The 2016 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Awards have come and gone, and for years to come, one name will always be on the head of everyone - Kenneth Mugambi Muguna after the young midfield conductor was selected the best among everyone who kicked a ball in the 254 boarders this year.
No one remembers those awarded in denying the opponents a sniff of their goal. While players in the attacking front are easily picked for top awards, the real work always lies with the men at the back. Muguna has not been described as a “trusted midfielder”, nor has anyone said Mark Makwatta will “do the job” - their accolades were fed with the creative flair to match their on-pitch inventiveness. As an attacker, naturally, their role is to take risks, to jink, outwit and punish.
Goalkeepers, on the other hand, are a different breed. Patrick Matasi rise to stardom this season can be banked on the enormous work done by his defenders (he was at AFC Leopards before and we know his potential). When coach Zedekiah Otieno trusted him with keeping the balls out of the onion bag after falling out with Ian Otieno, not a lot was expected from him. His goalkeeper of the year accolade now has been met with headlines, captions and quotes all parroting the trite, curbed compliment – “a safe pair of hands.”
Should they earn anything more than assured security? Their responsibility is negation of the very objective behind the beautiful game, football. By name, “goal” “keeper”, they are bound by obligation to obtrude fun, to prevent the spectacle by calmly catching a 94th minute corner with the game poised at 0-0, or after a striker’s mazing run past three desperate defenders, sliding down and comfortably smothering the ball with prosaic efficiency. Even the best penalty box commanders, the experts in sensibility, are not adorned with the artistic status given to their free to roam teammates.
While every reader will remember Stephen Owusu’s goal against Bandari (a goal that we all believe handed Tusker the title) with collective cacophony, few would recall many of Matasi’s saves during his 15 clean sheets in 25 appearances for Rangers. Indeed, the ease with which goalkeepers are forgotten is even more surprising given that, in truth, they are quite literally the most visible players in the game.
TV highlights invade keepers’ penalty areas with voyeuristic omniscience, their towering figures loom over tunnel-framed captains who busily attend to pre match handshakes, and seemingly solely for the pleasure of even the earliest stadium arrivals during the pre-match warm-up, they casually meet the uncontested swinging crosses from their coaches with professional oomph before any outfield players have even got their kit on. Above all, their careers span far wider than their foot-using teammates - and all while wearing some of the dodgiest kits the game has seen.
Rangers coach Zedekiah Otieno might have missed the coach of the year accolade but his nomination could be banked on his defence and Joakins Atudo’s award was a proof. He rarely rotated his back four and if he was forced to do so, he brought in people who he thought could 'do the job'. In their debut season, they only soaked 15 goals, a tally only bettered by Gor Mahia who soaked 14 goals. Everyone who knows Zico will tell you everyone in his team is a defender oftenly throwing in speedy wingers for the counter attacks.
So why defence for Zico? It seems unlikely to believe that the former Sony Sugar boss was relieved off his duties towards the end of the season. Call it a ‘safety first’ measure-a tactic that allows a team to soak pressure and be efficient with the few chances they get in the opposition box. The urge of thwarting anything thrown at your box has worked for great coaches around the world. It might not bring out the type of entertainment fans may want, but it works when losing isn’t an option for any team and a result that saw Rangers finish in position four.
As for Matasi, if he continues to display such dulling, monotonously effective performances that extract the highest hurrah of goalkeeper plaudits, he could have a more recognized honours to lift in his safe pair of hands when he calls it a day.