Regional football coming of age
Traditionally I am a football snob. By that I mean that I am a long time fan of English football, German football and the game played by some teams in Italy and Spain.
Of course I watch the big tournaments like the World Cup, the Euros and the African Cup of Nations, but I confess that I have never had much interest in regional football. Even the Confederation Cup of Africa and the CAF Champions League only interest me when either a Kenyan team is participating or the competitions reach the semis and final stage.
I have watched the last couple of Cecafa tournaments, more out of duty than want, but since Saturday I have been watching out of want. I love what I am seeing.
The quality of club football in countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania is much higher than I expected. Tanzanian clubs may be suffering this time around; what with 2011 finalists Simba and Cecafa Champions Yanga both losing their opening matches, but generally they play the game well as well.
Watching Simba against the 2010/2011 USL Champions Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), gave me the feeling of watching a superior tournament. These two teams could have been playing in any competition in Africa. URA, with their intelligent carpet football and Simba’s attacking attitude resulted in a clean and entertaining tie. Simba did not score because of the brilliance of the URA keeper and it was such an entertaining game.
I was flicking between the Simba URA match and the Kenyan Premier League tie between Chemelil and Gor Mahia; and I’m afraid we still need to work a little harder in the KPL. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but even though the current Gor side are getting results; apart from two or three players who are giving 110 per cent, they still need to work very hard to look like a title-winning side, let alone compete regionally. I believe they are on the right track and Coach Zdravko Logarusic has all his ducks in a row, so they will get their rather quickly. Perhaps next year.
This year though, Tuskers, as the KPL 2011 Champions, are all set for their opening tie against Mafunzo of Zanzibar on Thursday. While analysing this group on Simba Super Soccer a week ago, all the analysts agreed that Tusker and Azzam would sail through to the quarters but, based on Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Mafunzo and Azzam, this may not be so clear cut. I didn’t watch that game so I can’t give details, but Azzam is a great team. Then again, so is Tusker.
Sammy Omollo has worked hard over the past year or so and this has been a tough year for Tusker but they are still in a very respectable position in the KPL. They’re second with just a point separating them and AFC Leopards. I am concerned though, and this comes from watching KPL matches over the past weekend, that the standard of our league is wanting. Yes we have competition within ourselves but is it a force to reckon with in the region?
The last time Tusker participated in the Cecafa Kagame Cup was in 2008 after winning the KPL in 2007. They brought home the region’s best trophy then and Omollo feels this is a great confidence booster for the team. Many of the players, who won Cecafa in 2008, which co-incidentally was played in Dar es Salaam, are still in the team and doing well.
In recent years, Kenyan football has been reduced to a level that has seen the national team struggling over the likes of Malawi and Namibia. The talent in this country exists; that I know for sure, but to me it isn’t showing.
Watching Cecafa over the weekend, I couldn’t help but feel that teams from Burundi, Uganda and Congo were playing such impressive football and it left me worrying for our Tusker. For now though, I will give Tusker the benefit of the doubt because sometimes you do perform as well as your competition.
Knowing Tusker under Sammy Omollo, they are likely to rise to the occasion and join the big football clubs in the region as they come of age. I certainly hope so.