Last night, I watched online the live transmission of the Comoros vs Kenya’s Harambee Stars match in Moroni. It was a MUST win for Harambee Stars if they ever had any hopes of qualifying for the 33rd edition of Africa Cup of Nations to be staged in Cameroon next year (2021).
Having watched the opposite fixture in Nairobi last week, and how the local lads struggled for the better part of the game with 10 men on the other side, it was apparent that it would be a mountain in Moroni.
At Kasarani, the boys lacked the stamina to push for a home win. They lacked the oomph to challenge their visitors. They lacked the courage to inspire Kenyans that they were indeed candidates for 2021 AFCON finals in Cameroon. They lacked the spirit to motivate anyone that they were playing for the National team.
Kenyans have in the past been treated to good football and scintillating moves by our National Soccer team lads. For instance, in the 1990’s, there was not a single dull moment watching Harambee Stars playing both locally and internationally. The boys were exceptionally good and had the interest of the nation at heart.
They played their hearts out not to please the fans, but to lift our national flag higher than it was hoisted at the peak of Mt. Kenya upon Kenya becoming an independent state.
In 1992, when Kenya qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations (I was in standard seven), the sparkling lads under Head Coach Gerry Saurer, an Austrian played for their nation.
In the squad in Senegal were John Busolo, Tobias Ocholla Jua Kali, Francis Oduor, Terry Onyango, Vitalis Owuor, George Sunguti, Micky Weche, John Lukoye, Tony Lwanga, Henry Nyandoro, Sammy Omolo Pamzo, Alfayo Odongo, Henry Motego, Simon Ndung’u, Mike Okoth among others.
The team was placed in group A along with Nigeria that had household names like Rashid Yekini, Samson Siasia, Stephen Keshi, Uche Okechukwu, Mutiu Adepoju, Jonathan Akpoborie, Finidi George, Victor Ikpeba among others. Hosts Senegal were also in the group.
Although the boys did not make it to the Quarter Finals, they displayed good football but lost to the best. The then KFF Chairman Hon. Mathews Adams Karauri had full confidence in the team and mobilized all the necessary support for the team.
Then in mid to late 1990’s, we had a team that was put together by German coach Reinhard Fabisch, which was billed by football pundits as the best ever national football team to have been put together by the national team coach.
Names like Francis Onyiso, Kennedy Simiyu, John Lichuku, John Odhiambo Baressi, Eric Omondi, Musa Otieno, Josiah Ougo, Mohamed Sharrif, Maurice Wambua, Tilen Oguta, Tom Ogweno, Seif Mutie, Francis Were, Paul Oyuga, Eric Digolla, Vincent Kwarula, Eric Ochieng Cantona among others featured in his squad.
Some people said, Fabisch did not pick his squad from among the top names in the country, he went down to the grassroots and identified the best he thought would fit in his system. And it paid off.
Thousands of football fans would fill all the space at the expansive Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani stadium as millions of others followed Kenya play other teams live from their living rooms on Television.
Those days, even as the iconic John Nyongesa and the every green Bernard Otieno broadcasted live the matches on television, soccer fanatics would turn off the volume on their television sets and crank up the volume on their radio to listen to Jack Oyoo Sylvester, Ali Salim M’manga, Billy Omala, Stephen Mwita Koroso, Said Ali Matano, Leonard Mambo Mbotela, Nick Okanga Naftali among others visualize the scene at the stadium live on radio. Those were the days when football was called football in Kenya.
And the KFF officials then from Peter Kenneth, Maina Kariuki, Sam Nyamweya and others worked round the clock to ensure there was sponsorship for the team and players paid their allowances on time. The media too motivated the players by hyping and highlighting them all the time. It was fun being a fan of Harambee Stars.
Today, fans have even lost hope in the National Soccer team. They have nothing to smile about when it comes to Harambee Stars. Because they don’t INSPIRE, they don’t MOTIVATE and they don’t PLAY THEIR HEARTS OUT.
What football fans in Kenya have witnessed in the past week is a fallacy. It is nothing compared to yester-years when players played for their country and not for their own benefit.
The Football Kenya Federation (FKF) has failed the country in as far as nurturing talents is concerned. They have politicized the organization and left it at the whim of the highest bidder. Soccer is never managed like that.
FKF MUST adopt a new system of management. Not the Hitler style of ‘it should me my way or not’. Football is a social sport that should bring together everyone, including that person with a torn pair of shorts.
FKF MUST depoliticize football for it to grow.
FKF MUST give freedom to the National Soccer team coach to select players to his squad. They MUST not interfere with the coach and his team at any given time. They MUST sit down and wait for the result. And with this freedom, the coach MUST ensure he delivers the best.
The National Soccer team coach MUST seek advise from stakeholders and his living predecessors. For instance, Coach Jacob Ghost ‘Mulee’ MUST look for successful Coaches Marshal Mulwa, Mohammed Kheri among others for guidance and skills.
Players selected to the National Soccer team MUST merit the selection. We cannot have the same faces all the time, even bread has expiry date.
The players MUST show proof that they are up to the task.
They MUST play for their country with their hearts and not for money (of-course money is a MUST), but they MUST work hard to bring back the smile on the faces of Kenyans.
Finally, there is need for a stakeholders’ meeting to be organized by the FKF and bring together everyone interested in the growth of soccer in the country to chart the way forward on how to revive soccer in the country.
We MUST bring FOOTBALL back to our country.
By Philip Etale