhuri Park to watch Kenya Play Ghana in an independence celebratory match, thereafter dubbed the Jamhuri Day horror. Documented as his first and last match ever, Kenya trailed by four goals, courtesy of Ghana’s Acheampong, with only 35 minutes played and eventually lost 13 – 2.

Agitated, the old man wondered why Kipchoge Keino, Kenya’s 1968 Olympian Gold Medalist and Olympic record holder in 1500m could not be allowed to come and outrun the Ghanian’s with the ball.

Ever since, Kenya’s football has seen both better and worse days, with the local league picking up in the late 70s through early 80s when both City and Nyayo Stadiu became battlegrounds to both players on the pitch and overexcited fans on the terraces. It was in the early mid 90 under coach Reinhard Fabisch that the National team probably saw its better days, standing up to in-form African giants Nigeria and Cameroon. Thereafter, the candle burned out and empty terraces in both local and international fixtures henceforth characterized the national stadia. Even though Harambee Stars qualified in the AFCON 2004, the performance was dismal.

Fast-forward, December 6, 2018 and Confederations of African Football (CAF), in a press statement ultimately confirmed that the national team will be participating in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) early 2019 after more than a decade in the wilderness. The decision was reached after Sierra Leone was banned and with a game to go, Stars lead their group by seven points ahead of soccer giants Ghana who have six.

Kenya boasts prodigious talents of the likes of Dennis Oliech, named alongside players like Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie in 2004 as one of the top young players in the world. Victor Mugubi Wanyama, Macdonald Mariga, Simon Mulama, and Musa Otieno are some of the top class talents the nation has had over the years. This talented group just never left a mark in the national team due to mismanagement and lack of vision by the then soccer administration.

While the current Federation of Kenya Football (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa has had his fair share in poor leadership, credit must be given to him for taking the nation to AFCON. Under his stewardship, the national soccer team has had successful preparations and their allowances paid in time.

Mwendwa began his reign by appointing Stanley Okumbi as head coach, but a string of poor and unconvincing results compounded by pressure from football stakeholders led him to be dropped. In came Paul Put who won CECAFA in Machakos before being replaced by current coach, Frenchman Sebastian Migne whose reign has been exemplary. Under Migne, we beat Ghana at home on our way to AFCON qualification, a feat that will go down the annals of history.

As the country prepares to honour the AFCON next year and whose host will be communicated later after Cameroon withdrew, it is imperative that the national government comes to their aid by availing funds and in time so they can be in camp for team chemistry. They should also be enabled to have high profile friendly games.

It was not just the national soccer team, Harambee Stars that did the country proud. Local clubs Gor Mahia and Kariobangi Sharks respectively did start their continental football by advancing past the first round knockouts, where local clubs have been always stopped at in the international competitions.

By virtue of winning the league, Gor Mahia represented the country in the African Champions League. They advanced to the round of 30 by seeing of Nyasa Bullets of Malawi after winning 1 – 0 the first leg in Nairobi and losing the second one 0 -1 in Malawi. They advanced after a 4 – 3 post match penalties win and will now face Lobi Stars from Ghana with the first leg fixture coming on December 16 and the return later for a chance to advance to the group stages in the competition.

New comers Kariobangi Sharks dispatched Arta Solar from Djibouti 9-1 on aggregate after a comfortable 6-1 home win. The victory was a welcome treat to starved fans. These wins by Gor Mahia and the Sharks were sweet to the local fans especially given the fact that they were with local coaches, Zico Otieno for Gor and Wiliam Muluya for the Sharks. For their qualification for the round of 32 of the Confederations Cup, Kariobangi Sharks will face Asante Kotoko of Ghana.

To cap it off, Harambee Stars has been nominated by CAF as the national soccer team of the year. A major thumbs up on their success on the pitch. This is a good morale boost to the players and general football fraternity but also a reminder that we need to work harder for better tidings and never rest on demanding better from the administrators.

For now, the Government can support local football by ensuring stadiu are well maintained, the national soccer team and technical bench are well taken care of financially. Federation president has already drawn a timetable that includes holding camp in France and hosting a major footballing African country in their final warm up in Nairobi in March before the tournament kicks off. All this is however dependent on availability of funds with FKF seeking Sh200 million from the government and well-wishers.