Looking back at previous youth soccer development initiatives in Kenya
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Kenyan sports; The Revival
Written by Kenyan Star Administrator   
Friday, 15 June 2012 13:46

By Francis Nandi

Both at club and national team level, African soccer has over the years been dominated by teams from the Northern and West African parts of the continent. Notable countries that have stamped their authority include Egypt, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Closely trailing these countries in what can be termed as the second tier of dominance include Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The common factor that has enabled these countries to taste success on the soccer pitch is a heavy investment heavily nurturing talent at age-grade and youth levels..

They ensured that procedures requisite for youth development are meticulously followed. These entailed excellent managerial planning (identifying of talent, nurturing and processing the talent to yield the desired results. Taking care of the logistics revolving around finance, camping, training, performance analysis and involving the team in frequent quality matches).  Impressed with such initiative, numerous sponsors came on board to boost projects laid out by the federations.

Returning to the Kenyan setup and it is difficult to fathom that the country possessed 85% of these qualities as far back as the mid 1970’s when the late German tactician Bernard Zgoll ,ably assisted by the late Jonathan Niva came up with the idea of introducing Olympic Youth Centers that would identified, nurtured and churned out some of Kenya’s best talent who were pivotal in the many successes the national team enjoyed in the 1980s including CECAFA Challenge Cup titles, All African Games silver in 1987 and three successive AFCON finals appearances in 1988, 1990 and 1992.

These centers were located in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Kakamega. Zgoll’s mission was to take Kenya to the summit of African soccer within a  5-10 year timelin. Back then Kenneth Matiba .the then Kenya Football Federation chairman was a great enthusiast of the game.

After trials were conducted at the five centres, and forty five players selected, the government sponsored a two month trip to West Germany to enable the team gather experience and exposure. Majority of these players would later form the bulk of the formidable Harambee Stars from the year 1979 to 1988. A successful period for the Kenyan soccer .

Like the proverbial blot on the well written script, a few individuals had reservations about Zgoll’s project. They deemed the 5-10 year plan as too long with regards to the realisation of the ambition. Investment in youth requires patience to attain the ultimate success and implementing it. Growing the plan to fruition demands sacrifice, diligence, hard work, determination and patience. From there, a system should be set to regulate the motto of the side (playing formations) Zambia 2012 AFCON squad have gelled together for six years and the result is key witness.


Instant results might work for a certain period but their sustainability is a different thing all together. It’s like taking a short cut. Matiba had foresight for the Kenyan soccer which was to ; offer systematic training for players future duty (asking the government through the then Ministry of Culture and Social Services, the present day  Ministry of Sport to facilitate logistical support for the team training of future players by funding the under 12,15,17 and 20 at the time). The youth centers work bore fruit albeit briefly but none would perpetuate intensely the project. Though Kenya Breweries would initiate such a project in the late 70’s where Richard Madegwa was a prominent member whose growth was appreciated by both the Harambee Stars, Nyayo Stars and AFC Leopards.

Marshall Mulwa the most successful local Harambee Stars coach,had his ideas on youth soccer development that would commence before the 1986 World Cup.

His vision was: To involve younger players in many friendly matches as possible and engage them in continental qualifiers with regards to the age brackets. By doing so they would have been groomed, gathered enough experience and would have been ready to battle with any nation. Other beneficiaries of his projects would arise from secondary schools competitions akin to the ones offered by the Copa Coca-Cola and the Brookside sponsored Kenya Secondary Sports Association school games. Gor and AFC had continued to enjoy massive feeding patterns from schools in Western and Nyanza provinces respectively

Contemporary coaches the late Graham Williams and Len Julians had different approaches to the situation though they had the same theme and that was: to establish junior sides that would act as a feeder to the main side once the old guards would retire. Their efforts would further be echoed late in 1985 by the then Kenya Football Federation secretariat  who by means no uncertain terms , declared that by 1987 Kenya National Football League participants should have their youth teams up and running so as to minimize the co-operation between clubs and their affiliated high schools. Currently one is left wondering how many teams in the current Kenya premier league have fully functioning youth academies.

The national team youth teams have performed so poorly in recent years. Apart from the under 21 side formed by the late Gerry Saurer in the late 1980s, other performances have been wanting. Saurers under 21 side defeated Egyptians 2-1 and lost 0-1 in Alexandria to a last minute goal during the 1992 Olympic Games qualifiers, bowing out on away goal rule. The bulk of this team featured in the CECAFA challenge cup in 1990 and admirably 1991 when they lost to Zambia 0-2 in the final. That squad featured the first six from the under twenty one side. Before that feat, they had enabled the Stars qualify for the 1992 Nations Cup and some of them participated in the finals. Later on these were the very same players that would eliminate previous World Cup participants Algeria from the preliminary rounds of the France 1998 World Cup qualifiers.

To make it even better was the fact that in 1999 the under twenty side won the CECAFA junior challenge cup and most of the squad formed the outfit that would enable stars qualify to the 2004 nations cup and win the senior CECAFA cup after nineteen years in 2002. The African continent was shaken to the core when Kenya eliminated the world under 17 title challengers Ghana. However Kenyans were to be caught on the wrong foot with fielding of over aged players in early 2003.

From there, the humiliation’has been the order of the day.The most humiliating was when Uganda thumped the Kenya U-23s  5-0 in Nairobi during a 2011 All African Games qualifier in Nairobi, prompting a Kenyan pull out from the second leg.

The enemies lie within. They thrive on poor management and inadequate planning and hurried assembling of squads. Logistical arrangements are wanting

Kenyan youth soccer is very much alive but it can only be lively if those who administrate the game think less of their bank accounts, wallets and pockets and focus more on the game,it’s growth and development.


Tags: soccer, kenyan, kenya, players, team, national, stars, side, world, teams, african, cecafa, late, youth

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