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Henri Michel's test results

Harambee Stars Coach Henri Michel was in class on Tuesday night to sit for his first Kenyan test. Even before the whistle to signal the start of the friendly between Kenya and South Africa’s Bafana Bafana; we all knew that he wouldn’t be graded on the result of the match, but more-so on the potential of the team.

There was already a buzz a week before the game when the French tactician called up players who had never put in a national team jersey. Personally I found that a welcome relief because, in the past, one of my biggest concerns has always been that the national team coaches pre-planned who they would call up for national team duty months in advance. Form never mattered before and it was as if Harambee Stars was the reserve of certain players.

We knew local coaches couldn’t rid the team of their friends, regardless of their form, but a bold and experienced Henri Michel, who isn’t here to make friends; did just that. It was a gamble, but I believe it will pay off.

When the team sheet was released and Francis Kahata, Wesley Kemboi and Eugene Asike were in the starting line-up; I smiled. Actually I let out a great big WOOHOO! These are players we have all seen turn up for their clubs and do a good job week in week out; so it was encouraging to see them getting a starting position in the new coach’s side.

Kahata is such a gifted player technically and his entry into the Star’s fold as a starter was long over-due; while Kemboi has been terrorising defenses for his club Western Stima. Asike had a tough match on Tuesday more because he was being played out of position for most of the match. Each of these players, along with others I haven’t mentioned, has a special talent that can be nurtured by a coach like Michel. Even Christopher Wekesa had a great game and it was sad that he scored the own goal that secured the loss because it was not representative of his overall performance.

I guess the coach was trying something out with Asike though and even though it didn’t work; it was his right to do that. It was Michel’s first test so he had to try out new formations and partnerships; and it was a friendly.

One mistake though is that we tried to play too much possession football at the start. Possession football is great if you do it right because it frustrates your opponent for long spells in the game. You must have a good counter attack if that’s the way you want to go; and unfortunately our counters weren’t sharp. We could string passes together but supply to the front was limited.

The positive I took out of the game was that there were fresh faces with obvious talent but who either got stage fright or could not gel because they were strangers to each other as team members.

I like the way the international players, led by Captain Dennis Oliech, Victor Wanyama, and Arnold Origi, accepted the new boys into the fold and encouraged them to do well.

The game was not perfect on our part but it wasn’t a disaster. Clearly Michel needs the team to spend a lot more time together and, with the season winding up soon and Cecafa and Chan to look forward to, that will happen in time.

The whole performance was a step in the right direction. For those of you who were watching the Stars for the first time; and judging by comments on social media many of you were and hated it; believe me when I say we have gotten better. We looked more organised, there was glaring talent that needs some nurturing, which I know Henri will provide, and the squad needs a lot of practice as a team.

After the game Oliech said that he was feeling confident about Harambee Stars’ fortunes under new coach Henri Michel and asked fans and the federation to give him time to fully implement his strategy. He acknowledged that Kenya had challenges within the national team but asked the Federation to organise more such friendlies in order for the squad to continue to grow. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The good news released by the Federation today (Wednesday) is that already Angola and Cameroon have both enquired about playing friendlies with the Stars before the next round of World Cup 2014 qualifiers next year. That would be just the kind of practice we need.

Michel has certainly taken professionalism in the national team side a few notches higher; and even though statistics will show that he lost his first game in charges as Harambee Stars’ manager; I think he won in many other ways.

It won’t be easy and of course the federation needs to work on grooming a next generation of Stars; but for the first time in years I feel that we are moving in the right direction.

Of course you will be judged more harshly in the next game but I am confident that Kenya will do better in the next game. I can’t wait for it!

Thank you Michel. In my book, you passed the first test.

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