Beyond the borders; Why Kenyan club football doesn’t tick at continental level

Probably the most historical moment in our nation right now is the fact that a whole new government is coming into power- Congratulations to all the elected leaders. Whatever way, what it means to us in football is something we are yet to see. But just as it’s the norm; hoping for the best as we prepare…………
Well, back to the game we all love; Not an exciting/historical moment for club football in this country. An air of disappointment and renewed vigour both seem to slap our faces at the same time even as Kenyans watch again two giants (Gor Mahia and Tusker FC) bow out of Africa’s premier Continental Club showpiece. It’s the disappointment that once again, it was one step too small or as some may want to sugar coat it; the level of the opposition just wouldn’t allow. For the “TPL MANIAC” though- the vigour renewal is best manufactured in the mind-set that finally the teams can now concentrate on the League and the domestic cups and hope that next year can only get better.
But so what made it not a step too far for our clubs this year?
It must be noted that the greatest successes of a National side/squad are always built on the backbone of a strong league system. Kenya’s national Football team- The Harambee Stars have not over time had the upper hand over the Pharaoh’s and for the doubters- club football was probably the best way to prove this.

I don’t say this with any pride but the acceptance that Egyptian Football is miles ahead of most ordinary African countries. These competitions of course need to be the step on which brighter, more vigorous and better performance of our clubs are built on.

Allowing Gor Mahia and Tusker FC to be the case study in this piece; among the many things that I did want to point out- a few clearly come into perspective and so here I take a brief look at them.
It’s never about the buildings, never about the guys at the helm here- it’s all about how our clubs are structured as playing units.
While most of us may argue the clubs that knocked out Tusker and Gor Mahia have great football facilities and a great footballing culture spanning several years it must also be noted our clubs never seem to put so much effort into development albeit once in a while- something that doesn’t go down well with a sport that is ever developing.
A quick look at the Kenyan squads one thing immediately hits you- where are reserve squads, U20, U17 and even much younger squads? The whole investment is purely on the main team and just once in a while a young team assembled in case of some money minting tournament organised by some PRO Federation corporate- Or even in the worst case scenario, a brief glance given to youths when the season comes to a close and a few fresh legs needed for the season that clubs scout in estate tourneys and school events.
It’s a sharp contrast to what the Al-Ahly’s and ENPPI’s of this world boast of in terms of Youth Academies, First team squads and even reserve squads.
So while our clubs seek the services of other players out there at the end of the season and players themselves quick to jump to quick money/fame-making ventures by joining these top sides, a thorough look is given to the in-house development in Egyptian sides; Players who’ve got the DNA of the club- those who understand what donning the club’s jersey means to the fans and to themselves and those who have worked up their way into the football hierarchy of the club get a chance.
A few may look at me and say- but it’s an expensive venture? Well- expensive performances never come cheap and cheap performances are a culmination of not so expensive input into the players and all factors affecting the game.
Lean Squads
If you would ask yourself and probably ask me too; how many XI’s can you form from a full Gor Mahia/Tusker side? I would make a whole first complete one and struggle for a second. If I tried a third- probably I would have to borrow a few from either the first or the second. Get the maths?…..
A few weeks ago- Africa witnessed an U21 CAF Championship, clearly a venture not many people were interested in. I thought it was so exciting- watching all these youngsters proving themselves to the world. Giving their all when hardly half of the tournament gave them an eye- yet these same people will want to pose for photos with them 5 years later when finally they are crowned champions. Starting this weekend again, the U17 African Championships starts in Morocco- how many people even had an idea?
The clubs do a dirty job I always say. Al Ahly for example had to travel to Nairobi with what they perceived as a ‘weak side’ yet they still managed to demolish Tusker FC 2-1 at Nyayo National stadium. Why the term ‘weak’? It’s because some of their players were representing the country at the U20’s.
For the player, It just doesn’t give them a chance to market themselves to the world (something which of course will help their career) but it also helps market the club as a strong institution that encourages youth development. Away from the development- it gives the other players who might have never gotten/ whose chances have been limited a chance to express themselves and push for places within the team.
A little bit related to the previous few paragraphs but exposing players/clubs to even higher level of competition creates the mind-set and belief in players that they can match even the very best.
While we don’t expect Gor Mahia and Tusker FC (my case study) to go and play Wigan FC in a friendly as preparation for Continental outings- it’s important that clubs of this standard get exposed to competition in that level way in advance and this can begin with the junior levels.
I don’t wanna go into the level of preparations for these tourney’s as participation is always confirmed probably 30-60 days before the real competition begins. And ideally it comes on the backdrop of a new season and a transfer period. Teams need to learn better- a little much more research on these clubs, a little tour of their matches just before you face them- 90 is such a short time to learn a team and as we learnt. The first 90 might just be the whole difference- the second is most likely a confirmation of the first or a fight for survival. With the advent of technology; live streams exist all around us. Scouting can be done from the comfort of an office and further- face to face communication at the touch of a button is no expense.
Federation Woes
It’s the governing body of any country’s football and Kenya since time immemorial only knows of a disorganised, corrupt and individual centred system. I always never forget to mention that the League, Clubs and Sponsors (both TV and Individual Club Sponsors) are the main reason not many Kenyans see the rot in the highest Football office in the land.
In a country where the federation president is quick to give away ‘free balls’ when teams are about to host international matches- actually less than 48 hours to Kick Off. In a country where the federation is quick to hire and fire even duly elected persons- the end shame culminates in aggregate score lines on the pitch.
I must be ashamed to admit- the help the federation offers to these clubs is minimal and probably of no help. The same players are harassed at National team level- surely; would you expect them to even run to the federation for assistance when a club matter arises?
I’m an optimist in various aspects- I never want to be part of the problem but a solution every single day. Pointing out all the above doesn’t mean I don’t take great pride in what I would term ‘an improvement over time’ but in as much as we strive to improve- the bare truth is that a few elements of the stagnation and negativity associated with the Kenyan game need to be scrapped off the system.
Getting back to the drawing board and building on the positives will never bear bad fruits- the end actually will be a culmination of a country’s hunger for success and evident footballing superiority. But until then- you and I will watch the African Champions League, the African Confederations Cup on TV, read about it on the internet and newspapers but never in your generation dare dream of the successes it beholds either for our clubs or the Harambee Stars.

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