•He lasted in the Scandinavian country for only a season though, as his stint in Tirana was punctuated with controversy after he and Musa left unceremoniously over a pay dispute
•Concerning rumours he could probably be on h-s way to the Zambian Super League, Muguna says: “I don’t have any information about that move so I am not in a better position to comment.”
The whole world is always glued to television as the coveted Ballon d’Or award is presented to the winner.
It is a pompous annual event associated with all the luminaries in football including Barcelona’s amazing goal wizard Lionel Messi and Juventus’ glamour boy Ronaldo. It is an accolade that comes with a lot of cash, fame and numerous multi-million dollar deals.
In Kenya, we have our own version of the Ballon d’Or. At the end of every season, the country gets to know it’s top cream in football at a colourful awards gala under the banner Footballer of the Year (FOYA) awards. Although various prizes are given out during the the ceremony, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is usually the icing on the cake and it is simply our Ballon d’Or.
In 2016, Kenneth Muguna became the youngest player to win the award. At 20, and barely out of his teenage, he was also named the midfielder of the year and was runner-up in the new player of the year category, walking home with a staggering Sh1.6 million in cash, the highest token ever given to a Kenyan footballer at an event of such nature.
Born on January 6, 1996 and the only boy in a family of four children, Muguna attended Kondele Primary School in Kisumu, where he says his teachers placed more emphasis on academics, allowing him only a few hours to play football.
This, however, didn’t deter him from pursuing his dream, as he elected to hone his skills by actively playing at home where he would frequently link up with his agemates for a game of football in the evenings and weekends.
Muguna says by the time he was a budding 8-year-old footballer, he was already cutting his teeth as midfielder while participating in one of the under-10 leagues in Kisumu, where he featured prominently for his neighbourhood club, Urusi FC.
“I was initially an offensive midfielder before shifting to the central midfield while playing for Urusi, an academy in Kisumu which had a senior team too,” says Muguna.
He didn’t, however, progress through the ranks to join the side’s senior team, but chose instead to transfer to the nearby Real Kisumu FC Academy.
“I only played for U-10, U-12 and U-14 sides after which I left to join Real Kisumu FC Academy,” he says.
Although back in school they had a team which he began playing for from the time he was in Class 6, Muguna says it wasn’t that strong. “We got eliminated at the county level. Our primary school team wasn’t strong because we had only four active footballers in the whole school,” he said.
None of the teachers encouraged him to play football because, apparently, they had no love for the game. “They didn’t like football in my primary school. Studies was the main thing.”
Muguna sat for his KCPE paper in 2010 and proceeded to join Nyabondo High School although he later transferred to Ignatius Magadi High School. He became a hot cake at Nyabondo from the word go, securing a slot on the first team as early as his first year in the school.
It was a real feather in his cap after he attained quite a lot within his first two years at Nyabondo, where they won the zonal finals twice, the district finals twice, before he eventually steered his team to the provincials after an 8-year absence. Although he never got to captain the football team, his outstanding talent nonetheless saw him appointed the games captain while still in Form One.
Muguna says he started playing competitive club football while still in high school, balancing between featuring for the school team and turning out for KYOC FC in the FKF Provincial league. Muguna proved to be an asset to the side, playing a key role in their ascension to the higher tier.
“I turned out for KYOC in all the four years I was in high school. We soon gained promotion to the National Super League, the country’s second tier competition.”
In 2015, he joined Palos FC. During his one year stay at the club, they made it to the round of 16 in the Gotv Shield and finished second in the Super League. After a successful stint in Palos, he joined Western Stima FC in 2016 at the request of the late Henry Omino, who immediately drafted him to the first team.
“The late head coach Henry Omino used to watch our matches and he got interested in my services,” says Muguna. It was while at Stima that he sprang to public limelight after bagging the MVP Award, Best Midfielder and 1st Runners Up Young Player all at a go.
How could he have escaped the attention of all the big boys after such a grandiose fete? It wasn’t long before he was snapped from the power men’s toolbox. In 2017, it was none other than the reigning Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia who came knocking. He made his giant leap to the dream club after head coach Jose Marcello Ferreira (Ze Maria) approached him and convinced him to sign up on a three-year deal.
No sooner had Muguna settled at Gor than a chance to play professional football in Europe came beckoning. After a deep thought, he made the decision to re-join his former coach Jose Marcelo Ferreira in Albania.
Ze Maria had by that time left the Kenyan side to guide FK Tirana in Albania, where he lured Muguna together with captain Musa Mohammed in a move that saw Gor pocket Sh4.1 million.
Muguna finally made the move to join Tirana in June 2017, against coach Dylan Kerr’s advice. Kerr later blamed Muguna’s handlers for misadvising him.
Muguna, however, defended himself saying that he needed exposure to enhance his CV. “I made the move because I needed to gain exposure and learn more thing in a new atmosphere.”
He lasted in the Scandinavian country for only a season though, as his stint in Tirana was punctuated with controversy after he and Musa left unceremoniously over a pay dispute. Muguna had helped Tirana to gain promotion to the top tier after they clinched the second division title.
Although Ze Maria said that Muguna and Musa had failed to adapt to the Eastern Europe climate, Musa lifted the lead on the underlying issue.
“It’s not about me failing to adapt. It’s difficult for a foreigner to live abroad without money. Since January I have not been paid my salary,” said Musa.
“It makes no sense when your family calls you to bail them out financially and you can’t give anything yet everybody knows you are working in Europe. I had to quit,” Musa said, adding that Muguna was also going through the same tribulations.
Muguna on his part says he drew a lot of positives from his experiences at Tirana. “It was the best experience because it made me a better player. I like challenges that bring out weaknesses that have been hiding inside me...overall it made me a better player and stronger mental wise.”
He eventually rejoined Gor in 2018 and has since rode on the back of an impressive run, winning the KPL title thrice in a row and taking home the Sportpesa Super Cup.
He was appointed to captain the side in 2019. He says that as a captain, one must be at his best by leading from the front.
“You have to be at your best everyday whether mentally or physically of which I enjoy doing everyday. You have to lead the team to win trophies since other captains did that too.”
There is no iota of doubt that Muguna has led the battles right from the front. A case in point was when Gor Mahia started their title defence in style, hammering Tusker 5-2 at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu in their opening KPL match in August last year, with skipper Muguna netting a brace.
He received his first call-up to the national team in 2016. In 2019, he came to Kenya’s rescue against Uganda, scoring a goal that drew the teams level as they battled to a 1-1 draw in a friendly match played at Kasarani Stadium. Uganda’s Emmanuel Okwi had scored the first goal of the match before Muguna’s effort.
He says that his match against Everton and the away national team assignment against Mozambique in 2017 when he made his first senior debut in Maputo, were his most memorable moments. His most difficult game so far was when they faced Zamalek in Egypt during the Caf Confederations Cup.
Muguna considers Roy Okal (Mathare), Mbugi Cappelo (Posta Rangers) and Michael Mutinda (KCB) to be his greatest challengers in the KPL. Internationally, he draws a lot of inspiration from Andrea Pirlo and Guti Hernandez.
He says his father, Michael Muguna Magoi and mother, Sarah Atieno Owiyo, have always supported him in his football career. “They were very happy and supportive. My dad watched all the matches I participated in.”
Besides his parents, his sisters Valentine Muguna, Winnie Atieno Muguna and Roylex Muguna are equally proud of his achievements. He also singled out the late coach Henry Omino whom he says shook off negative talks about his thin frame to make him a premier league player.
“Even though people in Kisumu used to say I was too thin to play top flight football, he believed in me since Day one.”
Asked what he does away from football, Muguna was coy, only choosing to term it as a private affair, but promising to reveal his business in the near future. Muguna says he looks forward to having a new experience in a different African league in the near future.
“I don’t have a specific option. I love all the leagues in Africa and playing in one of them soon will be a great challenge since I feel I have done a lot In Kenyan Premier league and I’ll go for a new challenge.”
Does that mean chances are high he may be leaving Gor Mahia soon? “If everything gets back to normal then I will see if there’s a chance. If not, then I’ll stay until the end of my contract.”
He confirmed reports already in the public domain that the situation at Gor Mahia is indeed unpleasant at the moment, blaming it on laxity.
“It’s true that the condition isn’t pleasant at all for the players. It’s not a good thing for someone to sweat and work hard each and every day for a club that doesn’t consider its employers during such periods. It’s just a big shame on the management.”
He challenged Gor’s management to rise above constant lamentations and rummage thoroughly through the corporate world for shirt sponsors.
“This is a big test for them they need to show how much they care for these players. We shouldn’t be crying every other time about sponsors that left long time ago.”
“There should be solutions on the table. It’s like when someone is dead, you mourn for some time then life continues. As leaders they can’t keep on saying to the players there are no sponsors.”
Drawing on an example of the family head, Muguna said it was the responsibility of the management to ensure their players got their salaries despite the harsh economic conditions.
“It’s their job to have solutions, just like at home your kids want food and you can’t tell them I am sacked at my work place. You will find another option because it’s your responsibility to do so everyday.”
He, however, says the fans have done their part well by attending matches and urging them on. “The fans have been fantastic as always, very passionate and they should continue like that and even be more passionate.”
He says he supports a recent decision that FKF president Nick Mwendwa made to cancel the league and declare Gor Mahia champions following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that prompted a government ban on football competitions.
“On my side, it was the best decision at the moment, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get involved in FKF’s wrangles with KPL. Since the league can’t go on, that’s the best decision on the table.”
He appealed to the KPL clubs to take the decision in their strides because it was the only option given the circumstances.
“I wonder what’s so difficult for some clubs to agree with the outcome. I, however, understand they would have agreed with the decision if they had been the ones declared champions.”
Muguna has the following piece of advice for the young ones who look up to him as their role model: “When you know what you want, literally the world becomes your library and it helps you to become better at your craft.”
Concerning rumours he could probably be on h-s way to the Zambian Super League, Muguna says: “I don’t have any information about that move so I am not in a better position to comment.”
Muguna says he spends his free time on the playstation and listening to music.