Mombasa — "There is no magic wand to solve the problem of football in the country." These were the words of wisdom from former Harambee Stars mainstay and current Bandari Coach Kennedy Odhiambo who returned to the country in January after a two-year hiatus.
Odhiambo told Capital FM Sport in Mombasa that "the process of creating a sustainable youth set up for all Kenyan clubs is the way to go in quest of the elusive FIFA World Cup ticket."
"Success cannot not be achieved overnight," he quips, adding: "It is planned for meticulously with every single detail being given great attention. The most important thing is to be patient because players develop with more play time at a younger age. And when we achieve a flawless youth program, the results will be there for everyone to see at senior level. If we want to succeed, we must do it just as the Germans did. They dismantled the whole team after a spate of bad results, brought in young blood and within a short time they were winners of the FIFA World Cup."
Odhiambo reveals that some of the star players in Kenya today were part of that battle-hardened Under-23 team that he was part of a few years back.
"I have deputised Adel Amrouche and indeed James Nandwa in the 2012 CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup where we were runners up to Uganda. Thereafter, we went to Senegal and Guinea with our Under-23 team. We lost 1-0 to Senegal and drew 0-0 with Guinea which no one expected," Odhiambo, a former Nairobi City Stars Coach said.
"If you look at that squad most of the players graduated to the senior level and became the backbone of the national team. A good example is Francis Kahata and David ' Calabar' Owino just to name but a few."
The father of three boys underscores the need to go back to the grassroots, underlining that that there are so many talented players who lack proper coaching.
"If you look at how they are being handled, you'll be shocked. So, we need to have proper strictures in place with requisite age-sets, say like Under-8 all the way to Under-23. If you look at the likes of Victor Wanyama and Michael Olunga you can concur with me that we are very talented."
-Two Year break-
So, what has Odhiambo up to when he left the country two years back?
"I have been in Kenya for the last few months. I was with my family in Khartoum, Sudan where my wife works in the Kenyan Embassy. I was there for two years. In fact, I decided to take a break from football. I was also doing my Diploma in Football Administration. So, I decided to do something different and follow football proceedings from an angle where there is no pressure. I realised that when you are relaxed you do things differently. While I was away, I learnt a lot, which if implemented we can go places at Bandari," Odhiambo explained on his absence.
"My number one aim was to discover where I had gone wrong before, and what I could do better going forward. Then the players that I had, how I could make them play even better. I was looking at the young and old players and thinking just how to integrate them into a formidable team."
When Odhiambo left for Khartoum, he handed over to his former teammate Bernard Mwalala who led Bandari to qualify for their first CAF Confederation Cup.
"It's normal all over the world. Players and coaches come and go. But as a coach you look at how the team is at that particular time. When I came back, I realized the players weren't at their best. They had gone for a few matches without winning, so their morale was affected.
"The first thing was to bring them back to a level where they could perform. When a team is playing both local and continental football, fatigue sets in at some point. It's tiresome. I think Bandari had reached a point where they were completely burnt out."
He added, "step number one when I was back was to look at the problem critically and ensure these players are good enough to tackle their opponents. When I came we went for six matches unbeaten. But when we were on the verge of matching to the summit this thing called COVID-19 came in. God willing when we regroup, we can return to where we were before the pandemic."
Odhiambo notes that there is always a difference when there is team and segregated training.
"We communicate a lot with all the players on a daily basis to keep tabs on their performance, we pray that things will be okay, and we can reclaim our rightful place on the log. We have to take it all in our strides as the sport may never be the same again."
Odhiambo's day starts with a one-hour workout every morning before embarking on a busy day.
"After training I go home, take a shower then we go to Mbaraki with friends. That's where we go to relax and review football, take supper and a few drinks then go back home. I like swimming with my kids when I'm free."
"The best moment of my playing career was when we (Oserian) played Coast Stars and they were leading 1-0. Suddenly we got a corner and I was among the players who remained behind to provide cover. When the corner was played the keeper punched the ball almost to the half-line. Then I met that ball and hit it straight to the net. We won 2-1 at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa. Coast Stars were a star- studded team with the likes of Robert Mambo."
"My worst moment was at Kasarani Stadium when we drew 1-1 against Morocco. Had we won that match we would have qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations."
Asked what's lacking in Kenyan football, Odhiambo went on: "I think it's the passion that's wanting. In our time players weren't being remunerated well. I remember during my active years as a player I could wake up by 4am, do my morning run, take a shower, have breakfast. That was around 6am then by 9am I'm on the pitch again till 11am, then go back take a shower, have lunch, take a nap.
"By 4pm I'm on the pitch again, so we did it three times a day. That was passion. My prayer is that if players of today can emulate what we did then no one can stop the Kenyan 'reggae in Africa'."
Odhiambo believes there is also need to empower and motivate players because after active play there is family.
"Very few footballers have succeeded after retirement. If they can also be mentored on how to cope with life after football, then that would be one of the best gifts to help manage transition," underscored Odhiambo.
"Another thing is that these players lack financial advice. Things like saccos can be of utmost importance. Like in Bandari we have a sacco where players do their savings. If they feel they want to invest they can give them a loan and they can service it as they continue playing."
"Authorities need to come up with the same concept and a program where these players can be advised on financial management while still active. Even community clubs could also embrace such ideas now that they have sponsors. If they can do it, our players will benefit a lot. Some players are paid well but when they get their money, they squander it all, then end up begging. This is a culture we should stop. Having fun isn't bad. But when you overdo it there is a risk of losing focus. Anything done in moderation is good."
Odhiambo says he will forever be grateful to his mentor veteran Kenyan coach Twahir Muhiddin.
"One thing I have admired about him (Twahir) over the years is the fact that he has that unique fatherly figure and the way he handled us when we were playing football really mattered. That's what made us move on from playing to coaching. His coaching was a lot to do with practical and you could grasp so many things."
Twahir has produced several coaches including John Baraza, Francis Baraza and many more.
"When we were at Oserian we became family. In real situations family members would always want to compete but at the end of the day its more than just competition as you can chat after the game and exchange ideas. We are very appreciative of what he (Twahir) did for us. Right now, he's my Technical Director. We converse a lot on team matters and sometimes the father-son-talk. I believe he is one of the best coaches here in Kenya. If he was utilized to the maximum, Kenya could actually go to the next level."