Whither, whether, or what for CECAFA Challenge Cup?

Two months ago a certain African football federation was thrown into turmoil when the host of their show piece event suddenly withdrew. While CAF moved with speed to save the Africa Cup of Nations, the body I’m talking about is the Confederation and East and Central African Football Associations, and the event in question is the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup.

Born as the Gossage Cup in the 1920s, the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup is the oldest running international football tournament on the African Continent, was due to be hosted in Ethiopia in its traditional November-December window.

Kenya’s Harambee Stars are the current defending champions, having won the 2013 edition as hosts. That year’s tournament had its own problems as FKF, struggled to mobilize funds to ensure all th hosting costs were met in good time. There was the embarrassment of a national team detained in a city hotel over unpaid bills.

Harambee Stars fans follow the action in a past Senior Challenge Cup (Source:Nation.co.ke)

After a number of behind the scenes efforts, CECAFA finally gave up (at least for this year) and the tournament was called off. Word spreading on several sports sites indicates that the tournament long overdue an overhaul and that nation were increasingly averse to hosting the show in its current format.

Apparently, some of CECAFA’s members want a home and away league system (like in the UEFA Champions League) with finalists playing each other at a neutral venue at the end of the year. Or something like that

If this reform carries through, it will pretty much eliminate the burden of one country having to host several teams and the delegations and fans, that apparently was the beef behind most of the CECAFA members dislike for the once off tournament format.

However, spreading the CECAFA tournament will have its draw backs. For instance, given that most of the time the players are involved in club football (home and abroad) and when that is not going on, World Cup and CAN Qualifiers, when will these matches be held?

Will there not likely be resistance from those clubs whose plates are already full with local league, and continental commitments? Asking them to allow their start players to commit to an additional ~22 (11 opponents x 2 games) during the competitive season might a bitter pi8ll to swallow. Not to mention issues of security, in countries like Somalia in particular. Will they host their won matches?

That being said, no actual changes have been announced, yet and in all likelihood, the promoters of change might not get the numbers to force anything at all through. Nonetheless, with this years’ Challenge Cup tournament off the books, and potential host showing cold feet, clearly things cannot go on as is.

About Kenya’s Football Factories

Right now I am in the middle of a coffee buzz. possibly the best thing in the world to inspire writing. Anyway, I read this article on the rise and fall of a certain famous, and storied German Football club and it got me thinking. How does the state of Kenya’s leading football clubs reflect on the state of Kenya’s Harambee Stars and the wider state of Kenyan football?
Many writings I’ve seen that address this issue of Kenyan football history will immediately rush to recall the glory days of the 198os as though they were some kind of footballing ‘garden of Eden’ from whence we are now forever banished. But why?
It is true that this period was one which Kenyan Soccer hit new heights. At least in the men’s game. Harambee Stars were finalists in the All Africa Games gold in 1987, three consecutive CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup trophies, and even qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations 1988 edition (a tournament which stood out becuase in that year it was for only 8 of Africa’s best football nations).
How did Kenya’s premier football clubs Gor Mahia and AFC Leopard do in that season? Very well actually. They were winning the CECAFA club championship with regularity, both made semifinals appearances in Continental Club competitions, with Gor Mahia winning the Mandela Cup in 1987. So how are these successes connected to one another?
Except for a brief period in the 1970s, the football academies that are the centre of the article I mentioned at the start of this piece, have not been a central part of Kenyan football clubs source talent. Indeed, aside from Mathare United, this bloggers is not aware of a top level football club that directly controls a football value chain, all the way from when their are in their early teens to when they finally graduate into the senior ranks as is common with the above mentioned football club as in the case in most of Europe.
Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards historically sourced their players from networks of football clubs in their ‘hinterlands’ and in today’s KPL, it is becoming customary for these two teams, together with Sofapaka, and Tusker FC, to cynically poach the best performing players of their rival clubs from the previous season, as though these teams were nothing more than academies for them.
But I digress, if you look closely at the past, you will notice, that an overwhelming majority of the players that were at the heart of those 1980s Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, and from there Harambee Stars, had been seasoned (if you will) through working out in a series of Olympic football centres set up by a German coach by the name Bernard Zgoll in the 1970s. these centres used to scout regional teams, and bring in the boys they felt were going somewhere, and then expose them to the highest brand of technical training available in the land. these players would then transit to the big football clubs and from their into the history books.
When Mr Zgoll left, his Olympic centres died, and it was not until Mathare United became that upstart Nationwide league team, which insisted on embarrassing AFC Leopards at Moi Golden Cup Finals, did the concept of specialist football academies come back into the football mainstream in Kenya.
Mind you this article is not about fetishizing football academies in particular, because as I have stated earlier, AFC Leopards, and Gor Mahia, were quite good without directly controlling football academies and in any case, even with their football academy, nowadays Mathare United see to merely existing in the Kenya Premier League rather that trying to win any kind of accolades on the field.
The real loss, if you put the fancy football academies to one side, is the breakdown of the traditional, feeder clubs that community based teams used to partner with as talent identifiers on the ground, because to be honest, even these academies like JMJ and the like also need to get their raw talent from somewhere.
Right now, what amounts to a squad the best of Kenya’s locally based footballers plus filler, are contesting the CECAFA challenge Cup, against the best local talent from across the region. They might very well win. They were finalists in last year’s edition and we are hosting the event. However, how much refining have the gems in today’s Harambee Stars before hitting the big time, compared to the Harambee Stars squads of the 80s? Is it any wonder that the current Harambee Stars always seem to hit a brick wall when trying to turn the occasional big win, or surprise draw into a successful World cup qualification?
I’m not going to pretend that I have concrete answers to these things, but wouldn’t bringing a bit of that old 1980s preparation back into the Harambee Stars supply chain help, because simply shelling out for an expensive coach to make a scape goat out of when that brick wall gets hit isn’t working

Since Harambee Stars last CECAFA Victory…

Kenya’s Harambee stars open their 2013 CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup campaign against a strong Ethiopia at Nyayo stadium at 4:30pm (East African Time). The Harambee Stars have won the tournament, which is the oldest active international soccer tournament in Africa, 5 times overall with last time being in 2002 when the team was coached by a then fresh faced Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee. That was the same ghost Mulee who would lead Kenya to their only win at the finals of an Africa Cup of nations, in the 2004 edition, and has since won a number of trophies with Tusker FC, before settling into a life of TV punditry. That is a story for another day
Anyway this article is dedicated to looking at some of the things that have happened on and off the soccer pitch in Kenya since Harambee stars were last CECAFA Challenge Cup winners.
If he makes it to March next year, Adel Amrouche will become only the 2nd Harambee stars coach to finish a whole calendar year as national team head coach
Kenya has had three presidential elections, and two presidents (Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta) elected to high office. In between there have been two constitutional referendums, one election crisis, a grand coalition government, and the beginning of two crimes against humanity cases at The Hague.
Shabana FC, Posta Rangers, Red Berets, and among other perennial top flight football teams have faded into oblivion, while only Sofapaka and have really established themselves in Kenya’s Premier League since then.
Three Kenyans (two of them brothers) have participated in the UEFA Champions League, one even has a winners’ medal. There is a Kenyan in a practice squad on an NFL franchise, and a Kenyan born cyclist has won the Tour de France
Kenya made it to the semi finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup once (in 2003), but has only won one game in the subsequent two editions in 2007 and 2011.
Kenya has made it to the semi finals of the Rugby Sevens World Cup twice? And become a core member of the Sevens World Series Circuit.
One David Rudisha became the first athlete to break an 800 metres World Record at the Olympics final. He also became the first man to run 800m sub 1:41, among other amazing things that happened in that race in the London 2012 Olympics.
These are just a few of the things that have happened in Kenya since Harambee stars last won the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup. Can they break the drought this round?

JUST IN: Word on the Street says Harambee Stars may coach may have already resigned over unpaid dues. Oh well…

Are we ready to host the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup?

For those not in the know, Kenya is set to host the 2013 edition of CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup and the tournament is set to start in less than 15 days.  This was after FKF blew up at CECAFA for conspiring with its sponsors to take away Kenya’s hosting rights for last year’s edition. CECAFA justified its decision of the virtually non-existent attendances when Kenya last hosted the feat. In all honesty, he had a point. Marketing for that was virtually non-existent, and even granted the weather, it had to be said that the resultant empty stands were a big let down.

This time around it seems that even the minimal coverage the tournament hosts have secured for this edition is negative. Football Kenya Federation figured that a humanitarian theme would do the tournament a world of good, and what better issue than the plight of millions of Somalians, so straight forwardly captured by the ‘Peace for Somalia’ slogan. That ought to bring in the fans right? Not if the Somalians themselves denounce the whole thing

Four cities, (Nairobi, Nakuru, Mumias, and Kisumu) have been selected to host matches  this year. These have significant football fan bases, have reasonably well maintained grounds, but without better marketing will we see the same empty stands as before?

Hopefully in the fortnight remaining FKF get something together more coherent than condescending to a hurting nation, but I am not exactly holding out hope

#CECAFA returns to Kenya

After some tussling with the governing Confederation of East and Central African Football Associations, FKF were finally given clearance to host the former’s flagship CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup for 2013 . The tournament will run from the end of November, into early December.

Now the reason CECAFA have been so reluctant to kept Kenya host this tournament is because, the last time this happened in 2009 barely anybody showed up to watch the games. What with the then FKL’s virtually non-existent publicity for the event. Anyway, Kenya has another shot to show they can get fans excited about regional soccer and Harambee Stars have an opportunity to win a trophy for the first time since the early noughties. Best of luck to both.

I’m still impressed with #HarambeeStars

Despite going down to a soft goal, on a bad free kick, to dreaded rivals Uganda Cranes in the last minute of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup final, I am impressed with the overall showing that Kenya’s national team put in over the course of the tournament. Having gone out at the group stage, in the previous two events, and without a tournament win since 2002, this showing is a nice change of tune for long suffering fans. They generally operated as a team, overcame most of the adversities thrown up at them and even in the pressure cooker of a penalty shoot out, they had the composure to score all their 4 to knock out a stubborn Zanzibar team. Is it no wonder the man contracted to coach the team to the event, former Tusker Coach James Nandwa, has been made assistant to full time head coach, Henri Michel?

Now its on to the bigger issue of CHAN qualifiers. Kenya face Burundi over two legs, in the first sound of qualifiers. Probably a much softer challenge than Uganda, yet still good enough to take advantage, if Kenya don’t take the the seriously enough. All the best to them.

Who isn’t impressed with #HarambeeStars?

I know I am. Coming off the back of two straight group stage eliminations, and at least 2 coaching changes in the last 2 years, Kenya’s national football team have certainly come together impressively this CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup. Now one step away from winning the title for the 1st time since 2002, it is certainly a massive change of fortunes in a very short time.

They now face a very familiar foe Uganda in a stadium where they haven’t lost to anyone in 8 years. This is the same Uganda team that beat Kenya 1-0 in the opening match, but based on the performances I’ve seen it will not be the same Harambee Stars that walk out onto the field in the final. They bounced back admirably to dispatch South Sudan 2-0, and then Ethiopia, on a nightmare pitch, 3-1, to qualify for the quarterfinals. There they edged out Malawi 1-0, and then came from behind twice (the 2nd time after a really dubious penalty) to edge out Zanzibar on penalties in the semifinals. In doing so they showed a level of resilience that hasn’t often been associated with the Harambee Stars over the past decade. This time around there has been alot of the ‘Harambee’ spirit of pulling together. So far this tournament there has been star quality, with veterans like Mike Baraza, coming strong against Zanzibar, and newcomers like Rama Salim playing with confidence and verve throughout. Save for the ‘loin-soothing’ antics of Paul Were and Kevin Omondi, team discipline and morale are reportedly good.

Uganda, on the other hand, have been imperious. They have won pretty much every hand they have played so far. Over the past 4 or so years they have been the polar opposite of Kenya. Stability, where we’ve had chaos, direction where we’ve been all over the place. Most importantly dominance in the CECAFA Cup where we have struggled to make an impact. No doubt there will be alot of Kenyans making the trip to Namboole, so the good advantage thing might be dulled. Nonetheless Kenya will really be up against it versus Uganda. Not just because it is a cup final, but because it is a local derby with decades of history behind it and this blogger hopes that our boys can come out victorious. Either way it has been a very good showing.

Lifting the #CECAFA Curse

This Saturday Kenya’s Under 23 coach James Nandwa takes charge of Harambee Stars proper as they head off to Uganda to play the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup. Kenya have fallen at the group stage at the last two editions and this year they will not be helped by the fact they are pooled with Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan (debuting at the competition).

With the tournament not being FIFA recognised there were no Europe based players called up to the squad, selected separately from the one that will attempt to qualify for CHAN. That also meant that there were several regulars from local clubs that were exempted from going to the Challenge Cup. However, having said that, there is is no lack of experience in the team. The likes of Sofapaka goalie Duncan Ochieng and Ingwe striker Allan Wanga having multiple CECAFA campaigns behind them. With them are a host of young and young-ish players on the cusp of breaking into consideration for nation, many with the odd cap here and there. Indeed as far as I cc tell only 4 of the 25 man squad can truly be considered new to th Harambee Stars set up.

The challenge in front of this team, to reverse a trend of showing up to Senior Challenge cup with alot of bravado then underwhelming, will not be made easier by being stuck in the same group with hosts and most successful team in the competition, Uganda and the region’s sole representatives at next year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Ethiopia. The 4th team in th group are South Sudan, who this blogger expects to be whipping boys. Though Uganda has a superior recent head to head record, and Ethiopia are in a pick form, I still reckon the familiarity of Harambee Stars with these opponents means they do have as real chance of winning both games, or at the very least the outcomes will be down to much smaller margins than might be expected from the 3 team’s recent histories. Should they get into the quarter finals then really anything can happen. But There’s a very tough grou to get out of first.

An East African AFCON, think about it…

Was watching the opening match of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, between Equitorial Guinea and Libya, Saturday night. The commentators were harping on about how the Guineans wouldn’t have got into the cup of nations any other way, and how CAF, apparently, have a policy of using hosting rights for the biggest football event in Africa as a kind of stimulus to focus energy for much needed Infrastructure development and so on. On a continent where alijenga barabara (he built roads) is enough for a president to overcome multiple corruption and political crises and have a positive legacy, we could safely say that kind of thing is a big deal. As much as that particular game wasn’t much to write anywhere about, the commentators got me thinking, why not have The East African Community Members join forces to host the Africa Cup of Nations? Okay, maybe 5 (6 if you assume Southern Sudan’s membership application being approved by then) is too many cohosts for a 16 team event. However if you think about it, a Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania joint bid for the Cup of Nations would go a long way to achieving the type of economic integration, that regional policy wonks are always singing about. On a football level, getting into the Cup of Nations via qualification has proven too much for the 3 teams in question more often than not. I’m not even certain Tanzania have been to the cup of Nations yet. Most importantly though is that, I cannot remember a CECAFA nation, never mind an East African one hosting the Africa Cup of Nations. Basically its high time the gravy train came through this region. So how would an East Africa hosted AFCON work? Between the three core East African Countries we’ve got at least 3 recently built (or renovated) football stadiums, at least 5 international (by classification) airports, and at least one decent national airline. Kenya already has a strong reputation as a tourist destination, whilst Tanzania and Uganda could use the exposure, so most of the key boxes are ticked in that respect. Bringing the tournament to the region could force open some of the bottlenecks that still exist over movement of goods and labour. If you not going to issue an East Africa Visa for any other reason, do it for the fans who will have to follow their teams across these borders during the tournament. That and several other initiatives, like a common currency, Equal V.A.T and so forth. Some of those international trunk roads that seem permanently stuck in ‘the design stage’ might actually get built. Most importantly, is this could be a big revenue generator for local industries, if they play their cards right, as well as a very potent way of pushing the advantages of doing things together rather than on our own. All in all I can’t see a reason not to go for an East Africa hosted Africa Cup of Nations. What do you think?


So Football Kenya went out and in their first act brought back a certain football messiah (coach) called Francis Kimanzi and he didn’t deliver. Ouch, just Ouch! Kenya’s first major test on his watch and we get dumped out of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, at the first hurdle, with just 3 points and 2 goals scored in 3 games. Granted it was a really tough group and the squad had hardly been together 48 hrs when they had to step out in Dar es Salaam for their first match. Nonetheless it still galls this blogger just how poor (impotent going forward and lax in defence) a team led by Kenya’s most qualified coach was for the better part of the tournament. It is way too early at this stage to call for heads to roll, but this showing shows that Kimanzi’s honeymoon is over before its even began and Kenya go into their Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier v. Togo with needing to do wonders to close the gap between the expectations he has set for Harambee Stars and the reality on the ground. So what does this blogger reckon is most urgent? In the attack we seemed determined to go the way of the long ball. Hoofing the ball forward and assuming the striker who got on the end of it (be it Mugalia, Kimani, Waruru, or Ochieng) would single handedly manufacture a goal. Never mind they often were outnumbered by defenders and pushed into a far corner of the field and totally isolated from their own team mates. That and the occasional lapse in in concentration on the defence’s part will likely be high on Kimanzi’s list. Having said that let me restate that it is way too early to be calling for heads to roll, but it would be nice for things to start looking up.