I interviewed John Baraza for Kenyanstar in 2012. Since then, I have watched him with admiration as he played for Sofapaka. His peers hanged their boots a few years ago, only Charles Okwemba is still creating good runs for Posta Rangers. However, you could see that Baraza’s big heart kept going but his feet had slowed down. Even though everyone knew it was a matter of time before his boots took the road to becoming family antiques, but Baraza kept going.
He looked harmless without the ball, not the one to go for tackles or make unnecessary runs. Whenever the ball landed in the box, defenders never knew what possessed the diminutive striker who always shot above his height by scoring superb and sublime goals. If John Baraza stepped forward to take a penalty, it was going into the net.
The moment Baraza went on social media to thanked everyone who has been part of his football journey for their support, many people came out to congratulate him. One thing that was common in all the posts is Baraza’s discipline, which everyone believes is behind his long playing career.
Now that Baraza has decided to draw the curtains to his illustrious playing career and take up the Assistant Coach role at Sofapaka, here are the highlights in his career.
Born in Kitale, Baraza grew up in Gilgil but went to St. Charles Lwanga at Mukumu for his secondary education. He stated taking football seriously in high school which led him to Oserian Fastac FC in Naivasha between the year 2000 and 2002 where he won the league and Moi Golden Cup. This was a good sign of things to come as he began his professional career that took him across continents.
Then followed a four year stint abroad when most of our players who went abroad landed in Oman, Baraza went to Sweded. He spent two seasons at Swedish side Sylvia FC until 2004 before joining Yanga in Tanzania for the 2005-06 season. He then went to Asia to PDRM FC in Malaysia in 2007, before landing in Rwanda where he signed for Rayon Sport for the 2008 season.
He was part of the Harambee Stars squad that went to AFCON in Tunisia in 2004 where he managed to score a goal against Burkina Faso from a Denis Oliech assist. That is John Baraza for you, a player who let his boots do the talking.
John Baraza then came back home to what looked like the twilight of his career only for the cool calm and collected striker to unleash a string of top performances that made the younger strikers look pedestrian.
He joined Chemelil FC for short stint before Sofapaka FC signed him up for their maiden season in KPL. Like he did when he joined Oserian, he helped Sofapaka to the 2009 title. Between 2009 and 2014, Sofapaka has won the FA Cup now GoTv Shield twice on top of the league title and John Baraza has been an important cog in all these campaigns. He won the Player of the Year in 2009 and the golden boot for top scorer, in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and Fair Play player of the year 2012.
He hanged his boots briefly at the end of 2014 before he dusted them and went back to play, I believe he has now hanged them for good. When I read that post that morning, I saw a strong man. A good man who the skewed system that is Kenyan football could not put down.
John Baraza exemplified discipline. He is a player who was never caught in any controversy whether at his club or national team. When the challenges of Kenyan football that can make a player go mad caught up with him as they catch up with our players, he took everything in stride. Even at the top of his game, Baraza never walked with a spring in his stride, his focus on the ball kept his feet on the ground.
Fifteen years in top flight football is no mean feat. Congratulations John Baraza, as you take up your space at the far end on the bench in the dugout, may you find the grace to instill your values into our young players. I can’t wait to see you achieve more as a coach because you are the stuff that legend is made of.