23 February 2013

Kenya: Is It Really Money That Is Kenya Soccer?s Problem?

The embarrassing issue of Harambee Stars' age old lack of success is one that provokes many views and opinions.

In search of concrete answers, the Weekend Star has engaged with former internationals, Kenya Premier League (KPL) club chairmen, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) officials and national and club coaches. The responses have been passionate to say the least, with matters ranging from alleged corruption and insufficient finances to inadequate coaching, scouting and even a lack of nutritionists in Kenyan football, as reasons to the Harambee Stars' lifelong failures.

The common feeling throughout this process was that the Kenyan football system is in desperate need of a complete overhaul before the Harambee Stars can even consider international success. The majority of those involved feel the federation also lacks commitment to the cause of developing footballing standards in Kenya and allege there have been cases of blatant corrupt.

Gor Mahia FC Chairman Ambrose Rachier firmly stated: "To me, it's a question of a lack of planning and a lack of commitment to the development of youth football in our country".

He then went on to add: "Corruption is there, it's dangerous, it's a cancer and it trickles down into football. It has a negative effect. For example, if funds meant for the development of football go elsewhere then you're killing football and that is happening."

Similar strong sentiments were echoed by former Harambee Stars international Sammy Sholei who not only agreed with Rachier but added: "Corruption is a big, big issue in football in this country." He went on to astonishingly accuse the FKF of "witch hunting", claiming: "If you write exactly what I've told you tomorrow, you're going to get a letter from the federation. Threats go out even to radio stations. There is one, where I used to go and air my views which also received a letter from FKF."

Such widespread condemnation of the FKF by prominent football figures will undoubtedly be hugely concerning for Kenyans; especially considering Kenya's current long-standing poor standards and the believed extent of changes needed to turn that around.

The Harambee Stars have never qualified for the World Cup and have failed to make it past round one of the African Cup of Nations. A poor youth development structure figured several times as a key factor in urgent need of transformation.

"I have never seen any football competition that involves the small kids in this country", former Harambee Stars defender Sammy Omollo observed.

And what did the FKF have to say about all this? Efforts to get hold of chairman Sam Nyamweya were unfruitful.

However, in an interview with FKF Technical Director Elly Mukolwe, the common theme was ironically money, or a lack of it, more precisely. When asked whether our kids lack competitive football, Mukolwe's response was: "In our country, the only problem we have is finances".

When asked why the Harambee Stars rarely play international friendlies in Kenya, the response was also monetarily driven: "We don't have money. If a team comes here, they want us to pay for their accommodation, they want us to pay for their allowances and they want us to pay for their air tickets. Because we don't have money, there is no capacity to play against other nations (at home). We want to expose our players but we can't manage because we don't have money".

When asked about the alleged corruption his response was: "How can you become corrupt when you don't have the money? You can only be corrupt when you have the money."

If one were to base a drinking game over the amount of times Mukolwe used the word "money", they'd have passed out before the end of the interview.

As FKF's Technical Director, it should of course be Mukolwe's job to oversee the technical development of Kenyan footballers. So when asked "Does Kenyan football need a distinct style of play to coach players?" Mukolwe's response was revealing: "There are various countries with various types of coaching. It depends on what type of players you have. In Holland they prefer the four by four."

Clearly someone needed to inform him that 4-2-4 is traditionally a British system as the Dutch evolved the 4-3-3 from which the concept of 'Total Football' emerged.

At least Mukolwe agreed that a complete revamp of Kenyan football was a necessity saying: "Yes and this is what we're trying to do now. But the hiccups are coming from a lack of finances because football needs a lot of money".

In Mukolwe's defence, it is true that Kenyan football suffers from a lack of funding and consequently insufficient resources. Mukolwe blamed this on inadequate sponsorship which was also claimed by the others, including Omollo.

"There's hardly anybody pumping any money into Kenyan football. Football is largely neglected in this country and the budget for it is something that is small and embarrassing when we talk about budgets" Mukolwe said.

However, Sholei, Rachier and Omollo all argued that it was the FKF's role to attract much-needed sponsorship and redirect it into football. This, they felt was not being done.

The arguments of each and more will be presented each weekend, as we seek to unravel the worrying matter of the Harambee Stars.

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