STARS WON'T WALK THE TALK

When will Harambee Stars stop this disappointment?

All the gains made in the qualifiers were nonetheless blown into smithereens in Egypt after Harambee Stars returned home impoverished.

In Summary

•But the ecstasy was short-lived. The Afcon bonanza proved to be another transitory achievement as the country relapsed to the usual agony of a winless streak on the international stage soon thereafter.

•Prior to the debacle, the Stars had massaged the nation's ego when they shook off a 15-year lacuna to secure a slot in the continental showpiece which took place in Egypt last June, after they emerged second behind Ghana in Group F.

Harambee Stars defender Eric Ouma dribbles past Ethiopia’s Anteneh Tesfake during the 2019 Afcon qualifier at Kasarani
Harambee Stars defender Eric Ouma dribbles past Ethiopia’s Anteneh Tesfake during the 2019 Afcon qualifier at Kasarani
Image: OLIVER MORGAN

Kenyan football fans were inundated with jubilation when the nationaL team, Harambee Stars, qualified for the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt for the first time since 2004.

But the ecstasy was short-lived. The Afcon bonanza proved to be another transitory achievement as the country relapsed to the usual agony of a winless streak on the international stage soon after.

All the celebration that accompanied the Afcon success fizzled out as soon as the Kenyan lads suffered a mortifying defeat at the hands of continental minnows, Comoros, in their fresh bid for a slot in the 2021edition of the continents top tournament.

Prior to the debacle, the Stars had massaged the nation's ego when they shook off a 15-year lacuna to secure a slot in the continental showpiece which took place in Egypt last June, after they emerged second behind Ghana in Group 'F'.

The masterstroke earmarked Kenya's sixth appearance in the competition after the 1972, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 2004 editions.

Fate played a role in the 2019 campaign trail as lady luck smiled on Harambee Stars when the Confederation of African Football suspended Sierra Leone from the qualifiers.

 The West African nation's disqualification disoriented Kenya's rivals Ethiopia after Fifa invoked a statute on October 5, 2018 to suspend Sierra Leone Football Association from all activities due to government interference.

Harambee stars coach Sebastian Migne (C) talks with players after their training session on March 19,2019.
Harambee stars Harambee stars coach Sebastian Migne (C) talks with players after their training session on March 19,2019.
Image: ERICK BARASA

The drastic move minimised competition for Harambee Stars and boosted their qualification chances, given that at the time of the verdict, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia were all level on three points but Ethiopia slipped back to the scratch after losing the maximum points they had collected from their 1-0 win over Sierra Leone on September 9.

Eventually, Ghana and Kenya who wrapped up the qualifiers in first and second positions respectively progressed through.

Kenya could have finished top of their group after putting up a vivacious fight away to Ghana in their final match, but their determination was deflated in stoppage time when Caleb Ekuban pulled off a cheeky stunt on Kenya's center-back Joash Onyango before hitting a rasping left-foot shot that found Patrick Matasi napping in goal.

With the 1-0 Ghana climbed to the summit of Group F on nine points as Kenya slipped back to second with six points with both teams booking a ticket to Egypt.

All the gains made in the qualifiers were nonetheless blown into smithereens in Egypt after Harambee Stars returned home impoverished.

The boys failed to make the Round of 16 after registering unheroic results in their group stage matches where they went down 2-0 to Algeria, got vanquished 3-0 by Senegal before they ground out a slim 3-2 win over Tanzania.

The outcome notwithstanding, Mathare United's Patrick Gitagia, who worked with Adel Amrouche's technical bench in 2013 and 2014 as a match analyst believes the Afcon windfall boosted the country's image, subsequently attracting unprecedented interest from football agents and scouts.

Harambee stars' defender Musa Mohammed (L)wheels away from Ismael Gonzalez and David Owino during a training session at Moi Kasarani
AFCON Harambee stars' defender Musa Mohammed (L)wheels away from Ismael Gonzalez and David Owino during a training session at Moi Kasarani
Image: ERICK BARASA

"The graph has gone up due to motivation. Our success in Afcon gave the rest of the world an impression that Kenya has a lot of potential in football. I am aware of a gust of interest from agents and scouts in Turkey, Spain and Algeria," he added.

A few weeks after the team had made their way back from Cairo, the local football scene hit a dead low tide yet again when news emerged on April 18, 2020 that Stars' players were yet to get their winning bonuses from the match against Tanzania.

The government had promised Sh10 million for every win during the 2019 Afcon in Egypt but all that turned out to be hot air.

FKF CEO Barry Otieno told journalists upon inquiry that the federation had dispatched numerous letters to Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed reminding her of the ministry’s agreement to pay up.

 In response, Sports CS Mohamed said that the ministry would not spend a single shilling more to settle any bills accrued from 2019 Afcon since a budget of Sh244 million had already been approved and disbursed for that same purpose.

The federation would eventually absolve itself from blame, contending that it had not factored in the money meant for paying bonuses in the budget it presented to the government prior to the tournament.

Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga (L) challenges Ghana defender Nicholas Opoku during a Cup of Nations qualifying match at Moi Stadium, Kasarani on September 8, 2018
Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga (L) challenges Ghana defender Nicholas Opoku during a Cup of Nations qualifying match at Moi Stadium, Kasarani on September 8, 2018
Image: / ERICK BARASA

Things were not getting any better. On August 12, Harambee Stars head coach Sébastien Migné ditched the country, amid claims by Football Kenya Federation that the Frenchman had terminated his contract on mutual consent.

Migne had failed to return to Kenya from Egypt with the rest of the contingent on July 4. The Frenchman reportedly ran into trouble with the federation after overseeing Kenya's dismal outing in Egypt.

On August 14, 2019, FKF unveiled his assistant Francis Kimanzi as the new head coach.

During his brief tenure, Kimanzi guided Harambee Stars to a surprise 2-1 win over Zambia in an international friendly at the Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi on October 8.

 Harambee Stars broke the deadlock when  Zambia’s Mwape Tandi turned the ball into his own net in the 21st minute while frantically trying to quash a glaring danger. Cliff Nyakeya then sealed the victory for Kenya in the 27th minute after Kenneth Muguna picked him out with a splendid pass.

Kelvin Kampamba came off the bench to draw a consolation for the visitors in the 65th minute with a stunning header. 

Despite the impressive performance,  October 20, 2020 proved to be a bad day in office for Kimanzi as he was ultimately ejected from the national team's technical bench barely a year after he had stepped in Migne's shoes.

In a statement signed by CEO Barry Otieno, Football Kenya Federation said that the coach had left the national team by mutual consent alongside his backroom staff, including assistant coach Zedekiah Otieno and goalkeeper trainer Lawrence Webo.

Harambee Stars' Victor Wanyama runs past Comoro's Kassim Abdalla during their first leg Africa Cup of Natios qualifier
Harambee Stars' Victor Wanyama runs past Comoro's Kassim Abdalla during their first leg Africa Cup of Natios qualifier
Image: COURTESY

His resignation raised eyebrows, coming just days after Nicholas Mwendwa won his second four-year term as FKF president.On October 21, 2020 Football Kenya Federation (FKF) handed Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee a three-year contract as the new coach hours after sending Kimanzi packing.

Mulee was making a grand return, having previously guided the Stars during the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.On November 11, 2020,  Harambee Stars' performance fell way below expectations  when they played out to a dull a 1-1 draw against 10-man Comoros at Moi Sports Centre, Kasarani.

Masud Juma saved face for Kenya with a 65th minute overhead kick that cancelled out Youssouf M’changama’s 26th minute opener.The visitors finished the match a man less after M’changama was slapped with a red card, consequently turning from hero to villain. 

On November 15, 2020, Comoros dashed Kenya's qualification hopes after beating them 2-1 at Moroni, Comoros to leave them winless in Group G.Faiz Mattoir netted the winner for Comoros four minutes into the second half after Cliff Nyakeya cancelled out El Fardou Ben's opener for the hosts.

The result propelled Comoros to the apex of Group G on eight points, three above Egypt as Stars languished in third with three points.Kenya will now have to beat Togo in their backyard and surmount Egypt in Nairobi in their remaining two matches to stand any mathematical chance of qualifying.

Following Kenya's unimpressive performance, a local top flight coach is proposing some changes if the team is to do well in future.Bidco's Antony Akhulia says that FKF needs to build up on the existing youth structures instead of making fresh call ups every other day.

"I don't think the performance of the national team is anything to write home about. For a team to perform well there needs to be some consistency in the selection process," says Akhulia.

"All the countries that perform well have continuity and unity. We need to develop a good team from the grassroots and build up on it. For example, Kenya should maintain the current U-17 team and develop the boys up-to the senior level," added Akhulia.

Mathare's Gitagia believes Kenya should set aside a permanent role for match analysts in the national team given that it is what makes the big difference in games at the higher level of competition.

"Some countries take the role seriously. An example is Egypt and that's why you have seen a drastic change in Cliff Nyakeya's performance. When he left the country, the Al Masr coach raised complaints that he was too slow.

He has gained a lot of speed as a result of his side adopting the latest technology," said Gitagia.

Despite Harambee Stars' lackadaisical performance in the year, there has been some individual brilliance among its ranks with forward Michael Olunga, for instance, scooping the Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot accolades in the Japanese J1-League.

FACTFILE

Current FIFA ranking: 104

Recent matches:

23/06/19: Kenya 0-2 Algeria

27/06/19: Kenya 3-2 Tanzania

01/07/19: Kenya 0-3 Senegal

09/10/2020: Kenya 2-1 Zambia

11/11/2020: Kenya 1-1 Comoros

16/12/2020: Kenya 2-1 Comoros