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A lesson for Kenya football

Kenyan football has been in transition for about eight years now. I don’t believe transitions take that long but we are a unique country when it comes to how we develop; or rather don’t develop our football. The last the time Kenya participated in the Africa Cup of Nations was in 2004 in Tunisia. Things have gone down-hill since then.

This year everyone said enough was enough and pressure was put on the national federation to get serious about developing football on a national scale. The work has barely begun since it involves grooming talent from as young as eight, but it was encouraging when the Federation announced, in July, that it would be interviewing several top notch coaches to take over the managing of the Harambee Stars.

Kenya had gone through a string of local coaches over the last eight years from Jacob Ghost Mulee to Twahir Muhiddin, Mohammed Kheri, Bernard Lama, Tom Olaba, Ghost again, Francis Kimanzi, Muhiddin again, Ghost yet again, Zedekiah Otieno, and Kimanzi again. Somewhere in the middle we hired German Antoine Hey who was hounded out of the country after failing to qualify us for an Afcon tournament. I think we were a little rash when it came to it but that’s history now.

The fact is that when the FKF conducted interviews in July/August this year, most of us were in favour of a foreign coach because we felt that local coaches had let us down. They had been too lenient on players who misbehaved and left camp when they should be training; and they appeared to always call up the same underperforming 11 for every international.

Enter Henri Michel, whose salary alone made many stop and question the need for a foreign coach. But we figured that if he was bringing professionalism and results we would accommodate him.

When he called Cecafa a “useless” tournament, most of us prayed that the statement was lost in translation. Unfortunately it wasn’t and he went on to ignore Cecafa, forcing the FKF to assemble a haphazard team and send the boys off to Uganda with under-23 Coach James Nandwa.

In the meantime Michel secured the best local players for himself to train to play Burundi home and away in a CHAN qualifier; and sent players who wouldn’t ordinarily be called up to the national team, to Uganda.

I admit that I was one of those skeptics not expecting much from our Cecafa assignment, but there is no doubt that James Nandwa has made us proud. I joked on Simba Super Soccer a few weeks ago how it would be fantastic for Nandwa to do well at Cecafa while the heavily paid and qualified Michel suffered in his assignments; only to prove that just being foreign doesn’t make Michel the right man for the Stars job.

I do wish Michel the best in CHAN, but you cannot convince me that he has done well since he landed here in August.

As of today, Wednesday 5 December, Michel has been in charge of two games and lost both; Nandwa has been in charge of four games and lost one. He might have a chance to redeem that loss if Kenya gets past Zanzibar in the Cecafa semifinal and Uganda beats Tanzania in their semifinal but we’ll be patient.

Nandwa has shown that there is talent in the country beyond the usual suspects who are called up for national duty; and exposed great potential in players like defender David Ochieng and Thika midfielder Clifton Miheso. The team may be raw but it’s a lesson to FKF to explore further before calling up the same old players for national duty regardless of recent form.

Even though Nandwa is doing well though, he does need international experience. As FKF, I would send him for further courses in coaching to develop him into a fully fledged national team coach capable of challenging the best opposition in the world. I would support him fully with funds to both scout and for his pocket. There’s no way he would cost upwards of KSh3 million a month.

I would be patient with him. Nandwa may have just been relegated in the league with Rangers FC but he did come second with Tusker FC a few seasons ago. With the right support I believe we may have to reconsider whether a foreign coach, who we really cannot afford, is the man for the Stars’ job.

Regardless of whether we beat Zanzibar or not, and I know that we can, James Nandwa has taught us all a lesson in Uganda.

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