NAIROBI, Kenya, January 24 – At best of times Kenyan football is run in a strange way. I mean we have two federations – one backed by Fifa and another by the government, at times we have two national teams, the officials literally live in court and football is usually an after thought.But last week’s sacking of national team coach Francis Kimanzi by the newly constituted Football Kenya Limited took our circus to a whole new level.
Whereas coaches are primarily dismissed because of results, Kimanzi was sacked for indiscipline and string headedness, “He was not cooperative” read the statement.
The issue at hand was the contentious friendly against Egypt that was played last night.
Kimanzi apparently turned it down.
It all started in the aftermath of the Cecafa Senior Challenge in Kampala. Kimanzi was informed after the final that there was a friendly scheduled against Egypt on January 23.
He immediately voiced concerns against it saying most of his players were exhausted and would not be in the right frame to face the defending champions. The fact that it is not on a Fifa-arranged international date also meant that clubs would be hard pressed to release their players especially our European based stars.
Because of these reasons, Kimanzi was not too excited about it and suggested that the players be given a break.
But our good officials would not hear any of that. They insisted it would go on. When Kimanzi stuck to his guns, they went on and fired him, “How can we turn down a fully paid trip to Egypt?” pondered FKL CEO Sammy Obingo adding, “they have made all efforts and are even giving us allowances and 10,000 dollars.”
A replacement was quickly sought with Bobby Ogolla taking over the reins of a new team named in readiness for Cairo.
But even FKL were not prepared for the back lash that has greeted their latest fiasco.
The reaction was furious and intense. The government waded in with Prime Minister Raila Odinga asking FKL to rescind its decision. The Premier said the change was ill timed as it was so close to the World Cup qualifiers.
Assistant Minister of Sports Kabando wa Kabando also threw his weight behind Kimanzi.
Harambee Stars Vice Captain Dennis Oliech then took the battle a little further declaring that he would not honour call ups to the team if Kimanzi is not reinstated.
During all this hustle, FKL has kept a studious silence. There has been no communication from the trio of officials.
FKL’s rival faction Kenya Football Federation has grasped the opportunity with both hands throwing their weight behind Kimanzi despite having called for his sacking only a week earlier.
So what is really going on?
First the friendly.
While any chance to play reigning African champions would be considered golden, it was odd that the friendly was not fixed on a Fifa day.
This meant that Kenya would have the services of its professional players who play a vital role and who the coach would have needed to prepare for the Tunisia match in March.
“You are going to play against Egypt. Without three quarters of the players who will play against Tunisia does not make sense. They haven’t even seen the players’ inventory and as such they do not know what I need,” said Kimanzi.
And was it opportune?
Kenya had just played in Cecafa reaching the final which meant six game sin ten days. This, Kimanzi thought, was enough a base for the qualifiers as he had seen the quality of the players and gauged their readiness.
“We are scheduled to play at home against Tunisia where we will have to principally attack. So if we want to make some good preparations in readiness for that match it should be a friendly at home to test our attacking formations.”
“But when you are playing Nigeria away, then you need a friendly away to see how well you cope with pressure of staying away. So for us to play away where we have to play defensive, just before playing at home did not make sense,” he added.
And why not wait till a Fifa date?
“I think there is a lot behind the friendly other than the game. Why is there such a rush for this friendly? There is a Fifa date in February and that is when we should have played Egypt-closer to the Tunisia match,” opined Kimanzi.
There is a school of thought that factions are looking to cash in on the team’s solid performances in the last year.
“When I took over, Stars had not been invited for more than eight months because there was no team. But we have worked hard and made the team formidable and you can now feel a stadium. Stars have become a brand because of their good performances.”
Lack of respect was one of the reasons for his sackings but Kimanzi says he was sacked because he chose to stick to his principles and simply refused to be cowed.
“There is that culture of fear in Africa and Kenya is no exception. When you ask a question, you are deemed indisciplined or disrespectful to the federation. But I must plan well because I am the coach and hence answerable when Stars does badly. That was why I questioned the decision.”
The former Mathare United midfielder however has no regrets about his decision to stick to his guns.
“I have no regrets. I just fear that the team will be dragged back. You regret if you do not achieve anything but the short time I was there, I was able to improve it and make it and the results are there for all to see.”
He however holds no ill feelings against new coach Bobby Ogolla.
“There is unfinished business because we are through to the final World Cup qualifiers and I am wishing my successor all the best and that he can hopefully complete the job I started,” Kimanzi added.
The 32 year old tactician said that he will now concentrate all his energies on improving Mathare United, “We have a young team but I believe we can improve on last year and get even better. There is continental battle this year and hopefully we can make an impact because a good showing will reflect the quality of Kenya Premier League.”