Where is the money?
It’s no secret that football clubs in Africa and particularly in the Kenyan Premier League suffer from a lack of cash.
Several years ago it was difficult to find a single KPL side with a corporate sponsor and even then Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards fans were scarce in our stadia. So naturally, footballers would suffer. Unpaid allowances, unpaid salaries and lack of transport to football games were the norm. That is sad, given that football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the world and probably the most popular past-time in the world.
KPL teams like Rangers FC, City Stars and Mathare United are often in the news over a lack of cash to keep operations moving. Players have been forced to boycott training, protest and, at other times, find something else to do to earn a living.
They must eat. They must have a roof over their heads and they must pay school fees. It is so difficult to explain to your family that you don’t have money when you appear live on television and have scores of fans chanting your name and discussing you on Twitter and Facebook. The understanding is that you are famous and with fame comes money.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way in Kenya. You are famous and in turn we’ll say well done on our status updates and pat you on the back if we get that close. Money does not follow.
Recently though, the assumed “richest” club in Kenya also fell victim to financial troubles. Sofapaka is known for its wealthy owner Elly Kalekwa, who my SuperSport colleague analyst James Wokabi once described here on SuperSport.com as the Kenyan “Oligarch”, likening him to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Even Abramovich had to go on a “go-slow” after spending millions for two to three seasons and realising that he was spilling cash and not making much.
After Sofapaka’s debut season in the KPL, where they won the title, it was no surprise when Blue Triangle jumped up and offered the club a three-year sponsorship deal worth about 13 000 Kenya shillings a year for three years. That amounts to about 1 million a month. Even back then it was common knowledge that Sofapaka’s wage bill averaged 2,4 million shillings a month. Add on other costs and they were into the 4 million shillings a month region. So clearly the sponsorship money wasn’t enough and Elly was primarily funding the club from his pocket.
Last season Sofapaka travelled around the continent playing in the Confederations Cup. Unconfirmed sources claim that the visit to Congo to play St Eloi Lupopo cost Elly 6 million shillings. So meeting these costs must have been difficult. Sofapaka were removed from the competition just before the money stage and that must have been a blow for Elly.
Luckily his boys got a bit of publicity and clubs came calling. However none of the deals involving Captain James Situma, midfielder Humphrey Mieno and a few others materialised fully. So whereas Elly was hoping to make money through player sales, it didn’t happen.
Two weeks ago Ugandan midfielder Musa Mudde announced that he wanted to leave the club and one of his reasons was that his salary had not been paid for about six months.
Sad but anyone could have seen it coming.
Elly is a very generous man who has contributed more than just lip service to the league. He has dug deep into his own pocket for the love of the game and for a dream he harbours.
Unlike AFC and Gor, it will be several seasons before Sofapaka can boast a sizeable number of loyal fans and that can only happen if their good form continues.
This season the club is on the right track, but losing key players like Mudde may affect that.
My concern is that if a club like Sofapaka can be struggling financially, what will happen to smaller clubs with no sponsorship at all.
Rangers are in trouble of keeping together the team during the June transfer window, while City Stars too will find their top players being hunted down by the “richer” clubs.
I would hate to see the league lose its competitive nature simply because the big boys bully out the smaller ones but I fear this will happen. Unfortunately it won’t be unique to the KPL; even in England smaller clubs lose out after the big clubs snap up the best talent.
But what happens when the big clubs can no longer compete as the cost of football continues to rise?