NAIROBI, October 13 – Sadly, its becoming fashionable to condemn players and coaches whenever Harambee Stars fail to meet soaring expectations instead of placing failure at the doorstep of inept football authorities.
As much as the coach is responsible for selection and on-field tactics when the team takes to the field, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) has thus far abdicated its role in ensuring Stars mount a sustained challenge to qualify for the 2017 AFCON and 2018 World Cup finals.
Last Wednesday, social media was abuzz in praise of Stars after their biggest away victory when they thrashed minnows Mauritius 5-2 in their 2018 World Cup preliminary round opener.
The beleaguered FKF wasted little time in congratulating the side having maintained studio silence when over 20,000 dispirited fans trooped out of Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium after losing 2-1 to Zambia in a 2017 AFCON qualifier on September 6.
The team went on to be held to a goalless draw in the return leg on Sunday to progress to the second round where fast-rising Cape Verde Island who impressed at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations await.
That aggregate win as a turning point for Stars is debatable especially after head coach, Bobby Williamson, reiterated the call for early preparations ahead the opening leg clash against Cape Verde set for November 9 in Nairobi.
“We need to get more organised to avoid a repeat of what happened in Mauritius where we had players turning out on the eve of the match. We are now meeting Cape Verde who are above us in the FIFA rankings and it’s going to be a tall order.
“But we will check them out, do our home work and hopefully we will get the boys organised to do the job and go through the group draw,” The Scotsman underlined after the stalemate.
The Scotsman who is increasingly cutting a frustrated figure was disappointed by the team’s shambolic preparations going into the first leg.
He was forced to do without key players, first choice keeper Arnold Origi (Lillestrome/Norway), defenders David ‘Calabar’ Owino (Zesco/Zambia) and Brian Mandela (Maritzburg United) and forward Jacob Keli (Nkana FC/Zambia) after FKF failed to cater for air travel to Port Luis.
It is reported Owino, Mandela and Keli showed up at the airport only to find promised tickets missing while Origi adamantly declined to honour his call up since he was yet to be reimbursed the monies he used to fly in for the Zambia game.
It is absurd in this digital era foreign based players still face the age-old embarrassing problem of bickering with the federation over air fare, unpaid allowances and lack of other basics such as adequate time with the squad.
Skipper Victor Wanyama (Southampton FC/England), Allan Wanga (Azam/Tanzania), Anthony Akumu (Al Khartoum/Sudan) and Ayub Timbe (Lierse/Belgium) and Johanna Omolo (Antwerp/Belgium) linked up with the team at Port Luis on the eve of the match.
It was a replay of the unfortunate scenario ahead of the Zambia encounter in Nairobi where Kenya surrendered to leave them a mountain to climb at the Gabon finals after sliding from first to third in their pool.
Williamson, who has taken flak for tactical inadequacies in his last two home games, was left with little time with the overseas group leaving him to experiment with his squad.
In Port Luis, Kenya were lucky to face obliging opponents in Mauritius side that is ranked 37 places below them but things would have taken a catastrophic turn against a better organised side considering Williamson’s defence leaked two goals to the underdogs.
A day after Stars sailed through the federation through its mouthpiece, FKF Media, urged the Government to honour allowances and other related expenses to players and the technical bench to quell the simmering unrest among players and their coaches ahead of the clash against a side ranked 41st in the world and sixth in Africa.
Commissioner for Sports, Gordon Oluoch, clarified to Capital Sport the federation entered into agreement with the parent Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts to offset dues owing to the team’s players and technical bench whenever they play for the national team.
“I’m not privy to the details of the deal between the ministry and FKF but as far as home matches are concerned, monies raised from television rights and gate collections should go a long way in offsetting things like allowances and payment of air tickets,” he added.
The federation entered a sponsorship deal for Stars with pay television company, Star Times, while both Zambia and Mauritius games were aired live on another pay television provider, SuperSport who entered a contract with CAF media partners, Sport Five.
SuperSport signed two separates contracts with Sport Five, to air the games and to produce the matches for the rights holders and monies accruing from the broadcasts are channelled to CAF and finally to the federation for home fixtures.
FKF also receive annual grants from world body FIFA raising questions on financial probity in the local governing body that has failed to attract more corporate sponsors in a glaring vote against its leadership.
“The federation maintains that it is working closely with government to ensure that the allowances, air tickets and other related costs are paid by the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts in keeping with its obligations as prescribed by the Sports Act 2013 and the Constitution of Kenya,” the statement read.
The simple term preparation is a mirage as far as Stars is concerned and the last time in living memory the team had a serious programme towards qualifying for a major final was in 2003 during the campaign to feature in the 2004 Tunisia AFCON finals.
Ironically, it is the last time Kenya dined at the high table of continental football after topping a group that had Cape Verde, Togo and Mauritius on 13 points from six games; losing once and drawing twice.
Since then, Togo and Cape Verde have featured either at the World Cup or AFCON with Kenya watching subsequent editions from the sidelines because the team has gone to games unprepared, fielding an inconsistent squad with the added disadvantage of lack of build up matches.
Its only three weeks before Stars face an acid test against Cape Verde and it remains a matter of hope, rather than belief FKF, whose top leadership are busy trying to secure another term in office, will change their ways and heed Williamson and Wanyama pleas for early preparations.
The federation is yet to roll out any plan of when local based players who have impressed in the Zambia and Mauritius games will go to camp under Williamson or thrash out an agreement with top flight managers, Kenyan Premier League towards the same.
Having made their AFCON debut in 2013, Cape Verde went a step further and progressed from the group stages and have stunned European giants, Portugal 2-0 in an international friendly played in March before they beat Libya 2-1 in their 2017 Nations Cup qualifier in September.
The Islanders will be seeking revenge when the two sides meet for the first time since 2003 when record scorer, Dennis Oliech scored the late winner in their 1-0 win to qualify for the 2004 AFCON finals.
Then Kenya beat them home and away, now, any result other than a loss will be a significant sign of progress.