On 12 July 2013, Victor Wanyama completed his move to Southampton FC, a first for Kenyan (and East African) football, for £12.5 million. Wanyama joins a list of Kenyan footballers plying their craft abroad (or who have had a stint outside the country), including Allan Wanga, Austin Makacha, Bonaventure Maruti, Curtis Osano, Dennis Oliech, Emmanuel Ake, Francis Ouma, Ibrahim Shikanda, Francis Ouma, John Machethe Muiruri, Lawrence Olum, McDonald Mariga, Mo Oduor, Musa Otieno, Patrick Oboya, Roger Verdi, Simeon Mulama, Titus Mulama, Mike Okoth, Maurice Sunguti, James Situma, Arnold Origi. The most famous on that list are longtime Auxerre winger Dennis Oliech and McDonald Mariga, Wanyama's elder brother (also the first East African to win a UEFA Champions League title with Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan side of 2010). While the country is a minnow in world football, with the national team perennial underachievers, and the league relatively short of technical quality, the move raises significant talking points with potential impact for the country going forward.
A brief timeline of Kenya football Football was introduced to the country by British settlers in the early 20th century. It's spread was no doubt helped by the sport's simplicity and the fact that it could be played almost anywhere. The Kenya Football Federation was established in 1960 to oversee football in the country, following which Kenya’s most popular clubs were formed, including A.F.C. Leopards, Gor Mahia and Reunion.The Kenya National Football League (now known as the Kenya Premier League) was created in 1963. In 1972, Kenya made its first appearance in the African Cup of Nations, but was eliminated in the first round. Three years later, Kenya won the CECAFA (Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations) Cup for the first time. Between 1981 and 1982, Kenya won three consecutive CECAFA titles. In 2003, the Kenyan Premier League was created and registered as a limited liability company whose ownership was shared amongst all the sixteen participating clubs and was to be affiliated to the Kenya Football Federation. This follows incessant wrangles between the footballing authorities and the national football league member clubs. The league was known as the Kenya National Football League from its creation in 1963 to 1996, the Kenyan Super League in 1973 and 1997 and, from 1998, the Kenyan Premier League. August 2012 is a significant milestone, with the Kenyan Premier League signing a Kshs 2 million deal with East African Breweries to rename the league to the Tusker Premier League. This remains the most lucrative deal in the nation's footballing history. Less than two months later, the league agreed a deal with Puma to make them their official ball supplier.
Comparison with other nationalities According to research conducted in 1999 by Dr. Raffaele Poli, as at 1 October 1999 there were 571 players of African origin employed by 528 clubs, from 36 top division leagues of UEFA member countries. This averages to 1.08 players per club. That means African players plied their trade in 33 of 36 European leagues, with France and Belgium leading with an average of 3.4 and 3.3 players respectively. Comparison with other nationalities places Africans after players from Western Europe (31.5%), Eastern Europe (27.7%) and Latin America (23.1%). However, Africans left for Europe at an average of 19.4 years, much younger than Latin Americans (22), with Western Europeans and their Eastern counterparts rounding it out at 22.4 and 22.7 years respectively. A breakdown of players as per African nationality is provided as follows:
1. Nigeria - 113 2. Cameroon - 84 3. Ivory Coast - 61 4. Senegal - 57 5. Ghana - 46 6. Mali - 20 7. South Africa - 19 8. Guinea - 15 9. Zambia - 15 10. Tunisia - 13 11. Others - 128 12. Total - 571
Implications for Kenya football
There is no doubt Wanyama's move to the Saints shines the spotlight on a country ranked 123 (as at July 2013). Continentally sees us 36th, sandwiched between Tanzania and Namibia. What should follow such a high profile move to an elite European (and world) league? Among the measures that can be undertaken are the following:
• IMPROVED SCOUTING OF YOUTH TALENT - The obvious is talent exists in the country. Each of Dennis Oliech, McDonald Mariga and Wanyama have played in the UEFA Champions League competition, the best and most lucrative club competition worldwide. Each has contributed significantly, with notable performances acknowledged.
• INVESTMENT IN YOUTH - The onus is on Federation Kenya Football (FKF), the sport's national governing body to invest more in youth football, as that forms the cradle of all national teams. This is an area the country lags behind compared to the rest of Africa. Opportunities to borrow best practices are not lacking.
A second area is talent spotting by the elite clubs. Clubs must be encouraged to actively scout in their immediate geographical areas. This would save the Federation money spent traveling as they can use member clubs as their eyes and ears at the grass root level.
• ACADEMIES - Establishment of academies with a standardized playing curriculum. Egypt and countries like Ivory Coast, the latter's ASEC Abidjan academy having produced most of the Elephant's golden generation of footballers including the Toure brothers. Holland's use of the 4-3-3 system and Spain's emphasis on possession football from an early age, with fun an integral component of all football, are key reasons why the nations sit at the apex of footballing excellence worldwide.
• PROTECTION OF YOUTH ASSETS - The competitive nature of today's football means there will be unscrupulous interests intended to pick off the best talent for sale (loosely used) abroad. Such players might also attract the interest of nations that lack similar gifted athletes. All agents must register with Football Kenya with their areas of operation defined. No deal should be entered without notifying the footballing authorities. This will help safeguard the country's youth from exploitation. The players themselves, their families, schools and institutions, and any individuals connected to football in Kenya should be educated in this area.
• UPGRADING OF REGIONAL SPORTS INFRASTRUCTURE - Countries including Brazil and Ghana ensure their national team plays in major cities in the country, in rotation. This implies there are playing stadia in existence to begin with. This in turn ensures the national team does not take any region for granted, while bonding the fan base with their team. Needless to say, such a move is ideal for creating interest in the sport. This is an area FKF and the government should focus on. The regional stadia and sports facilities can provide a visual stimulus for any athlete from the respective area to aim at playing.
• SPORTS TOURISM - Major playing venues like Anfield in Merseyside, England have existed since the late 19th century. Other than constant renovations, part of their charm is the history therein, with stadium tours helping the owner clubs generate income. This is an area that continued sporting excellence could open up for Kenya and help generate foreign exchange from tourists. There is a case for our renown athletes and national Sevens rugby team doing more marketing than our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism do for the country.
All journeys begin someplace, a vision providing the key starting point. Few things unite diverse people as sports does. Good examples include the hosting of Olympics and World Cup tournaments, each of which helps raise the patriot in every national.
Just like the Butterfly Theory by Edward Lorenz, while this player's signing might resemble the fluttering of a butterfly's delicate wings, the net effect might be hurricanes of sports reform in the nation of Kenya. The proverbial ball rests on the feet of the Federation of Kenya Football (FKF).
References: The Migrations of African Football Players to Europe: Human Trafficking and neo-colonialism in Question (Dr. Raffaele Poli, 2009) | http://www.footballfordevelopment.net/uploads/tx_drblob/storage/Poli_migration-of-African-football-players_01.pdf
Image used with permission.