Look again, Okumbi is not the problem

I have no apologies to make for standing in Stanley Okumbi’s corner even when experienced scribes like Clay Muganda are coming puffing and punching at the soft spoken tactician. There are many problems with Kenyan football and I can confidently say that Stanley Okumbi is not one of them. If he is then he falls deep down the list of things holding our football back. The only problem is that someone called Nick Mwenda, who is also the FKF President believes in him.

I was in Camp Toyoyo when KPL All Stars were playing a friendly match against Posta Rangers just before their trip to Spain. I looked at the squad Okumbi and his assistants Musa Otieno and John Kamau were taking through warm up paces and sighed silently. Like a woman who is looking for an excuse for her anger. I told a journalist I was with that the squad despite being young in age lacks pedigree. Our best football players in that age group, are not playing football. They are selling newspapers, second hand clothes and washing cars.

As I watched the match from Posta Rangers bench, I sat next to this energetic young Rangers’ fan. Then a lady came by to sell us bananas and immediately called him by name. His excitement distracted coach Sammy Omollo from the match a little. The lady goes ahead to tell us how the boy’s prowess in football made him the darling of Baba Dogo secondary School. Sammy Omollo who has heard the boy brag about his talent many times now believed him. The irony is, the lad hangs around Rangers FC because he found a market for his clothes among Rangers’ players.

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On further enquiry I get a story that began at Baba Dogo Primary in Ruaraka. Orphaned just as he sat for his final primary school exams he stayed out of school for a year. His estate football kick around led to a stint at Kakamega High School. He left Kakamega for reasons he couldn’t reveal for another school that I cannot remember before landing back at Baba Dogo Secondary. His reason for coming back to Nairobi was his younger siblings who had no one to take care of them. The meager handouts he got from football kept them going. After school, it was a tough choice between providing for his siblings or the lackluster Kenyan football scene. His siblings won.

AFC Leoprads’ striker Vincent Oburu who travelled to Spain with the team confessed that he started playing football  seriously after high school. In the same team is Kariobangi Sharks midfielder and skipper Patila Omoto. He was one of the most promising talents before joining AFC Leopards’ from Kariobangi Sharks in 2013.

The passionate Nick Mwenda once described Omoto as “the greatest midfielder of his time”. He even tipped the youngster as one of the few players who will take us to the World Cup. I don’t know if he meant Russia or Qatar.  Omoto has featured for national sides U20 Junior team, and made his senior team debut in December 2012 in Kampala. He replaced former Gor Mahia forward Rama Salim in Harambee Stars’ 1-0 win over Malawi in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup quarter-final match.

Omoto left Ingwe the following year for Mombasa based side Bandari FC in search of regular playing time. He did not break into the first team regulars at the club and found his way back to Sharks where he helped the side gain promotion to KPL. Omoto is a good talent but is he the best of his generation? If he is the best as Mwenda claimed then his development has not been consistent. The wish that he will take us to the World Cup may pass as just another dream. The Rangers fan, Vincent Oburu and Patila Omoto represent the problem with our football.

John Makheti is a father to two football mad sons. John found himself coaching the U10 football team at International Christian Church by default because of his sons. He is an alumni of Kakamega Boys so football is not strange to him. I religiously followed his social media updates sometimes back when he took the boys to a tournament in Arusha. His passion for the game and deep voice when he talks makes me stop to chat to the diminutive business man. I pose my observation that our best football talent is everywhere but in football. I asked for what I heard next.

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John is a cousin to Vihiga United player Silicho Soita. Soita is a law graduate from Strathmore University who like Vincent Oburu never played serious football in high school. John tagged him along to his football escapades where he managed to land some trial sessions in KPL clubs and a few Nationwide sides. Soita was told in one of the KPL clubs that his promising talent aside, he reported late for the one week trials so he will not be signed. In the other he was told by the coach he will be signed but he has to part with Ksh. 30,000 of his Ksh. 50,000 salary every month. I believe the law graduate in him could not agree to those terms.

He then resigned to casual kick a rounds just for staying in shape. Such sessions took him to Camp Toyoyo one day where he played against George Sunguti. The former Ingwe and national team player saw a gem of talent in Soita and recommended him to Manoah of Vihiga United. He did not disappoint and now clubs are falling over each other to sign him.

John was emphatic about the problems with Kenyan football. We have good football players playing football the problem is the system. Cartels and lack of good scouts are two things he mentioned must be checked. I am happy he pointed out people who know too much about very little in football yet they are the gate keepers. In the midst of all this their greed supersedes their desire for the growth of players and the game in general. 

I can write a lot about problems in Kenyan football without mentioning Okumbi. . The trip to Spain has exposed the gap between Kenya and world in football. At least Okumbi has given us Ovela Ochieng’ and Omoto who he is trying to push through our skewed system. Our players lack the skills and character to play football at highest level. The main reason is they start playing serious football very late. The few who try to expose our children to football early like John Makheti do so without proper empowerment and no assistance  from FKF.

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Malcolm Gladwel in his bestselling book “Outliers” talks about the ten thousand hours rule. He says that before that big break or someone becoming an expert or good at something, above basic talent he must spend at least ten thousand contact hours on it. This applies across the board, not only in sports. We must create our system in such a way that by the age of eighteen our players are nearing the ten thousand hours mark of serious contact with the ball. We can never cheat the grind. It doesn’t matter who is hired as national team coach, the virtue is more in the talent. KPL All Stars went down in the two matches they played against second string sides of Cordoba and Sevilla Athletic. They conceded five goals and scored none. Despite these results, let Okumbi be, a man can only do as much with the best that the system can offer.

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