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Kenyans must up the ante

One stark reality that stood out during the very eventful 2012 Tusker Premier League season was the foreign invasion. Not just the Coaches invasion that I have discussed here before but the player invasion too. This time, the foreigners didn’t get lost in the pack; they stood up to be counted.

As the Kenyan Premier League feted players who did well during the season at the KPL Footballer of the Year Awards last week, it was evident that foreigners were leading the way.

Cameroonian Abby Natty Kurunmi won the new player of the year award while defender of the year went to Ugandan Ivan Anguyo. Coach of the year went to Croatian Zdravko Logarusic while Uganda’s Dan Sserunkuma scooped three accolades including Player of the Year. He was also runner up in the Fair Play Player of the Year and in the Golden Boot categories.

I applaud these foreigners for setting the league alight this season and I look forward to how they will work and grow next season; but this should be a big challenge to Kenyan footballers and coaches.

Kenya is beaming with talent and I’m glad that Coach James Nandwa picked a First Division player, Patilla Omotto of Kariobangi Sharks, to participate in the Cecafa squad; if only for experience. Such players are the future. It shows that the talent is available but grooming is the problem.

I see Kenya playing at the Cecafa tournament and most of the players have serious ball control issues; while it’s evident that Kenya lacks very sharp strikers. In fact, even though Kenya beat Southern Sudan 2-0 on Tuesday, the Sudanese appeared to have better ball control. In a few years and with hard work and focus, they may overtake Kenya the way Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda have done in recent years.

I am not convinced that Kenya cannot find more like Dennis Oliech or better. I am not convinced that Kenya cannot find a Dan Sserunkuma!

John Barasa has won the KPL Golden Boot three times in the last four years but unfortunately he is nearing the end of his career. We need strikers who are young and who will shape the future of the KPL and of Harambee Stars.

Kenya has great defenders in Jockins Atudo, James Situma and many others but none were as effective this season as Uganda’s Ivan Anguyo. Does it mean Kenya can’t measure up? No! But sadly we aren’t fighting as hard.

If even the New Player of the Year Award is going to a foreigner, then what is Kenya producing? At the very least, the “new” Kenyan players should be rising to the occasion. I know football “academies” have sprouted up all over the country but if they aren’t producing the future superstars, then they are a waste of time and space.

I challenge Football Kenya Limited to work with the school’s sports association to scout and develop the future stars. That is the only way that Kenya can develop.

It’s not just players; it’s coaches as well. Logarusic was very impressive this season and even though Jan Koops did not win an award; he brought AFC Leopards within three points of the title. Even so, he’s been sacked; word has it that the club is looking abroad to recruit. Right now Sofapaka coach Elly Kalekwa is reportedly in talks with Rwanda’s national team coach because the foreigners have proved that they can get results.

We constantly speak of a strong league that somehow fails to translate to a strong national team. Firstly, I think we still have a lot of challenges to overcome before we can call our league strong and, with all the accolades going to foreigners, it makes sense that it wouldn’t translate to our national team.

With funds trickling into the league; this should attract young talent to strive to achieve and make our local coaches take a fresh look at their skills and methods but why isn’t it happening?

I welcome the foreigners because they spice up the league but at this rate we will become like England, who have a fantastic premier league with money pouring in and the best talent in the world but with a national team that has only ever won one World Cup; albeit controversially.

I don’t want the foreigners to leave because they make Kenyans work harder and because it’s their right to be here but I do want local players and coaches to “up the ante” and make Kenya proud.

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