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The Politics of Kenyan Football

FIFA officials made a quiet entry into town (Nairobi) last week and moved to Kisumu where they promised to refurbish the Kisumu Municipal Stadium.  Nobody made noise or fussed over them, yet four years down the line FIFA has not been to Kenya.
A body is elected but rather than give it time to expand, politics sets in. Kenyans forget that there is a time for everything. A time for building, sowing, spraying and harvesting.
So when did the rains begin pounding on us? Immediately we lost youth programmes. In 1974, a German Benhardt Zgoll initiated the Olympic Youth Centres in every province. Every province had its own Centre of Excellence in Football.

Every Province had a technical coach to tap football in the grassroots. That is when we had the likes of Kakamega Motion (Ministry of Transport and Communications, Transcom of Nakuru, Gema in Nairobi, Kentatco of Mombasa, Black Mamba of Kaloleni and city strikers of Starehe with players aged 17 to 22.

The luck these guys had during initial process of development is that they were taught the ingredients of a footballer. It is a creativity of awareness a footballer, player demands in the field. The who, where, when, with who , why and what one is playing football for.The development process includes defensive responsibilities. Every position requires a percentage of responsibility inn terms of attack and defence. This is a technique where you pick an individual players to a tactical cohesion of a team.

Why did Kenya perform better then than now? Then, they had gone through all these phases of development. From individual to collective techniques . The team relied heavily on technical skills. Today’s players don’t have this.

The concept died in the early 80s when Benhardt went home.  The programme then was sponsored by the German Technical Development Programme to Kenya. Benhardt left these centres going strong but everything dwindled to rot and the youth programme died a natural death. There was no continuity and it simply ground to a rot.

The players Benhardt developed include Bobby Ogola (Gor Mahia), Mohamed Abbas of the famous “Penalty ni nini kwa Abasi fame” (AFC), Wilberforce Mulamba (AFC), Tobias Ochola (Gor Mahia), Mohamed Magongo (Goalkeeper Breweries). Abas Khamis Magongo (Gor Mahia), Binzi Mwakola (Breweries), Patrick Naggi (Breweries), Elly Adero (Brewries), Josephat Murila (AFC Leopards), Ambrose Ayoyi (Scarlet Football Club, Nakuru), Douglas Mutua (Kenya Breweries) and the late John Barasa of Mwenje FC, Mombasa, just to name a few. After Benhardt, they played till the 90s.

“This is when the train started growing to a halt, a standtill and football went to the dogs, “said Mr Patrick Naggi, Technical Director, Football Kenya Limited cum CAF Coach in an interview with the writer.

In Naggi’s view, the Government of the day missed the best opportunity for this country by not hosting the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996. The system was told football belonged to the opposition (Luos and Luhyas). Then Kenya Football Federation was under Job Omino (late) and Secretary General Sam Obingo.

Under the Kanu regime, there seems to have been no proper football infrastucture. There was no proper Stadium in Nairobi, Kisumu, Rift Valley , Mombasa or Central Province. The lack of infrastructure was cemented when the Government allegedly refused to support the hosting of the CAF t0urnament.

Out of 52 countries Kenya had outbidded and won to host in 1996 and was was given hosting rights. The Government was to endorse this but according to CAF reports, it refused to do so. So after CAF was told of the politics involved, they pulled out.

Yet how would Kenya have benefitted from this event?  Kenya lost the opportunity to develop the infrastructure as CAF would have developed the field to international level. They also lost an opportunity in Sports Tourism and foreign currency. The event would expose our players to global football for free. The event moved to South Africa as Kenya continued playing politics.

There was a lack of vision. The Sports Ministry, then as now is the least important. With the loss of the youth programmes which had developed players in the Parastatals Community teams such as AFC, Luo Union, Kenya Railways, Posta/Telecommunicatios, Telcoms and Gor Mahia, Kenyan football grew terribly weak.

Then came the economic crash of the 1990s. Kenyan economy fell at Sh21 to Sh90. Money printing became a common phenomenon. The Shilling went and it never recovered.

Then came the infamous retrenchment. The first to go was the players…The majority to be retrenched was footballers. The clubs had to delve deep in their pockets. The players had to get jobs and the clubs only paid them tokens. Initially the players got jobs straight after school and they then concentrated and gave their lives to football. Football came down as clubs lacked funds in the field of play.  Says Naggi, “when the funds went home, football lost its meaning. The loss of fund meant a loss of oxygen, mileage, support. It is the crowd that pulls the sponsors. We lost the sponsorship, we lost everything.”

In Naggi’s perspective, in the absence of local teams, we lost rivalry and synergy. It got to a stage when the Maribous on Mombasa Roads were the only audience watching Kenyan football.

Today, there is a ray of hope. Clubs can raise KShs six million at the gate. The Kenya Premier League, mandated by Football Kenya Limited  to run the premier league in the country has brought the change around through good governance and good administration. DSTV is a token given to Kenya by FIFA to develop our country. And with sponsorship by Corporate Organisations the rivalry is back in the air…this is good for football.

It takes 12 years to develop a qualitative player. Yet Kenya is 12 years behind. Nobody should expect to be a Rip Van Wrinkle and start winning. He slept for 99 years. Eritrea, Somali, Djibouti..anyone who wants a team to beat comes to Kenya. It is a simple case of “Fail to Plan and plan to fail”.

Football experts know that the golden age to start football is 6 to 8 years. “The golden age teaches you to use both legs.  If there was weeding that plant would be much better (Mariga/Oliech). Years 6 to 14 is for grassroots development, that is from Std One to Std 8. The Youth Programme focuses on Ages 15 to 18 as this is the competitive play for muscular development,”Naggi explains.

Children at that time are egocentric and intrinsic and want to be heard and felt because the play for self. It is in that spirit that one finds people like Hugh Walcott, Robino, Pele, Etto playing for the World Cup

Part Two of the article continues.

Copyright, Omwa Ombara 2012.

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