Club licensing finally happened. Three clubs got relegated after they failed to comply. Some,like Sofapaka could not prove how they will pay their players in the coming season.
Well, Sofapaka isn't the only club grappling with finances. Majority of the clubs, including Kenya’s two biggest clubs; AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia are still trying to grapple with effectively sustaining their players and staff. AFC Leopards, for instance, has an annual sponsorship of 45 million from bookmaker’s Sportpesa. However, the club already spent part of this year’s budget in 2016, and will have a deficit of over 5 million.
I had a chat with a player who wish not to be named, due to fear of victimization. The player, expressed his delight with the Football Federation’s efforts in ensuring clubs meet the CAF licensing rules. He noted, “It is a good thing, and certainly players will feel better.” The player who once featured for one of the two top clubs in Kenya, explained how the Kenyan football environment has been harsh and made it difficult for players to do well.
“We once played in a continental fixture, and I can say that North African nations have made great strides. It will take years of hard work for us to get there. When we traveled to play, we were handed 5 hotels to choose from. The training grounds were excellent and gave us the best atmosphere to relax, train and just focus on the match. That is a very key aspect of player development,” he said adding that, “In Kenya, the player doesn't get the best before the game, and this at times goes on to really lower their spirits.”
Speaking of the troubles of fellow players, the midfielder who plys hit trade in the Coastal side of Kenya recalled bitterly how he once faced an opponent who had not even had lunch prior to the match. “About a season ago, a team from Luo Nyanza was traveling to play at Mbaraki. These players came in an old bus, and arrived there 5 hours or so before the match, fatigued and hungry,” he explains.
The midfielder further claimed that the players had little time to rest and it is during the match, that he indeed felt the pain of majority of Kenyan players. “The sweltering heat of Mombasa wasn't doing these visiting team any justice. They were visibly panting and hoping the clock runs down faster. At one moment, I was dribbling all the way to the corner, then this defender faces me,” said the player. “He looked worn out totally and said, “ Tafadhali usinichenge sana, pia punguza mbio. Sina hewa na nimechoka kweli….”” “I felt sorry for him, but I just had to do my work. We ended up spanking them.”
After the match, he says he spoke to the player who decried his side’s playing and living conditions in the sugar belt zone where he also noted that players were paid poorly.
This is certainly a sad condition that most players in the Kenya Premier League have to contend with, but with club licensing finally here, we hope something will change for the better. That the people who excite us every weekend on the football pitch, can also reap wholesomely from their talent.