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Back to bad old habits

NAIROBI, September 27 – When the row between Kenya Football Federation (KFF) and Kenya Premier League (KPL) came to the fore this past week many a soccer critic raised a knowing eyebrow.

Harambee Stars plans for their final group two match against Guinea sparked the latest battle with KFF accusing KPL of dragging its feet and declaring that it was a mistake to let the KPL handle the team in the first place.

For a Kenyan soccer fan, the current humdrum is so typical with the game. Over the last almost two decades, a period of relative peace and quiet has been punctuated by messy and sometimes bloody wars.

But why the current fight?

Didn’t the two factions kiss and make up as they signed an agreement to run the team together only in April? Didn’t KFF top honchos support and pose for pictures when KPL signed the mega deal for the league earlier this year?

And when the Sam Nyamweya Mohammed Hatimy struggle for KFF control was eventually sorted by the high court in June, one may have let out a sigh that it was all over. How wrong we were.

As weird as this may sound, the main reason for the current squabble is ironically the national team’s unexpected success in the second round of the 2010 World cup qualifiers.

You see, when the draw was made last year, few gave Stars a chance as they faced tough opponents in Guinea, Zimbabwe and Namibia. As the start of the qualifiers approached, KFF came out and stated that they had no funds to manage the team appealing to well wishers for help.

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This played into KPL who with their new found riches, were able to offer assistance so the two sides signed a memorandum that allowed them to manage the national team. Under the deal, a Harambee Stars Management Board was formed and tasked with raising revenue.

The response was swift. The clubs agreed to forfeit part of their funds to aid the team, Francis Kimanzi was appointed after all KPL coaches voted in his favour and a week later, the team went to camp.

This marked a new era in the team as everything was being done professionally, the team had training jerseys, tracksuits and the allowances were being paid on time.

The players responded playing well despite losing 2-1 in Namibia, seeds of hope had been sowed.

When Guinea came calling on June 7 and thousands of Kenyans flocked Nyayo national stadium, some of KFF’s official have a rethink for one had anticipated such a huge crowd.

The officials must have felt a twinge of what might have been and similar crowds in their next two matches had KFF convinced that they had made a mistake in letting KPL handle Stars.

The team was enjoying incomparable goodwill, Kenya Data Network came on board, KTN, Safaricom and others gave money towards the team and money was flowing.
The last match for example made a Sh4.2 million profit – an unprecedented amount in Kenyan circles. When the government joined the bandwagon donating 8.9 million to the team, the officials could not hold back anymore.

The bickering started albeit slowly with KFF kicking up a furore over Gor Mahia’s abandoned match against Mathare United and former Tusker coach Jacob Ghost Mulee’s worldwide suspension due to failure to appeal before a disciplinary committee.

Emails from the federation started flying but the clubs heeded the committee’s decision replaying only half of the match but when the national team failed to go to camp last Sunday, it became a full blown affair.

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KPL would not take it lying down and they have now stated that once the Guinea match is played, then they will revert to running the league. This will no doubt make KFF officials shift uneasily in their seats.

This is because KPL has financial muscle and the same cannot be said of KFF. With a 5.5 million dollars sponsorship, they hold the aces in this tough battle.

Stars has also outdone itself punching way above its weight and KPL know that they are directly responsible and that if KFF reclaims its team, then they will have to atleast match what KPL has done.

KPL also has the players. As demonstrated when the two KFF factions were fighting in May, all players were willing to turn out for KPL All Stars but not Harambee Stars. KPL thus has control over the players, when thy report to camp if at all.

KFF on the other hand want their team back at all costs. Having ceded running of the league to KPL, Stars are the only viable option they have left.

With the government providing support, they are confident they can run the team and are probably regretting why they let the team go in the first place.

The bottom line is no matter how much KFF would like it to appear like they are in charge, KPL is up and running and growing by the day. This has some of the federation’s officials seething.

Ironically, they knowingly gave KPL the mandate to run the team but now want it back because of it success.

Add this to the fact that replica jerseys of the national team were on sale even before the team could get its own to play with and you have a scenario where the tug of war for whose in control is simmering nicely.

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Add all the above to the fact that KFF elections are supposed to take place at the end of the year and you get the feeling that the warfare has only just begun.


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