How Kenya let Mariga down

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BY JAMES WOKABI

With a stroke of a pen at Wembley shortly after 4pm on Monday, MacDonald Mariga’s hopes of becoming the first Kenyan to play in the English Premier League were dashed.

Having passed a medical, and agreed personal terms, the 22-year-old was waiting for a work permit to complete his Sh840 million move from Parma to Manchester City.

But the Home Office in London would hear none of it. Despite having played in more than 75 percent of Kenya’s matches in the last two years, Mariga fell short because of the stipulation that demands that his country of origin be ranked 70th or below in the Fifa rankings.

The news was a huge anticlimax to a fairytale that has dominated news in the Kenyan capital since Friday when it first emerged that they were interested in Mariga.

What a shame that a talented boy who started from humble beginnings at Makongeni Youth, through to Ulinzi, Pipeline, Tusker, Enkoppings, Helsinborgs and finally Parma will not be able to realise his dream.

But shouldn’t the Home Office have given our boy a chance?

There have been players who haven’t met all the stipulations for acquiring a work permit. Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was initially denied the permit when he was joining Manchester United in 2003 but was granted on appeal.

In December 2008, Manchester United’s Zoran Tosic was granted a work permit after a personal plea from Ferguson that he was an exceptional talent – the same Tosic who has now been loaned out to Cologne.

Even in the current transfer window, Benni McCarthy’s move from Blackburn to West Ham was delayed for days because of work permit issues but they relented.

And if the above players got special dispensation, why did the Home Office not extend the same to Mariga? Instead of using 98th as an excuse, why not acknowledge that he has overcome the odds to get to England, and that on that basis he deserved his chance?

Look at the effect it would have had on aspiring Kenyan youngsters? It would have been the ultimate motivation.

And with Kenya being a former colony, shouldn’t there be special dispensation for it? As is usually the case with France and its former colonies?

But while the country is united in its outcry over the very stringent rules by the Home Office, our own office at home should shoulder a huge portion of the blame.

In December 2008, Kenya was ranked 68th and if this transfer was being conducted in January last year, there would have been no problem.

But under the watch of Football Kenya Limited, we have slipped down the rankings to 98th globally occasioned by poor results of our national team, most notably in the World Cup qualifiers where Harambee Stars contrived to win just one match out of five.

Throw in the endless friendlies in Asia and you get the real picture of how badly we have plummeted while FKL officials continue to pay lip service.

That this disgraceful degeneration has taken place without anyone in the government, Ministry of Sports lifting a finger speaks volumes.

And lets not even go into the sacking of Francis Kimanzi and the hiring of Antoine Hey…

Moving forward, we must hope that Kenyan football can treat this as a wake up call.

Football officials must roll up their sleeves and get down to work. Harambee Stars must improve its rankings dramatically and this can only be done by results on the pitch. Not by bickering as is tradition.

Politicians who yap everyday about their love for the sport must demonstrate it by action not declarations.

For Mariga, he must now hope that Roberto Mancini keeps an interest in him and will be back for him in June.

(James Wokabi is the Capital FM Sports Editor and co-host of the popular Saturday Music and Sport)

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