We must save our league
Early in the season I was hosting an official of the Kenyan Premier League on magazine show Simba Super Soccer that airs on SuperSport 9 and 9 East every Thursday evening. 2011 League Champions Tusker had just been eliminated from the CAF Champions League in the first round; while Gor Mahia had suffered a first leg 3 – 0 defeat in the Confederations Cup to Ferroviario de Maputo. I challenged the official to tell us why Kenyan teams were doing so badly on the continent and he put the blame squarely on what teams do during the off season.
Gor had held a tour of Nyanza Province, the western part of the country, which hosts their core fan base in December; while I’m not too sure what Tusker had done during the break but they too had kept busy. The official had said that teams don’t rest during the break and that is one of the reasons why they found it difficult to compete in continental tournaments.
They are busy 12 months a year and there is never any time for proper recuperation of injuries especially.
Now I don’t disagree entirely with this notion but I don’t believe it is the primary reason why our league clubs do so badly on the continent.
Early last year Sofapaka had a half decent run in the Confederations Cup but still failed to make it to the money stage. This was despite Sofapaka having such a strong squad and one of the most qualified coaching teams around. Francis Kimanzi may not have physically been in Sofapaka yet, but he was pulling the strings already; from buying players in December 2010 to selecting the squad that beat Ismaily 4 – 0 here at home; a result that Ezekiel Akhwana still takes credit for.
In recent years we have seen Gor Mahia being beaten 5 – 0 by APR of Rwanda right here at the Nyayo Stadium in the Confederations Cup; while AFC Leopards failed to get past Banks of Ethiopia in early 2010 in the same tournament; beating them 3-1 here and losing 3-0 away.
Our performance in the CAF Champions League has been even worse with Ulinzi Stars making no impact at all last season.
So even though the latest league rankings released by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics puts the KPL at the 22nd best league in Africa this year, Kenya’s performance over the past couple of years has been wanting.
In the Cecafa Club tournament our luck has been just as bad. In fact the last time we made an impact was when Tusker won it in 2008. Since then Kenya has been mere participants making up the numbers.
I wonder what is wrong though. Could it be that we are so consumed with our league that we believe we are strong when in fact we aren’t? Is it the coaching that is letting us down because I don’t believe a country of 40 million people would not have the talent to rival any on the continent? Is it that there is not enough money in the league so the best players aren’t attracted to pursuing football professionally; and instead choose to go to University and become doctors and lawyers and journalists; professions with guaranteed income? Too often we hear of players not being paid salaries for months; and this could be detering many players from playing professional football.
I do urge Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards fans though to stop belittling Tusker by saying that they would have done better in Cecafa. Tusker won the 2011 KPL league fair and square and earned that ticket to Tanzania as the best team in the KPL last year. Gor had their chance in the Confederations Cup and blew it too. So this problem of Kenyan clubs underperforming on the continent is affecting all the clubs.
Now for those of you who did not see the league rankings released by the IFFHS last week; here are the top 20 ranked leagues in Africa this year in order from top to 20:
Nigeria, Tunisia, Ghana, Morocco, Mali, Algeria, Sudan, South Africa, Egypt, Cameroon, Angola, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Gambia, Tanzani, Botswana and Mozambique.
Do note that this is based on how the clubs of the various leagues have performed in continental and regional tournaments since January this year. They were released before the Cecafa tournament.
As usual I do not have the answers and I would like to hear your views on what you think is dragging the KPL down. Only by facing the problems can we begin to find the solutions.