What a man can (or can’t) do: Hongera Harambee starlets


And it it is, amidst the gloom of the floundering fortunes of the Harambee Stars, Kenya women’s national team, shone bright, qualifying for their first ever Africa Cup of nations.

This is a Milestone for Kenyan football and massive relief fro the  Nick Mwendwa FKF regime. They have been under fire from a media (probably still full of people loyal to the Ancien regime) over the poor state of the Harambee Stars.

I digress. This post is simply to pass my congratulations to the women who have shows that with some real support they can go very far, in what is still the very underdeveloped world of women’s football in Africa.

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Why I Support Stanley Okumbi as #HarambeeStars head Coach Coach


The first major decision of the new FKF team has been made. The highly reputed Bobby Williamson has been relieved of his duties as Hrambee Stars coach and replaced by long time Mathare United tactician Stanley Okumbi.

Early reactions I am seeing on the inter webs are mostly negative, and downright critical of the decision. The basis, which I totally understand is that Mr. Okumbi is neither glamorous, neither does he have a trophy cabinet full of shiny medals and titles that are the normal expectation when hiring a national team coach.

However I think that because of the challenges that Football in Kenya has, not just Harambee Stars recent run of poor qualifying outcomes, Stanley Okumbi is the kind of coach who is best suited for the job right now.

Stanley Okumbi, in his days as Mathare United Coach (Source: The Star Newspaper)

 

His predecessor Bobby Williamson, a great coach by any standards, had come off taking Uganda Cranes too multiple CECAFA titles, and Gor Mahia to much silverware.

He was the kind of coach who you would normally expect to get such an assignment. Lots of trophies, foreign passport, etc. Yet in his tenure in the Stars coaching job was hardly the roaring success one would expect.

The reason for this is not because the man himself suddenly became a bad coach, it is because Harambee Stars have problems that cannot be fixed by the glamour of a famous coach. Harambee Stars problems are structural.

FKF has yet to implement clear program for player development, coach development, friendly fixtures and other supplementary issues that the coaches of major football powers take for granted, when they take on the job of coaching whatever national team they are in charge of.

For Harambee Stars coaches on the other hand, the modus Operandi is get a ‘name recognized’ superman and hope the man can work miracles in spite of the total lack of co-operation or direction from the administration.

Failure to which,  FKF blame that coach for everything wrong and repeat the process  with some other  superman coach, to somehow unilaterally work wonders.

Up till now it seems. By appointing someone whose background in football is from the most successful player development program in the country, the Mathare Youth Sports Association, FKF is signalling that they want to bring in people who know what it actually takes to holistically build a successful national team from the ground up.

Stanley Okumbi may not have a lot of trophies or medals, while guiding a seriously outgunned and inexperienced Mathare United team into mid table finishes in the Sport Pesa premier League. Yet I am sure that if you ask many of the players who have left Mathare United to greater glory with local, regional and international teams, many will tell you that his coaching is what laid the foundation for them to succeed as players.

I am not writing this post to play Devil’s advocate, I genuinely believe that Stanley Okumbi’s strengths are uniquely matched to the areas of weakness that Harambee Stars have as a team.

I also want to believe that as time goes on many people with similar youth football backgrounds, whether they are foreign or local, famous or not, will be added to coach our other national and youth teams, and that between them they can help FKF bring not just temporary success (winning the match or bahatishaing a small local trophy) but long term dominance of their opponents back to Harambee Stars.

In short Stanley Okumbi may not be the coach we want, he is the coach we need right now.

Change Comes to FKF, But Change to What?


Football Kenya Federation’s elections have come to a close. After a long drawn out process marked by the usual shenanigans with registration of Football clubs, delegates and so on, Nicholas Mwendwa emerged the new Chairman of Football Kenya Federation, while Incumbent Sam Nyamweya formally retired from football activities.

NIck Mwendwa basks in the glory of victory (Source: Daily Nation)

Standing at the head of the ‘Team Change’ slate that swept the board, winning majority of the FKF branch Chairmanships and NEC  positions, Nick Mwendwa and his allies were granted a powerful mandate to implement change in an organization in desperate need to break from  years of mediocrity and corruption.

Heck even the outgoing chair, himself elected on a platform of change, wound up covered in the graft which he was supposed to end.

So, what this blogger is wondering, is specifically what changes does team change intend to bring into FKF?

There is the unfinished business of the FKF-KPL standoff and what consequences it has on the teams, corporate sponsors and broadcast partners that have found themselves on either side of the standoff.

There is the continued neglect of women and youth football, and the absence of strategic direction of the men’s senior team. Harambee Stars remain the only team in the East Africa region who never seem to have anything lined up for FIFA sanctioned friendly match dates.

There is also the floundering, perhaps even ill advised efforts to bring the Africa Cup of Nations to the country.  If Team change decide that that is somethign still worth pursuing then, that would mean there has to be an overhaul of the football infrastructure in Kenya.

Most importantly  Mr. Mwendwa needs to show Kenyans that he  has taken FKF chairman post because wants to work  on building Kenyan fotball not just as a means to leverage himself into politics like so many of his predecessors.

All in all this blogger hopes that Team change can deliver on its promises to Kenyan football, and the FKF can become a beacon shining a light, not just for Kenyan football’s path to greatness, but to African football as a whole.

The Merry Go Round, she turns and turns

Bobby Williamson may be a great coach, but this is a terrible job offer.


On Sunday Afternoon on the 2nd of August 2014, Kenya Harambee Stars were due to face Lesotho needing to win by 2 clear goals, to stave off elimination from Africa Cup of Nations qualification at the preliminary round. They were unable to do so. The match ended goalless. The only way Harambee Stars will be at the 2015 Africa Cup of nations it seems, will be as ‘observers.’
Within minutes of the game, Football Kenya Federation had dismissed the team’s entire technical bench, and ‘disbanded’ the playing squad. Within days they had grabbed, the very well reputed Bobby Williamson, winner of 4 CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup trophies, and the man who ended Gor Mahia’s 18 year Premier League title drought, as Harambee Stars new head coach.

And so the merry-go-round called head coach of Harambee Stars continues to roll. Though there are likely promises that have been made to Mr. Williamson over Job security and a bunch of other things, this blogger doubts there will be much seriousness in keeping them.

Bobby Williamson , takes the hot seat (Source: in2eastafrica.net)

The man himself is clearly qualified for the job, but is the employer ready to deal with him long enough for his ability to make a difference? Does it matter how good the man in the head coach’s role is, if the rest of the structure (youth development and scouting, logistics and friendly matches planning etc) is virtually non-existent? Harambee Stars have been through an inordinate amount coaches over the past decade with only marginal variation in the outcomes on the pitch. As far as I believe the head coach’s position is hardly where the problems Harambee Stars have lie.
CV aside there not is much difference between this appointment, and that of the last man shown the door, Adel Amrouche. A big name, that’s hired on hype of recent success, to single-handedly be the magic pill that ends all of Harambee Stars woes. Sprinkle in some token local management and apparently you have a winning formula.
Granted Bobby Williamson, as I stated earlier in the post has an amazing resume, and reputation, the cynic in me reckons, that when push comes to shove his appointment is simply more window dressing on FKF’s part.
Without real substantive changes to the way FKF runs football in Kenya, then most likely outcome is, Bobby Williamson will struggle to get any more out of Harambee Stars than Adel Amrouche did.
At the end of the day either he will resign in a huff, or get made the scapegoat for all of Harambee Stars shortcomings, and some other high-profile ‘miracle worker’ will take over and the cycle will start again. That is how FKF rolls!

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…

#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.