Five things learned from the KPL All Stars vs Hull clash
History was made on Monday night when the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) All Stars took on a select side from the English Premier, Hull at the KCOM Stadium where the hosts prevailed 2-1.
Everything about the game including the build-up, pre-match engagements, television coverage and post-match interviews was torn straight from the EPL script where professionalism oozed from the start to the end.
Since the turn of the century, Kenyans have adopted the English top tier in their droves as the preferred choice of quenching their appetite for football and it felt surreal to watch the cream of domestic talent field against a team from that division, albeit a select side.
Aside from the rosy outlook in a game watched by millions back home as well as the once in a lifetime experience that the players selected in the All Stars squad went through since arriving in Hull last Wednesday, the match dismissed in some quarters as a ‘glorified friendly’ served key lessons for Kenyan football.
Here are five major things the game at the KCOM stadium taught local football.
– Youth is the key to future success
It feels clichéd to state developing young players is the cornerstone of building a strong senior side- Harambee Stars- capable of challenging the best in Africa and qualifying for the World Cup but in front of a big global audience, the point was hammered home in crystal clarity.
The Select Tigers named a team of 18. Five among them have enjoyed first team experience in the EPL, EFL Cup and FA Cup this season but those playing against the Kenyans were all Under 23.
Apart from Hull legendary forward, Dean Windass, 47, who gave them a first taste of EPL football seven years ago by scoring the winner in the Championship play-off final, the rest of the team was drawn from the Under 16, Under 18 and Under 20 squads within the club.
Coach Richard O’Donnell who was involved in scouting the All Stars squad was tasked with leading them to the game by Portuguese manager, Marco Silva who has the elephant task of keeping Hull in the EPL.
Needless to say, there is no Kenyan club with such depth of youth sides under their banner with the quarterly KPL Under 20 tournament established to pepper the cracks. The youth teams in England by contrast play in season-long league and cup competition, even qualifying to play their counterparts in Europe.
In contrast, All Stars fielded a seasoned team of full internationals with a sprinkling of youngsters such as Amos Nondi, 20, who had a severe case of stage fright or spare a thought for the youngest member, 16 year-old Joshua Otieno who barely got a minute on the pitch.
In comparison, the Hull youngsters led by their field captain Greg Olley as well as teenagers’ keeper Charlie Andrew, goal scorer Elliot Holmes, Ben Hinchliffe and Josh Tymon played with poise that belied their years.
If you consider Hull is not an established force in England, the fact their academy and reserve team players could give the best the KPL can offer such a run-around was the most poignant message to the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) of the enormous duty ahead of them to fulfil their 2022 World Cup qualification dream.
-‘Lost’ Kenyan football generation exposed
With Hull Select Tigers overrunning their visitors in midfield, the hosts threatened to run riot with the ease they sliced through the All Stars rearguard until coach Stanley Okumbi brought on Moses ‘Dube’ Odhiambo.
Odhiambo, the former Gor Mahia captain and widely travelled midfielder brought calm, composure and craft to All Stars allowing his partners Osborne Monday and Humphrey Mieno who eventually got the consolation goal a chance to thrive.
His exquisite cross field pass that wasteful KPL 2016 Golden Boot winner, John Makwatta spurned in the 75th minute when he sent his header bobbling out with Andrew well beaten was the perfect signature of his guile.
‘Dube’ is a representative of the dying generation of the Kenyan footballer that went through proper coaching during the days of the late Reinhardt Fabisch in the late 90s before the football administration tussles of the late 90s through to mid 2000s crippled the game.
In that wasted decade, Kenya simply stopped producing players of Odhiambo’s calibre, with personal interests overriding the development of the grassroots football and what we have now are a group of talented players who lack the technical ability to feature at the top level.
Latter day fans of local football have taken to social media to pour lavish praise on the likes of Makwatta, Mieno or Monday on social media but as good as they are by Kenyan standards, they simply cannot get close to the level the generation of ‘Dube’ or the recently retired striker John Baraza attained.
As the All Star game showed, Okumbi could not even trust the youngsters in his bench to stem the tide and he was criticised by the netizens for that but under the circumstances, he had no choice since the lost generation of Kenyan footballers are simply, not good enough.
-Facilities and infrastructure are crucial
Since their arrival on a bitterly cold Northern England almost a week ago, the All Stars players got the chance to enjoy such advanced facilities that some looked like rabbits under headlights once they stepped to the KCOM Stadium.
With only two minutes in, James Situma, arguably Kenya’s best right back in the business at the moment, went in for a routine challenge on Tymon but the well laid turf provided a slippery trajectory to his tackle such that the Hull player simply jumped above him and left the Tusker FC skipper in his slipstream as he came close to opening the scoring.
It was a sight to behold to see Kenyan players decked out in proper training kit, having their printed jerseys laid out in the dressing room by trained kit men, having branded winter jackets and on the pitch warm leggings and stockings to beat the cold etc.
Once they acclimatised to the conditions, they expressed themselves in a manner to suggest with such facilities, our football would grow to eclipse the best in Africa since there is no fear of being hurt by poor pitches or lack of basic items such as shin guards.
The massive investment in football infrastructure and facilities is one of the key reasons behind the mass global appeal of the EPL.
Football officials are busy feuding over whether to expand the KPL from 16 to 18 or not but those in charge of the game should be focused on improving the basic amenities necessary to inspire the growth of the game.
Writer Clay Muganda who travelled Hull penned All Stars players had a ‘culture shock since even the training pitches were better than any surface’ they have encountered even at the biggest sporting cathedrals in Kenya.
Lest we forget, five stadiums chosen to host the 2018 CHAN failed to meet CAF standards leaving event organisers scrambling to get them ready before the final inspection in June.
Instead of bickering over whether 16, 18, 20, 24 or 36 teams will play in the 2017 KPL, local football mandarins should burn their excess energies that has seen the start of the domestic topflight delayed into improving the nondescript facilities we have.
There is no use of having the KPL champions Tusker FC playing for example Vihiga United on a bumpy pitch in Bungoma or Sudi all in the name of having more teams in the topflight.
-Power of media and marketing
Even the most sceptical among Kenyans found themselves glued in front of their television sets at home or at entertainment joints to watch the All Stars take on Hull.
Never mind their team was taking on a select side with virtually no player from the Tigers team that drew 1-1 with Burnley at the KCOM on Saturday in the EPL turning up.
Public curiosity was stoked by the aggressive marketing and publicity drive the team’s sponsors, a betting firm, rolled out to ensure the game stoked interest from all corners of the country and beyond.
The huge financial outlay that saw a bucket load of local journalists also included in the trip to Hull ensured that whenever anyone turned in the past week, the All Stars were in your face.
This is the kind of forceful marketing across all media platforms, from the traditional print to digital space, that has seen the popularity of the EPL soar with other big European leagues such as Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1 borrowing a leaf.
Kenyan blue chip companies have always applied the handbrake as far as pushing their brand through sports is concerned with token sponsorship at most but the advent of betting firms has changed the landscape.
There is little doubt that captains of industry sat behind their expensive mahogany desks turned blue with envy at the scale of media space the All Stars vs Hull game hogged and subsequent public interest it gained.
It could be the start of a sport marketing revolution in Kenya.
-The ‘Kenyan way’ needs to be dropped
While there is no doubt that Okumbi and indeed the players who made the lucrative trip by local standards did an excellent job on Monday night, most critics rounded on the team selection for good reason.
The game was meant to be the informal hatching of the country’s bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup but the presence of many veterans who are approaching or have reached their sell by date in the team could only invite condemnation.
Kenyans took to social media to lampoon Okumbi for travelling with many vets or the selection criteria in general feeling that youngsters who needed the lift most missed out on the chance.
Sadly, this is the ‘Kenyan way’ of doing things where the established order will always lord over upcoming talent until natural attrition comes to play and the seasoned fall by the wayside.
Okumbi and his bench had the perfect opportunity and made a clean break from the past but in starting with eight full internationals, the message of the future got lost in the mail.
It also struck odd that being a KPL All Stars side, the title winning coach from last season, Paul Nkata, who was voted the best tactician in the top flight last year, was not given a chance to manage or play a role with the team.
The selection of Okumbi and Patrick Naggi to lead the team to England transmitted a wrong message to coaches in the KPL that their efforts do not count when there is gravy to be made.
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