•Ten years ago, the goal poacher at the peak of his powers while playing for Tusker had caught the eye of Libyan side Al Tarsana.
•His close confidants apparently advised him not to take up the chance. It’s a decision that in hindsight the 33-year-old regrets to date.
Every young local player fantasises about life as a professional football player in Europe. Some limit their dreams to seeking greener pastures in the Middle East, North or South Africa.
When such an opportunity comes around, more often than not, they grab it with both hands. That, however, was not the case for former Harambee Stars’ striker Dennis Mukaisi.
Ten years ago, the goal-poacher at the peak of his powers while playing for Tusker had caught the eye of Libyan side Al Tarsana. His close confidants apparently advised him not to take up the chance. It’s a decision that, in hindsight, the 33-year-old regrets to date.
“It’s something that keeps on gnawing in my mind. Refusing to go to Libya for greener pastures because of people advising me that I am too good for the deal. Unfortunately, that very year ( 2011 ) I got a heel injury that took things haywire,” regrets Mukaisi.
Though he would go on to lead the brewers to back-to-back league titles and also play for Harambee Stars, his failure to move outside the country kept nagging him on what his life could have been had he not taken in the advice of his friends.
“I wish I made a different decision. I want to advise the current crop of players that should such an offer come their way, they should grab it with both hands,” he says.
The Eldoret-born marksman added: “Anytime, as long as you have proved you are above our Kenyan league and you can handle pressure, you should always consider furthering your career outside the country.”
Mukaisi went to Kidiwa Primary School then to Uasin Gishu High School in Eldoret before finishing his secondary school education at football giants St Anthony’s Boys in Kitale.
“I started playing football for fun at the tender age of nine in the busy Huruma grounds in Eldoret under coach Dickson Analo,” recalls Mukaisi.
“Joining Uasin Gishu High in 2003 was the turning point in my football career. That same year, my scoring prowess enabled the school to qualify for the Kenya Secondary School Sports Association provincial tournament in Mosoriot.”
During the tournament, they met football powerhouse St. Anthony’s Boys, Kitale where they were hammered 6-2.
“I scored one goal and Collins Kisuya scored the other. After the game, St. Anthony’s Principal Cosmas Simiyu Nabungolo gave me the chance to join his school,” he narrates.
Upon joining St. Anthony’s, they qualified for the national games, which were held at Upper Hill School in Nairobi. During the games, Mukaisi was scouted by coach Edward Manoah, who asked him to join the then fading giants AFC Leopards.
“I played for Leopards while still in Form Two. I stayed there for one season then on reaching Form 4, my father insisted that I finish school first so that I continue playing football and I did that,” Mukaisi says.
During his last year at St. Anthony’s, while featuring in the KSSSA national games, he was recruited by Thika United and he joined them straight after finishing his Form Four examinations.
“I played for two years at Thika, then Ingwe came calling again and I signed a two-year contract. It was during this period that I even got my first call up to the national team. After my two years elapsed at Ingwe, I joined Tusker in 2010 and played there for three years.”
Then considered among the best hit-men in the country and still young in the game, the football world was at Mukaisi’s feet. As expected, several clubs were fighting for his signature.
He, however, turned them down hoping that a chance to move to Europe was within his reach. As fate would have it, that overseas opportunity never came.
“During the end of my third year, I got a terrible heel injury which made me stay out for nine months. It made me part ways with the brewers. Luckily, as I was still recovering, I got a call from Posta Rangers chairman John Tonui (May God always bless this man) who still had faith that besides the injury, I could still be treated and play again,” recounts Mukaisi.
The striker without hesitation joined Posta Rangers, got treated and played for the team for five years. He helped the club get promotion back into the topflight league, then joined Nairobi Stima.
The striker, who idolises KPL legend and former Harambee Stars striker John Baraza and former France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, believes he could have gone far in the game had he had the kind of social support the current generation is enjoying.
“I didn’t get enough support especially when we started playing. Many people didn’t believe that football could make you rich. There were no football academies, especially where I grew up in Eldoret. I think if I passed through an academy, it could have been another story altogether. Those days we were not getting enough exposure through the media,” he points out.
Having been spotted directly from school games, Mukaisi predictably pays homage to coaches like St. Anthony’s Nabungolo (now at St. Peters Mumias).
“He was my mentor. He and Posta Rangers’ chairman John Tonui are the two guys who really helped me in my football career and my personal growth too,” he says.
Looking back on his career, Mukaisi touts winning back-to-back KPL titles with Tusker and the FKF domestic cup with Leopards as some of his most cherished achievements.
“I started getting honours early on in my career. I was named the MVP in KSSSA twice and being the top scorer twice in the same tournament,” he notes.
Mukaisi’s first call up to the national team and donning the Kenyan jersey against Egypt in Cairo was another moment he would not forget. It’s in that match that he came face to face with his toughest opponent to date-Egyptian defensive stalwart Wael Gomaa.
“I have never met such a tough defender. He was hard on the tackle and seemed to read your mind. He was without a doubt my toughest opponent.”
Mukaisi adds that playing for Harambee Stars was exciting though it came with a lot of pressure.
“It gave me more confidence in my career,” he notes.
The striker also works at Postal Corporation of Kenya, practices farming and is pursuing a course in Sports Science. He advises players to put God before anything.
“Without faith, you cannot go far. Players should be goal-oriented, disciplined, determined and accept to learn,” he advises.
Having missed the opportunity to turn pro, he says what is ailing Kenya soccer is lack of qualified agents.
“The lack of good agents makes players go pro while still not mature enough in terms of soccer. They are not ready to handle pressure because outside the country there is a lot of pressure playing for any team. That is why I think most of our players don’t make it overseas,” he concludes.