SWILA: Harambee Stars coach Firat has his work cut out, failure not an option


SWILA: Harambee Stars coach Firat has his work cut out, failure not an option
.Harambee Stars head coach Engin Firat during a training session at Utalii Sports Club on October 1, 2021 as they prepare for the upcoming back to back 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Mali. PHOTO/ Sportpicha LTD/ Kelly Ayodi

In Summary

  • As things stand, the Stars have a fighting chance after shooting themselves on the foot in the opening two legs.
  • With two points from two games resulting from draws against Uganda at home and Rwanda away in Kigali, the Firat coached Stars are level on points with Uganda Cranes and two behind leaders Mali.
  • The group, ‘friendly-looking’ for many pundits, is Stars ultimate chance to break their duck if they are to have a realistic chance of competing at football grandest stage, for the first time in their history, at next summer’s World Cup finals in Qatar. However, a litany of factors has connived to put their campaign on the ropes, at least for now.
Isaac Swilain Nairobi

There is a new sheriff in town, his name is Engin Firat, the 51-year-old football coach of Turkish-German origin, now calling the shots at Harambee Stars dugout.

He was handed the reins barely three weeks ago and this week, at the team’s training ground he made a war cry, rallying his charges to rise to the occasion when the Stars take on Mali in back-to-back World Cup qualifiers – the long rugged route to Qatar 2022.

Harambee Stars take on Group E rivals Mali on Thursday in Morocco before hosting them in the return leg in Nairobi next Sunday and the twin matches will dictate whether the Stars’ Qatar dream remains alive or gets buried forever.

As things stand, the Stars have a fighting chance but after shooting themselves on the foot in the opening two legs.

With two points from two games resulting from draws against Uganda at home and Rwanda away in Kigali, the Firat coached Stars are level on points with Uganda Cranes and two behind leaders Mali.

The group, ‘friendly-looking’ for many pundits, is Stars ultimate chance to break their duck if they are to have a realistic chance of competing at football’s grandest stage, for the first time in their history, at next summer’s World Cup finals in Qatar. However, a litany of factors has connived to put their campaign on the ropes, at least for now.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have huge respect for other group rivals Uganda and Rwanda but they are teams Kenya could have easily beaten. Uganda, after prolonged period of good run are probably at their weakest moment as they are transitioning under coach Milutin ‘Micho’ who was magnanimous enough to admit as much.

Second, changing of coaches midstream does not work the magic and there is absolutely no justification on the part of FKF to fire coaches left right and centre when the team is in the middle of serious campaign such as the World Cup qualifiers, and with no explanation!

In the same measure they kicked out Francis Kimanzi so did Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee thereby creating room for Firat – making the job seem so easy and open to every Tom Dick and Harry when in reality it should be a respected assignment, attracting only the crème de la crème.

My fear, like the rest of soccer-mad fans is that Firat might not have had time to understand his team ahead of these twin matches against Mali. This could be our Achilles heel. We could live to regret but those are the fruits a nation reaps when you have at the helm an erring Federation which fires coaches at the slightest sight of trouble.

Third, team call-ups and selection has raised lot of eyebrows. Omitting defensive kingpin Joash ‘Berlin Wall” Onyango, winger Ayub Timbe and the neat box-to-box midfielder Johanna Omollo has not gone unnoticed. And it cannot be explained either!

Johanna Omolo (R) of Harambee Stars contest for ball with Juary Marinho of Guinea Bissau during their Africa Cup Of Nations 2017 qualifier match at the Estadio 24 Setembro in Bissau on March 24, 2016. The Djurtus won the match 1-0 courtesy of Idrissa Camara's goal. Photo/Stafford Ondego/www.sportpicha.com
Johanna Omolo (R) of Harambee Stars contest for ball with Juary Marinho of Guinea Bissau during their Africa Cup Of Nations 2017 qualifier match at the Estadio 24 Setembro in Bissau on March 24, 2016. The Djurtus won the match 1-0 courtesy of Idrissa Camara’s goal. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha

Under proper circumstances , the trio will definitely walk into the team. Omollo, for the record has been Kenya’s standout midfielder in the last two years and his star shone brightest at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals in Egypt. In fact, his experience and discipline had made him one of the contenders for the arm band and it puzzles why he isn’t playing a part in the qualifiers.

That notwithstanding, the boys, under Firat, must quickly regroup when they take on Mali, the Group’s fancied team for the ticket. The coach has no excuse. He might have taken up the job on short notice thanks to the erring federation but his work is clearly cut out: there is no way out, he must endeavor to pick a point away to Mali in Morocco and win the corresponding fixture in Nairobi next Sunday if the home team is to keep alive the Qatar dream.

Above all, with Onyango ‘Berlin Wall’ back in the mix, I hope the team will have a solid defence, creative midfield and a sparkling attack. For long the team has played a 4-4-2 formation largely instilled by former coach Bobby Williamson and perfected by his successors but it does no harm to try out an offensive 4-3-3 formation and take the game to the Malians.

This system requires discipline and players with the legs to execute it and I hope Firat, after a week of workout with the boys, has already identified his key men for this game plan.

With lead striker Michael Olunga in the mix and Bandari’s Abdallah Hassan also in the team alongside Eric Kapaito, a three-prong attack is very much possible.

Lastly, this week, Victor Mugubi Wanyama, the man who gained fame when he became the first-ever Kenyan to play in the coveted English Premier League when he inked a deal with Southampton on July 11 2013 announced that he was hanging his international boots.

This announcement effectively brought to an end ‘Big Vic’s 14-year association with the team. However, according to observers, Wanyama’s call was made out of frustration after failing to get call-up in recent assignments.

His exit elicited mixed reactions from many a football fan and as he retires from international football, the many young players in the Stars setup will learn something from him: humility, diligence, patience and hard work.

It’s no brainer that Wanyama isn’t the most talented of players to have emerged from our shores but hard work and discipline made all the difference, propelling him to the echelons of club soccer.

Wanyama called time on his international career this week

But in his retirement, he too learns one lesson: the need to fight wholeheartedly for the flag in every assignment. Many a fan believe this performances for the national side were half-hearted and that he only saved his best when gracing the well-manicured pitches at Celtic Park, St Mary’s and White-Hart Lanes of this world.

Nonetheless best wishes to ‘Big Vic’. I  hail him for his service and for having been a good ambassador of the Kenyan game.

In the same token, I urge Firat and Stars to go all out tame Mali’s Eagles in the upcoming twin World Cup fixtures.

The author is a news editor at RMS; catch him every Monday from 8:15AM on Citizen TV’s Sporty Monday and every Saturday from 8PM on Radio Citizen’s  Shabaha programme.

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