•While Harambee Stars have elated and broken millions of hearts in the country over the last four decades that the team has existed.
•Over the years, countless attempts have been made to explain the shortcomings of the national team and their coaches on the international platform.
Despite their dark moments, Harambee Stars have enjoyed their glorious seasons.
The Kenya national soccer team can aptly be likened to a rogue boyfriend who keeps disappointing a gorgeous girl he’s betrothed to by vanishing on the wedding day.
And should the wedding successfully take place, the lad fails to rise up to the occasion on the exact night of the honeymoon. The wife, dissatisfied, goes a step further to get him some aphrodisiac to boost his ego, but the guy still falls flat on the face.
While Harambee Stars have elated and broken millions of hearts in the country over the last four decades that the team has existed. Local football enthusiasts would find it much easier reliving the countless agonising moments they have endured, much more than they can enumerate the joyous occasions they experienced on the strength of the team’s performance.
The narrative of a disturbed nation held at ransom by a team that never lives up to expectation came into play again last week, when a hastily assembled squad of foreign-based players was surprisingly crashed by a lowly Comoros side in their African Cup of Nations Cup qualifier away at Moroni.
The debacle occurred exactly four days after Harambee Stars had registered yet another unimpressive performance against the Islanders at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, where they played out to a one-all draw.
The dejected contingent, too timid and embarrassed, arrived in the country unannounced on Monday at around midday, as head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee fumbled over an attempt to justify the debacle, attributing their poor show to a long spell of inactivity that left the playing unit rusty, following a move by Kenyan authorities to impose a ban on public gatherings in order to contain the spread of Covid-19.
A section of local fans are now lashing out at Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa for committing a juvenile howler that saw him fire a performing coach, Francis Kimanzi, only to replace him with Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee who has been out of action for slightly more than a decade now. But Mulee has since shifted responsibility, laying the blame at the government’s door.
This is not the first time, however, that officials are engaging in a game of ping pong after unimpressive results. Over the years, countless attempts have been made to explain the shortcomings of the national team and their coaches on the international platform.
That notwithstanding, it would be totally unfair to focus only on perceived and real failures of the national team, considering the fact that they too have had their share of triumphant moments just as well.
In this article, we aptly capture the highs and lows of the Kenya national soccer team over the years they have broken sweat on the pitch.
Harambee Stars entered the competitive stage for the first time ever when they threw themselves in the deep end of an organised international tournament way back in the 1940s and 50s.
During this time, a squad was selected and deployed to compete in the Gossage Cup, an event that brought together the three East African nations, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Among the first players to don the national team jerseys were Peter Oronge, Shem Chimoto and Elijah Lidonde (father to former AFC Leopards and Kenyan international Tony who currently manages Bidco United).
With focus and determination, the national team never looked back. They buckled down and started to train seriously and in 1965, convinced they had made a huge stride in the sport and believing they could now face the world, Kenya dared the Black Stars of Ghana to an epic duel during the first anniversary of the country’s independence.
It was an anticlimactic finish to the anniversary celebrations though, after the naïve Kenyan team had their dream maiden international encounter shattered right in the very presence of their own president, in a one-sided battle that produced a catastrophic outcome.
The squad, moulded around the crème de la crème of the top tier clubs including Joseph Were, Tom Sabuni, Jonathan Niva, Anthony Mukabwa, Moses Wabwayi, Joseph Okeyo, John Rabuongi, Nicodemus Arudhi, William Chege Ouma, James Asibwa and Moses Ambani, crumbled into smithereens in the face of adversity.
By half-time the Black Stars had made a huge statement with a 6-1 thumping of the host nation, an outcome that forced a dejected president Kenyatta to sneak out of the stadium at break. He never returned to witness the last phase of Kenya’s destruction and abandoned his subjects to their own fate.
The hosts heaved a sigh of relief when the centre referee eventually blew the final whistle to save them from further humiliation. It signalled the end of a one sided tie that ended 12-2 in favour of the evidently more experienced West African nation.
Undeterred by the events of the independence celebrations, Kenya returned to action a decade later, making their debut appearance at the Nations Cup finals in Cameroon in 1972 where they narrowly missed out on a semi-finals berth.
The nation kicked off the tournament against the host team Indomitable Lions, who pipped them 2-1. Kenya took the lead when player-coach Jonathan Niva converted from the spot early in the first half. An obstinate Cameroonian side fought back from behind and managed to crank out a 2-1 win at full time.
Harambee Stars, thereafter, played out to a one-all draw against both Togo and Mali only to stumble out of contention when Mali squeezed a point out of Cameroon after the teams fought to a goal-less draw.
Niva banged in two of the three goals Kenya collected from the tourney after he found the back of the net against Cameroon and Togo respectively, Jackson Aluko netting Kenya’s third goal against Mali.
The arrival of German coach Bernard Zgoll in the early seventies ushered in a new era in Kenyan Football. Zgoll established the much needed national youth development centres across the country that gave birth to quality players such as Sammy Owino Kempes, Dick Anyanga, Wilberforce Mulamba, Sammy Taabu, Sammy Onyango and Jared Ingutia among others.
With such a viable and formidable structure for nurturing a consistent pool of talent in place, Kenya won their first East and Central Africa challenge cup (Cecafa Cup) title in 1975.
However, it was not until the 1980’s that Kenya developed a thick skin to challenge for titles. The faces of local fans finally broke into smiles, when between 1981 and 1983 under coach Marshall Mulwa, Kenya won three Cecafa senior titles in a row under the stewardship of skipper Mahmoud Abbass and the immense contribution from his gifted teammates, notably, John Bobby Ogolla, Josephat Murila, Jared Ingutia, Wilberforce Mulamba, Joe Masiga and Ambrose Ayoyi.
In 1981, Kenya edged host nation Tanzania 1-0 to clinch the title before Mahmoud Abbas came to the rescue of the country with spectacular penalty saves that enabled Kenya to see off Uganda in their own backyard during the Cecafa final played at Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala in the following year.
Then in 1983, Kenya killed two birds with one stone after the national soccer team clinched the Cecafa trophy for the third time in a row at the newly constructed Nyayo stadium with offensive midfielder Ambrose Ayoyi scooping the golden boot award, in the process earning himself the moniker “golden boy”.
Four years later, Harambee Stars made a good impression of themselves at the 4th All Africa games, where they beat the highly rated Tunisia 2-1, before playing out to a three all draw against Cameroon who boasted the likes of Jacque Songoo, Emanuel Kunde, Benjamin Massing, Charles Ntamark and Andre Kana Biyik.
Kenya then pipped Madagascar 2-1 and overcame Malawi in a nervous penalty shootout in which, out of the seven penalties that each team took, Kenya only managed to bang in three with Malawi putting away two. Kenyan custodian David Ochieng was the toast of the day, after he blocked four Malawian attempts. In the final, Kenya, however, eventually lost 1-0 to Egypt in a hard-fought final at the newly constructed Moi Sports Complex Kasarani.
After sixteen years in the cold, Kenya finally qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations and Kenya Football Federation organised a trip to Brazil to prepare the team for the event. Unfortunately, things fell apart for the national team after long standing differences between Kenyan arch-rivals Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards trickled down into the national team’s camp, and occasioned a serious fallout between players from the two clubs who had been summoned for national duty.
This led to an ugly spat that saw midfielder George Onyango “Fundi” of Gor allegedly knifed and hospitalised for at least two weeks. It wasn’t surprising then that Kenya were eliminated in the early stages of the competition after losing 3-0 to Nigeria and Egypt respectively before settling for a draw with Cameroon.
Then in 1990, Kenya qualified for the event again and put up a far much better performance, holding both Senegal and Zambia before crashing 2-0 to Indomitable Lions of Cameroon who went on to book themselves a slot in the quarter-finals of the World Cup two months later.
Kenya’s performance was impressive and consequently, Mike Okoth Origi, Washington Muhanji and Peter Mwololo all secured professional contracts in Europe. Muhanji too received an offer but couldn’t pen down a deal because he already had a running contract with the army, a fact that made it impossible for him to jump ship. Mwololo’s dalliance with a club in the middle East side prior to the tournament meant that he couldn’t also pen a new deal. Okoth went on to join Belgian club KV Ostende.
Kenya again qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in 1992 but had a string of poor performances after players who were dissatisfied with head coach Gerry Saurer staged a go slow and under-performed to throw him under the bus. Their strategy worked as the federation gave Saurer marching orders after the team returned from the championship.
Things started looking up for the country in 1997 when Kenya Football Federation (KFF) hired German coach Reinhard Fabisch who came with a magic wand in his hand. Fabisch developed a youthful senior team from obscurity, assembling nondescript players with an average age of 22 years.
The lads dispelled the misgivings the nation had about them with an amazing performance against African football heavyweights. They surmounted Gabon and Guinea and squeezed a point from both Cameroon and Nigeria. Kenya, however, suffered a major setback when Fabisch quit in a huff after KFF failed to disburse players’ allowances.
Thirsty for a Fabisch comeback, the local football fraternity piled inundate pressure on the federation to fetch him from his hideout, and they had no option but to offer him a new contract. The hard-nosed tactician found his way back into the country towards the end of 2000 to ink a six-year deal.
Having earlier secured the trust of Kenyans, Fabisch promised to deliver a World Cup qualification berth to the ecstatic fans. His dreams however went up in smoke despite his charges putting up brilliant performances that almost booked them a place in the Africa Cup of Nations. They finished third behind the more experienced Morocco and Tunisia.
So impressive were the boys that in 2001, a host of Kenyan players bagged contracts to play professional football in
Europe. Ronald Ogonda, John Muiruri and Robert Mambo crossed the Atlantic to Belgium while Bonventure Maruti and Paul Oyuga found a home in Sweden.
Harambee Stars qualified for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia but fell short of expectations. Pooled against Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso in Group B, Kenya could only win a game, opening their campaign with a 3-0 loss to a star-studded Mali side that boasted the likes of Seydou, Frederic Kanoute and Mahamadou Diarra. Diarra and Kanoute would later join Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.
Kenya saw off Burkina Faso 3-0 in the last group match with Emmanuel Ake, John Baraza and Dennis Oliech finding the back of the net. The result could, however, not salvage them from an early exit in the group stage of the competition.
It wasn’t until in 2019 again that Kenya qualified for the coveted continental tourney in Egypt to make the nation proud once more. However, all the government’s efforts at bolstering the team went down the drain even after the Sports ministry pumped in a whopping Sh244m to help the team prepare for the competition. Kenya stumbled out of the competition at the group stage once again.
The pattern has been the same over the years, with the country either failing to make it to Afcon or finding its way there and bowing out as soon as it embarks on its campaign.
To make amends to these shortcomings, FKF should mould a team around merit and appoint the technical bench upon excellence. Resources must be employed effectively and vested interests should be shelved to pave way for national interests. Only then, will we be able to smile all the way to the winner’s podium.
Association: Football Kenya Federation
Confederation: CAF (Africa)
Head coach: Jacob Mulee
Captain: Victor Wanyama
Most caps: Mike Origi (120)
Top scorer: Dennis Oliech (34)
Home stadium: Moi International Sports Centre
Current Fifa ranking: 103
Increase 3 (October 20, 2020)
Highest: 68 (December 2008)
Lowest: 137 (July 2007)
Kenya 1–1 Uganda
(Nairobi, Kenya; May 1, 1926)
Kenya 10–0 Zanzibar
(Nairobi, Kenya; October 4, 1961)
Kenya 2–12 Ghana
(Nairobi, Kenya; December 12, 1965)
Africa Cup of Nations
Appearances: 6 (first in 1972)
Group stage (1972, 1988, 1990, 1992, 2004 and 2019)