A Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Select team recently returned to the country after a week’s tour of Spain facilitated by La Liga where they lost to second-tier side Cordoba 4-0 and by a solitary goal to Sevilla Atletico which plays in the third division.
KPL AllStars’ performance in the first match was so pathetic that I asked myself why I stayed late to watch the match in the first place. We could barely string two passes while our opponents moved the ball faster and played as a team. The Kenya Select side on the other side seemed to have suffered stage fright, a few individual players were keen to show off and the result was a reality check for Kenyan football. We however did better against Sevilla Atletico after coach Stanley Okumbi made wholesome changes to the squad and started several “fringe” players.
Just before the Spanish trip another Kenyan Select side had lost to a Hull City side largely made up of fringe players. These trips have been an eye opener and in my opinion helped expose the reality in Kenyan football; we are miles away and the quality of players in the league is, to be honest, not good.
Harambee Stars Assistant Coach Frank Ouna recently opined in one of his refreshing blogs that these friendly matches were in essence, won even before they were played and I tend to agree with him. We are left behind as Governments invest in sports infrastructure, teams invest in youth structures, data and science into sports and practically it’s impossible to compete with them because the level of investment they have put in breeds success while on our end we struggle even with basic things such as good playing surfaces.
German Benhard Zgoll helped lay the foundation of what was to guide us into Canaan as far as football is concerned by setting up the Olympic Youth Centres almost 30 years but it is a shame that we still face the same issues that we faced back then. We all know the instant coffee method will never bring forth sustainable success in football and we have to invest in proper youth structures but do we do it? For instance the average age of Cordoba players that faced the KPL AllStars side was 24, and most of the players have been together as unit for over 5 years. You still wonder why they beat us? As I type this The KPL U20 Tournament faces uncertainty and this should be a concern. A tournament that should ideally transition into a serious youth league is going under for lack of funds!
Amid this entire crisis, there’s positivity that has to be lauded. The MYSA U14 side is in Norway for the Norway Cup and there have so far played two friendly matches against their peers, winning 12-1 against Sveum and 19-1 against Moelven. At the same time the National U13 side is set to take part in the Southampton Cup where they will come up against Chelsea, Porto among other big names in Europe and I will not be surprised if they do well too but the big question is what happens to these youngsters as they grow up? While their peers will continue to play together and develop up the ranks, the rest is opposite for the Kenyan youngsters. Most of them will not make it to play professional football and therein lays the biggest problem facing Kenyan football.
Our best are somewhere else
My friend Kenyatta Otieno says our best players are not in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) but doing odd jobs just to make ends meet after frustration from the system. The football industry in Kenya is not yet viable and as a result we lose most of our best players along the way. Germany is a giant across all levels in football because they identify and nurture talent early. England too has learnt its lessons and a silent revolution is happening at the St Georges Park National Football Centre – they just recently won the Euro U19 Tournament. The Government too has to put its money where its mouth is now by improving and renovating sport facilities and the federation has to set the ball rolling as far as youth leagues are concerned. Too much talk, action time now.