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UNFULFILLED AMBITION

The rise and fall of talented Tostao

The then teenager had grabbed football headlines across Kenya with his performances at the 2009 Copa Coca Cola youth tournament, winning the Golden Boot and eventually making the team to South Africa.

In Summary

• Alongside Daniel Mwaura who played for Kenyan Premier League side, Mathare United until recently, they had the world at their feet.

• I am still hoping to return to the game. I had ambitions that I never fulfilled for various reasons but also injury. I am currently fit and training individually due to the current coronavirus situation —  Tostao

Emmanuel Tostao during his unveiling at AFC Leoprads
Emmanuel Tostao during his unveiling at AFC Leoprads
Image: /FILE

He was destined to be the next big thing in Kenyan football. A tailor-made future replacement for Dennis Oliech and Allan Wanga in the strikers’ slot at Harambee Stars.

That was how good Emmanuel Tostao was ten years ago. A powerful physique, deadly pace and thunderbolt shots, all attributes any striker needed to succeed anywhere in the world.

The then teenager had grabbed football headlines across Kenya with his performances at the 2009 Copa Coca Cola youth tournament, winning the Golden Boot and eventually making the team to South Africa.

Alongside Daniel Mwaura who played for Kenyan Premier League side, Mathare United until recently, they had the world at their feet.

Tostao played for AFC Leopards as a teenager a feat rarely heard of those days. But like all teenage prodigies, without a steady hand to guide them, they are easily derailed. It happened to Tostao, who was born and brought up in the tough neighborhood of Gitathuru, adjacent to Korogocho slums. There, it was easier to engage in crime than going to school with most families led by a single parent, in Tostao’s case, mother.

“I started my football while still in primary school playing under coach Ayub Inziani at Kariobangi Youngsters. Our aim was to one day make the trip to Norway with Mysa (Mathare Youth Sports Association),” Tostao recalls.

Though that ambition to make an early trip to Europe never came to pass, the youngster’s talent was catching the eyes of local youth clubs. Tostao linked up with the Kariobangi Shark’s Youth team again under the guidance of Inziani. There, he played alongside current Sharks stalwarts, Patila Omoto, Eric Juma and Geoffrey Shiveka.

But from very early on, it was clear that keeping him on the straight and narrow was not going to be easy.

“I believe Tostao was let down by the people who were around him in those early days. He got too much too fast (at Leopards) and started believing in his own hype."

"The coaches and club officials gave him too much leeway instead of being firm in guiding his career. As his brothers, there was only so much we could do because after all, he was the family’s breadwinner despite being younger than us,” laments Tostao’s brother Mark Sanchez, who played for the then Kenyan Premier League side Red Berets and KCB as well as National Super League side Nairobi Stima.

His younger brother Peter Best plays for Balaaji, an ambitious Third-Tier outfit based in Ruaraka.

Though many believe his time as a serious footballer are behind him, Tostao himself lives by the mantra ‘Never Give Up’ made popular by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah’s t-shirt he wore in celebrating the famous 4-0 UEFA Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona last year.

“I am still hoping to return to the game. I had ambitions that I never fulfilled for various reasons but also injury. I am currently fit and training individually due to the current coronavirus situation. But when things get back to normal, I will be raring to go,” says Tostao.

The now 28-year-old admirer of retired Chelsea and Ivorian legend Didier Drogba remains optimistic that his dream to play for the London club which he supported since 2005 while still at Kariobangi North Primary School will never be extinguished until he finally hangs up his boots.

“I will travel to London eventually whether as player or coach. Chelsea is my dream club and I want to be part of their great history,” he says with a conviction that belies his present circumstance.

With no formal employment as he did not go to college due to financial constraints, Tostao now ekes a living doing menial jobs in Kariobangi. Washing cars and offloading goods from lorries put food on his table and those of the nine of his remaining 12 siblings, and mother.

“We have to do everything to pay our bills. It does not matter what it is but if something better comes from football I will consider it,” remarks the former Bidco, Moyas and Mathare Youth star.

Having played for Leopards at such a young age alongside experienced internationals like Francis Chinjili, Jimmy Bageya, Mike Barasa and Wanga, Tostao rues not setting himself the professional standards that made the quartet enjoy long successful careers.

“I was still young and there is a lot of things that I could have picked from the way they conducted themselves on and off the pitch. I have grown older now and I am ready to relaunch my playing career. I still can play at the highest level when I get the chance,” asserts the Anointed High school alumnus.

Featuring for the national team at all junior levels set him up for the main event, playing for the senior team which he never did. Tostao still harbours hopes of wearing the Harambee Stars colours that many believe he was destined to don.

“Injuries played a huge role in wrecking my career. I was a young player at a big club and needed to be playing regularly to learn the ropes. Now I am okay and faithful with God’s guidance I will fulfill my ambition and make my mother proud,” he reckons.

With the benefit of hindsight, Tostao advised players to not put the life of leisure first ahead of their careers.

“A player will have all the time to engage in merrymaking when he becomes successful. But focus early on should be on how to develop their careers,” he advises.

He speaks fondly of Leopards’ former Dutch coach Jan Loops, who was in charge during his time there. Former Harambee Stars coach Stanley Okumbi and Inziani were also given a thumbs up for their roles in his development before his downfall.

“Koops was a good coach. Unlike many local coaches, he only picked players on merit and this is something that our homegrown tacticians should emulate,” he observes.

The player castigated the local players’ union Kenya Footballers Welfare Association for ‘lack of passion’ in advancing and fighting for the rights of players.

“There is a club that owes me six-month salary arrears but my attempts to pursue that have been frustrated. That is the role a strong player's welfare body should be playing,” he laments.

While he is hopeful that he can still hack it with the best, history is replete with players who were destined for stardom but faded into oblivion never to fulfill their God-given talent.

For the sake of football, many would wish Tostao changes that trend and makes a grand comeback.