Visions change, but if there is one thing I would love to be even for one season is a professional football player. I love the game like many others but my recent interaction with the ‘Kenyan version’ of the beautiful game has left me thanking God that I never took football seriously.
Take a look at this, a fourteen year old good football player is admitted into a secondary school. He cannot break into the first team that is composed of players most of who are over eighteen years old. Most of these players were ‘poached’ from other schools solely to play football. They then repeat a class or two just to play football at the expense of upcoming talent.
This fourteen year old may end up as an average talent because of lack of exposure. If he went to an average school in football terms he will make it to the first team. The effect will be being ‘poached’ by another school. The other option is to seek to repeat his final year in a school where his chances of featuring in the national championships are high.
Against all these odds, he finds himself in a Division One or KPL club and that is where his problems begin when they should be ending. The player enters a season in his life where everything around him is driven by passion. If his passion for the game would disappear overnight, then he will have no reason to turn up for training the following day.
As an ardent follower of Kenyan football, I have come to respect anyone who plays football in our hallowed grounds. These are young men who take home an average of fifteen thousand shillings a month (approx $180) in a city where a decent single room in far flung suburb of Kayole goes for Ksh. 4,000 (approx $50) per month.
To perform in the field a football player should eat a balanced diet. Let us give him two square meals of maize meal, kales (sukuma wiki) and an egg at Ksh. 100 (approx $1) per meal make it lunch and dinner and double it. If you add up with one plate of a quarter kilogram of beef at Burma market on weekends, you get Ksh. 6,400 (approx $80) per month and that is excluding breakfast. Let us assume like any other Nairobi resident, three meals a day is a luxury.
To all these add bus fare to and from training sessions every day. To add salt to injury, football is a contact sport and the player plays without medical insurance cover. God forbid, if he gets a career threatening injury, his career is as good as over; ask Harry Gentle of Muhoroni Youth. Clubs do not pay players’ medical expenses and many players have had to terminate their careers.
Against this backdrop is a group of young Kenyans who have chosen to spend the most productive years of their lives chasing a dream to make it to foreign clubs. When Victor Wanyama and Denis Oliech come over for their summer break, they all see an opportunity out of poverty. Yet in reality this is a pipe dream. Every season means diminishing hopes of hitting it big, yet these players defy their age and circumstances to play football with undivided communist like devotion.
To add salt to injury, most clubs in KPL still do not pay their players; if they do the pay comes late. The mathematics I have done above works if the player is a bachelor without dependants. Any small shift in a player’s life and the scale tilts into crisis mode. The net effect is stagnating football standards.
When Peter Opiyo sneaks out on AFC Leopards’ and Rama Salim and Dan Sserunkuma do the same at Gor, do not blame them. Yet across the border, Humphrey Mieno is wondering how far Dar-es-salaam is from Nairobi in terms of football conditions. It seems the gift of football is more of a curse than a blessing in Kenya.
When I read in the social media that suspended FKF Vice Chairman Sammy Sholei will go to the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission offices as they seek to shove Sam Nyamweya out of office, I showed up. This problem is bigger than Sam Nyamweya as club officials who elected Nyamweya among other stakeholders also propagate the above conditions for their own selfish interests. But we have to start somewhere.
For this reason, I pray in the next elections players will be allowed to vote as well as accredited coaches and sports journalists. If Sam Nyamweya is the epitome of decay in Kenyan football, then he should follow the likes of Titus Kasuve and Mohammed Hatimy. He has been in Kenyan football ever since I knew football had officials, see where we are. I have said it!