•Shilwatso says her mind is already programmed for the new season as she battles to rise above her new set of challenges.
•Shilwatso’s meek beginnings can be traced back to the dusty fields of a village school in Vihiga, where she first kicked a ball made of plastic bags and twine
Cynthia Shilwatso is training her sights on the Most Valuable Player award as her new club EDF Logroño rolled out a fresh campaign to challenge for the Spanish Primera Division title from September 9.
As the mercurial Harambee Starlets offensive midfielder awaits to launch her dream career as a professional soccer luminary, she must quickly learn the complex ropes of surviving on the other side of the world where the environment is strange and the diet peculiar.
We caught up with her on Sunday afternoon through a telephone conversation. Shilwatso says her mind is already programmed for the new season as she battles to rise above her new set of challenges.
“Here in Spain life is good, though I’m still adapting to the weather. We are now in summer. My menu has also changed. No more maize meal but rice, spaghetti chicken,” she said.
Indeed, the fleet-footed player is convinced that what she’s experiencing at the moment is a mere drizzle with no capacity whatsoever to soak her future plans. Her resolve to lay hands on an accolade in Spain remains undeterred. “I want to become the best player when the curtains are finally drawn at the end of the season.”
Shilwatso’s meek beginnings can be traced back to the dusty fields of a village school in Vihiga, where she first kicked a ball made of plastic bags and twine while she was still a barefooted naïve little girl.
After three successive premier league titles with defending champions Vihiga Queens, the 2019 Cecafa gold medalist jetted out of the country last week to fulfil her dreams in Premeira Division after her initial plan to travel earlier in the year suffered a major setback following the outbreak of Covid-19. Born on July 7, 1999, Shilwatso is the fourth born in a family of six children.
She took an interest in football at the tender age of eight when she was in Class Four at Vihindi Primary School in Sabatia Constituency, Vihiga County.
Given that there were no girls her age in the neighbourhood interested in playing football, Shilwatso would spend much of her time honing her skills on the pitch while battling with boys. Her father Josphat Musungu Kubai, who once turned out for Thika United during his heydays as a player, was her pillar of strength, always having her back and encouraging her to work hard in training.
“My father would observe me in action and provide the much needed feedback and all the necessary support I needed as budding footballer. He was so keen on my development at that level,”
Back in school, none of the teachers made it their business to spot and nurture her talent in football. All they were interested in was to tap into her potential in academics, if there existed any. Their indifferent attitude towards football slowed down her growth.
“My teachers never encourage me. They haboured this retrogressive mentality that football is meant for boys and held as much that I had lost direction,” said Shilwatso.
Shilwatso sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams in 2013 and joined Ibinzo Girls Secondary School.
The school’s sports culture propelled her to greater heights in football. So good was their soccer team that they qualified to represent Kenya in the East Africa School Games in 2017 when she was in Form 4. That was after they crashed out to Wiyeta to become runners up in the national finals held in Nyeri. “We played against Wiyeta who beat us 4-2 on post-match penalties after we played out to a draw."
At this point, Shilwatso was gradually building her forte both as an offensive midfielder and a centre forward, alternating both positions with amazing ease.
Meanwhile, away from school during the holidays, she would link up with Chavakali Queens for training. It was a community club comprising players drawn from the neighbourhood. “During the school holidays, I would join them for training after which we would participate in various tournaments. They later changed their name to Vihiga Queens.”
“I began training with them during my final years in primary school and would still link up with them even after I joined high school.”
Shilwatso said she won three Kenya Women Premier League (KWPL) titles with Vihiga before leaving the side to play professional football in Spain this year.
In 2019, she was named the competition’s most disciplined player, a virtue that has largely contributed to her impressive run in top flight football.
Her determination, focus, hard work and awesome skills on the pitch caught the eyes of national team tacticians who promptly assigned her international duties after handing her a call up.
“In 2017, I earned my first call-up to the U-20 squad and got promoted to the senior team a year later,” said Shilwatso.
The soft-spoken girl whose politeness belie the fireworks she executes on the pitch believes Thika Queens are Vihiga’s toughest opponents.
“Thika always humbled us in their own backyard and proved a hard nut to crack when we met them at home where we would struggle to squeeze out a win.”
Shilwatso is full of praise for her national team striking partner Mwanahalima Jereko Adams who is popularly known as Dogo among her adoring fans. “She’s a good player who has a deep tactical insight. She knows when to attack and when to defend.”
She fondly relives her best league encounter when she bagged a brace as they went ahead and humiliated Kisumu All Starlets 5-0 at Moi Stadium in Kisumu. “I gave out my best and after the match everyone congratulated me for my outstanding delivery.”
Shilwatso would, however, wish to quickly forget their debacle when they crashed 2-1 to fiercest opponents Thika Queens.
Her best international assignment was when Starlets came up against Malawi at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos, where she netted a goal and provided an assist.
Interestingly, she draws all her inspiration from male footballers. Her local hero is Kenyan international centre forward Michael Olunga who currently turns out for Kashiwa Reysol in the Japanese top tier.
Shilwatso’s international role models are Magda Ericksson, who plays for the Chelsea women’s team and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
She is urging budding footballers to observe essential ideals required for success. “I would like to tell them that football is not difficult and only requires patience, hardwork, displine and determination. They should also put God first.”
She spends her free time listening to her favourite music, dancing and making friends.
Name: Cynthia Shilwatso
Date of Birth: July 7, 1999
Place of Birth: Sabatia, Vihiga
Position: Offensive Midfielder
2006-2013: Vihindi Primary School
2014-2017: Ibinzo Girls Secondary School
2013 to date: Vihiga Queens
2017-2018: Kenya U-20
2018 to-date: Harambee Starlets