FIFA Mirrors Life? Or a Blogger Seeing Their Own Things


It has been more than weeks since that spectacle of football called the FIFA World Cup took over, not just our television screens, but most of our social lives as well. Whether or not you are into football (at one point known as sokker by the New York Times) the ongoing World Cup has been just, everywhere you turn.

Anyway, I am a football fan, and I was digesting the exit of Nigeria and Algeria, from the competition at the first knockout level, it struck me that when seen from a certain angle, the level of performance of a nation’s football teams can be a mirror into the wider issues of how well (or badly) that nation gets things done. I am not talking just plain score lines here. I am referring to things such as squad selections, match preparedness, even dispute resolutions

Stay with me here as I run through some parallels. Let us take Nigeria for example. They have been one of the more exciting to watch African teams at any FIFA World Cup with several second round exits to show for it. They are a large footballing nation with lots of raw talent that was one of the first nations which the European leagues started to really scour with their talent scouts.

 

 

Many of the national teams’ players have been playing in Europe since their teens. On the other hand, since its independence Nigeria has been one of Africa’s more resource rich countries with big multinationals like Shell moving into to pump crude oil out of the country and the import it back as refined petroleum products. Where’s the connection there. Oil goes out crude, comes back refined, footballer goes out raw and untrained talent, comes back a professional.

Here’s another parallel that got me thinking. Since the 1990 edition, the World Cup has steadily been increasing the number of teams that participate in its finals tournament. The main beneficiaries have been Africa and Asia, whose allotted number of places has gone up from 1 each (I think) to 5 and 4 places respectively.

Let us take a look at what teams from these continents have done with these slots. In 1990, Africa had Cameroon’s miracle run to the quarterfinals, while all of Asia’s representatives got drummed out of the tournament at the first hurdle.

Nwankwo Kanu was my first football idol, because of Nigeria’s exploits at the 1998 World Cup. (Picture from Telegraph.co.uk)

In 1994, Nigeria showed up and played some beautiful football, on their way to an agonizing second round exit, which sort of covered up for the fact that none of Africa’s other participants really did much to write home about. Asian teams also went out in the group stages, but Iran won a game. 1998 same story for Africa, Nigeria into the second round.

By 2006, it was the same story for Africa. One team (this time Ghana) being respectable, pretty much for the rest of the representatives, whereas, the Asian Teams, two made the 2nd round and all four looked like they belong*. How much does this sound like that anecdotes the economist like repeating about how, in 1963 Kenya was ahead of South Korea, yet nowadays it is so very different. What is it about them that they seem to learn and get better at whatever they set out to do well, yet Africa it’s the same old same old?

Anyway, maybe I am reading too much into some random football tournament that comes around every four years. Maybe I should just enjoy the football for what it is, just football and let the other issues be. Pity that I probably won’t

DISCLAIMER: I am aware that 2010 was not a good year for the Asian teams, but I reckon my point stands

This article was originally written for the Storymoja Festival blog. The original can be seen here

Devolving Football? What Sofapaka and Tusker FC’s moves portend


Kenya’s 2014 premier league season starts imminently and aside from the usual ins and out, there have been two moves, or rather two incidences of a move that have struck as different. Over the Sofapaka Football Club, Mathare United and Tusker FC will be opening the season in new locations. The  formely Nairobi based,  Mathare United, Sofapaka, a shifted base to Machakos , and Tusker set out to move to Meru. The Tusker Move not beingwithout its controversies. The Stadium move being stalled first of all by KPL declaring the proposed Kinoru Stadium venue unfit to host premier League matches, only for FKF to interfere and muddy the waters further

Why did these clubs make (or set out to make)there moves? This post won’t attempt to give a ‘comprehensive’ answer to this but here are some hypotheses. Firstly, Its likely the two clubs did this because of market forces. Over the part decade, Tusker and Sofapaka have between them won more trophies than pretty much everybody else in the Kenya Premier League, yet in hue crowded field of Nairobi football, hearts and minds still very much belong to to Ingwe and K’Ogalo.

What do these moves mean for Kenyan football?  Without pretending to offer a ‘comprehensive’ answer here are a bunch of hypotheses that I figured come into play.

Firstly, the two clubs are seeking new markets to grow their brands. Tusker FC is the third most successful football club in Kenya outright, and in the past decade or so and could very well have  closed out other teams in terms of success on the field had a revival of corporate interest in the tow big community clubs (AFC and Gor) not happened when it did. Yet what do they have to show in terms of a fan base.  To the best of this blogger’s knowledge their games continue to get minimal gate attendances and for an institution with all the financial backing that Tusker has, that just ain’t right!

Sofapaka, and Mathare United on the other hand are new kids on the block. Sofapaka backed by the flamboyant Elly Kalekwa, and Mathare Unieted by the MYSA. They have taken the league by storm, and though they have better crowds than Tusker, they too seem to have found that,  the hearts and minds of most Nairobi football fans seemingly belong firmly to either Ingwe or K’Ogalo. So what do these teams do? Move I suppose.

What is the way forward For Tusker and Sofapaka?
What is the way forward For Tusker, Mathare and Sofapaka?

On the other hand why Machakos and  Meru and not say…Uasin Gishu and Murang’a ( hoe county of Kenneth Matiba, the founder of Tusker FC)? This blogger understands that the county governments in question were more than passive participants in the football clubs’ respective moves? What is in it for them

This blogger reckons that its not just prestige, but the possibility of drawing attention to use the teams as a centre-point to develop sports and cultural activities is what convinced Governor Mutua of Machakos, and Governor Munya of Meru to act on this opportunity.

Which benefits to they intend to harvest from this? Will the football clubs start developing local footballers for use their Premier League and continental assignments? Will the exposure on Super Sport TV draw interest to the wider opportunities that these counties have to offer?This blogger certainly hopes so.

NB: This post has been updated to reflect the controversy revolving around the Kinoru Stadium in Meru.

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.

Pickin’ up the pieces: Where do #harambeesstars go from here?


Well at the end of the day at least they went out on a high. Three head coaches, two wins, and the Harambee stars attempts to get into the FIFA World cup once again ended in failure. The 1-0 win over Namibia’s Brave Warriors notwithstanding, this campaign has been too much like those of the past for this blogger’s liking. There were some high moments, like the creditable 1-1 draw against current African Champions, Nigeria in Calabar, and there were some low moments, like the 1-0 defeat to the same in Nairobi some time later. There was even a little bit of humour as the politicos came out in force to promise millions to the players in pledges I highly doubt have been honoured. On the whole i still feel a bit let down about the way the campaign ended up.

This is not to say that qualifying for FIFA’s World Cup for Harambee Stars, or any other national team in the world, should be as easy as popping down to the nearby kiosk and buying a bamba 20. The cynic in me expects that even if were that easy FKF would still contrive to botch it somehow. This is also not to say that any nation in the world is entitled to a world Cup place. This is to say we really should have learnt by now not make an already challenging task that much harder for ourselves with needless side shows, ego trips, blame games and general lackadaisical-ness.

Anyway from here the next major football event is the 2015 Africa Cup of nations. Will Adel Amrouche still be in charge? Recent history is against it, though frankly I would rather, that FKF simply extend his contract at least till the end of the qualifiers, and then shift its attention to the other aspects of the national team’s performance.

LIKE TALENT IDENTIFICATION! FKF chairperson Sam Nyamweya was very clear that he would resurrect the Olympic centres that Bernard Zgoll had instituted in the 1970s, when he was on the campaign trail, as the first priority when in office. How many years has he been back in charge now and there is zero in the way of making this pledge come to pass that this blogger is aware of. Pretty much all the major names that Kenya’s football fans of the 1980s used to idolise in the 80s were exposed to the Zgoll academies at some point in their development. There was a point Kenya qualified to an 8 team Africa Cup of nations they were that good! The academy died and the Harambee stars have been in steady decline ever since. The same kind of system has been seen to turn around the German national team from the geriatrics, that got bum rushed out of Euro 2000 bottom of their group, to a vibrant young attacking force that has made the semi-finals of the last 4 major football tournaments. With results like that why is the idea seen in Kenya only as ‘porojo ya kubumbawza mafans’?

LIKE CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILTY! There is a dossier doing the rounds, alleging all manner of high corruption the FKF top brass. Apparently copies have landed on the desks various officials in Kenya and FIFA headquarters in Zurich. The FKF have rubbished the allegations as rubbish, but it is not like they tend to publish the details of how they get things done so I doubt they could properly dismiss the allegations made in this dossier even if they wanted to. Where am I going with this? Only seeking some pro-active transparency on the processes through which things like kit deals, coaching appointments, friendly matches and so on are made. This would help planning for Harambee stars success a lot. Why would anyone take random emails from ‘disgruntled officials’ seriously, if the official records were available in the public domain and properly audited?

Anyway I am just a blogger. What’s to say I won’t be making such a similar post in 3 years time?

In all honesty were #Harambeestars really in the running?


Earlier this afternoon Nigeria’s Super Eagles landed in Nairobi, played our national football team, Harambee Stars, in a world cup qualifier, and won 1-0. The result put them in the driver’s seat in the qualifying group and, as I understand it, ended Kenya’s own hopes at being in Brazil in 2014. No doubt there will be the usual finger pointing, declarations of intent and calls to action from all the usual circles. Heck I’m almost willing to bet that before this time next week some intrepid sports reporter will have uncovered some scandal, upon which all the rage of this result will be directed. Having said that, with all the things Kenyan football has put up with this past decade or so was it really that much of a surprise that things have turned out like this?

Coming into this match there was a sense that anything was possible, what with the boys coming within a minute or so of getting a famous win against Nigeria in Calabar. That probably blurred the fact that in spite of that, Kenya were (and still are) bottom of the group with only two points in 3 games to speak of and a disastrous recent record in qualifiers leading up to that point. Locked out of the Cup of Nations at the first hurdle by Togo, still to qualify for CHAN, in spite of the money flowing into the TPL, and changing coaches more rapidly than a ‘socialite’ changes ‘boyfriends,’ is it really so surprising we are reaping the kinds of results we are?

Let us start with the team itself. A useful collection of talents (see Wanyama Victor, Oliech Dennis, Kahata Francis…) yet, at least in my view never a team. Especially not with the constant changes to the coaching staff. Consider this, whenever a team changes coaches, you expect that there will be a shift in outlook, tactics, etc, consider that Harambee Stars haven’t had a head coach finish 1 year in charge since at least 2011. These coaches have been hired and fired for pretty much every reason under the sun. How on earth is a national team supposed to reach World Cup level football with such a confusion of ideas philosophies and approaches?

Then there’s the federation. Aside from a bunch of office politics and branch re-organizations they haven’t really done anything…at all. Except fire coaches, I mean. My biggest gripe is where are the Olympic centres that Sam Nyamweya was so vigorously campaigning on? My head knows that the whole thing was a gimmick, but I still insist, where are they? Can I be proven wrong?

Those are just one or two things of the I’m thinking about as I digest the sudden demise of our attempt to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World. Cup. You know the one, Tusker made such a big deal about getting, a team from the Eastern Africa region qualified for. We now know it certainly won’t be Kenya. The thing that bothers me the most is that come the next qualifying campaign flop I’ll probably write this opt all over again. There will be a few high points along the way, a few low points. The characters might be different, there may be some other corporate running the circus, the might not be. All in all unless, there’s some sea change taking place that I’m not seeing (something along the lines of what happened in Germany in the year 2000) then, we fans shouldn’t really be expecting any better than we have just seen this qualifying campaign. In fact it could even get worse.