Before Harambee Stars faced Zambia in an AFCON qualifier a few weeks ago, Bobby Williamson lamented the lack of creative midfielders in Kenya. Kenya went ahead and lost the match and our midfield manned by England based Victor Wanyama and Collins “Gatuso” Okoth failed to shine and Kenya paid for it. In this match, Victor Wanyama was supposed to play central midfield, a position he is not accustomed to. He kept falling back to defensive mode full time which made him a loose cog in the team.
This led to Kenya always being on the back pedal and soaking in pressure. The other two “midfielders”, Ayub Timbe and Paul Were were out on the flanks.
I have written before that we have more than enough defenders and defensive minded midfielders. This is evident by poor ball handling skills of our players. On the other side we lack talent on the offensive side of things. We always have one lethal striker at a time; the exit of Denis Oliech has given way to Michael Olunga.
The only creative mind commanding first team role in KPL is Humphrey Mieno, even the lanky journeyman has failed to fill the void left by Jamal Mohammed and John “Mo” Muiruri. Rama Salim was another creative talent but faded as soon as he left Gor Mahia.
Where are our creative minds?
You can create a defender, goalkeeper or even a striker from any player who is interested but you can never teach non-midfield player to play a midfield role. The midfield mindset is inbuilt, it is either there or it is not, there are no two ways about it. So if we lack creative midfielders, it means they are not anywhere around our football pitches.
Systems create behavior, our system of football in Kenya or the lack of it is responsible for lack of creative minds in our clubs. We must start to promote a style of play that allows creative midfielders the room to express themselves. The more we push for direct football from defense to the wings or forwards, the more our creative minds are pushed from the thick of things into oblivion.
Creative minds are fickle minds. We all remember Francis Kadenge who blossomed when Wilbeforce “maradona” Mulamba was fading for AFC Leopards’ and the national team. He was disappointed in his club and quit football before we saw the best of him. These are players who must be nurtured or the system will push them out.
If you watched Cesc Fabregas first matches at Arsenal, you can get the picture of the weaker side of creative minds. They always lack the physical presence central midfielders like Patrick Viera but compensate it with a third eye and brainy command of proceedings on the pitch with crispy passes and changing the pace and flow.
When you place such players in the middle of our self-made players who were molded in the hands of untrained coaches, you find a system that does not appreciate them. This is why our creative midfielders fall out of our football pipeline way before they break into the formal leagues.
To keep these rare but important breed of players in the Kenyan game, football gate keepers must be very deliberate with their development in academies and deployment on the pitch. This will also require clubs to adopt a style of play that utilizes their creative ball handling skills even if it will bear results at the beginning. We have to change our style of play to one that encourages creativity at the centre of midfield.
Back to Basics
We must establish academies that will single out such talent and keep them in the game. This will also help the players develop their weaker sides which in most cases inhibit their progress in the game as they like to exhibit their ball handling brilliance. We have to raise creative mindset in football if we are to create scoring chances for our strikers.