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.

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.

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.

Kuchotewa Nayo?


A couple of hours ago, Kenya’s national football team came within 1 1/2 minutes of pulling off their first ever win over Nigeria’s Super Eagles. As it was, a injury time equalizer means the final score was 1-1. Kenya now have 2 points from 3 games in their World Cup Qualifier group whilst Nigeria have 5.

Granted the result is very small in the bigger picture of Kenya’s World cup qualifying hopes, within of itself it is still an achievement worth noting. After all Nigeria are the reigning champions of Africa. Over the past few hours the leading lights in Kenyan politics have been pouring money on this team with the likes of Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and even Nairobi Senator elect, Gideon Mbuvi alias Sonko taking to social media to declare their acts of outrageous generosity to Harambee Stars.

The question in my head just now is haven’t we been here before? From Harambee Stars to Conjestina Achieng to our national cricket team and several others, this blogger has witnessed all manner of monied types in Kenyan society going out there way to be seen to be generous to some sports person or team while the getting is good, only to vanish without a trace when said team suffers a few bad results. Don’t all sports teams and athletes everywhere go through patches of poor form from time to time? This blogger understands that several politicians in the current mad rush of goodies belong to the Jubilee Coalition that won the last general elections, and that their manifesto has all manner of commitments regarding long term investment in sports. That is a post for another day. What gripes me is that if the people making policy for our sports team see them only as charity cases, to be milked for PR purposes when the occasional moment of glory or desperation allows it, can they really hope to see the kind of sound and long term interventions that make world beaters?

On a (very tongue in cheek) final note, Kenya’s 7s team are having quite the break out season on the World Series circuit and are in the Main Cup Quarter finals in Hong Kong. We’ve got a cross country team in Bydgosczc (sp?) for the world championships on Sunday morning. The same place they damn near won everything, and our cricket team just got back from Dubai, where they man handled Canada in a pair of World Cup Qualifiers and Intercontinental Cup. Any spare change for them?