By Mathew Ottamax
I played for Harambee Stars and two top most clubs in terms of success and fan base in Kenya, I will be wrong if I do not mention my formative years at some of the best youth set ups in Undugu FC, Mathare Youth and Re Union FC.
As a result I earned my way through all the youth categories of the national team all the way to senior team Harambee Stars.
It is not about me but the current crop of players that I will discuss today.
My recent rant on social media castigating some elements in the current national soccer team playing unit is something I will not feel sorry about as a professional having used some unkind words towards my fellow sportsmen.
It came deep down my heart after watching some lackluster performance on home soil against a team/country we have always beaten at home and away. I will add some hyperbole by saying beating them almost blindfolded.
Don’t be cheated that Kenya is devoid of talented footballers or if you like call them soccer players.
We have them, and in abundance. What we lack as a country is character, commitment and focus in our young boys.
They will finish a race well started at some imaginary yellow finishing tape before getting to the actual finish line just because fans praise you in a one wonder moment thus forgetting the bright future ahead of you.
Intelligent players take these praises as urge ons. Sometimes we tend to blame the coaching staff and to some extent the Federation for things that are beyond them.
Apart from qualifying for AFCON and I will not take that away from the boys in fact I will congratulate them once more for doing it after a 14 year hiatus and not so much was expected from them other than a second round romp. It didn’t happen though!
This 9 letter word plays a very big role in an individual or/and team. It is the self belief and the urge in a person to perform his best in order to outwit his or her opponent however weak or small you could be as compared to your opponent(according to me) no coach will teach you this, the best they can do is urge you on.
I will name a few individuals who have shown this rare quality in Kenya.
DENNIS OLIECH: In 2003 when the whole country went silent in panic when the much needed goal wasn’t coming late in the game, this young boy then, took it upon himself to do an unthinkable by releasing a 40 yard shot which beat the Cape Verde goalkeeper all the way for the priceless goal which took us to the Afcon 2004. Kenyans remember him in a reverential way to date.
SAMMY OMOLO PAMZO: He was my captain at Harambee Stars at some point, a dude with character the size of India where he proceeded to play professional football. A guy blessed with leadership qualities, when we’d think the football storm was gonna drown the ship, this captain fantastic would step up and steer guide his team to dock, was always there to push and encourage all the first timers. Respect Pamzo I wonder if we have that kind of stewardship at Stars nowadays.
MICHAEL OGADA OLUNGA: Humble to the core and a rare breed of this current generation, on many occasions you will agree with me that he has shown some character by unlocking duels which many naysayers and pessimists had summed up as dead and buried only for Mika to raise the mythical dead Phoenix from the ashes.
TITUS MULAMA: You do not need a coach to teach you how to read games and your team mates movements on the pitch, this is one attribute which made Harambee Stars and Denis Oliech flourish in matches due to Tito’s magical character of reading the game and the third man’s running of his teammates hence delivering that final killer pass, something that has been lacking lately in our players save for Francis Kahata of Simba Sports Club and Saad Musa of Afc Leopards.
COLLINS OKOTH GATTUSSO: Love him or hate him. Bold, brave, bright(sly footballwise) battle hardened etc. Gattusso would fight with anyone in the team or opposing team just for victory, it is this kind of spirit which revitalized Gor Mahia back to glory. His principles have always been mistaken for lack of discipline but he was such a humble person with a big helping heart.
The list is endless but allow me to use these few names as my role models when it comes to this important attribute which is lacking in majority of current Kenyan footballers.
Some of these players have shown zero commitment and wrong attitude upon being named in the national team.
Gone are the days when a mere siren of a police escort car or motorbike clearing traffic for the team bus on its way to the stadium would bring tears of patriotism down your cheeks and the immediate urge to go fight for your country.
We have even seen emotionless faces when the National Anthem is being played, then you wonder who are these foreigners representing Kenya?
This whole idea of representing the country has been commercialized rendering useless the words found in the 2nd stanza of our National anthem, which goes like this, “Let one and all arise, With hearts both strong and true, Service be our earnest endeavour, And our Homeland of Kenya, Heritage of Splendour, Firm may we stand to defend”.
Am not saying that they should work for free but show some respect and commitment to what puts ugali on your table.
I don’t know if I should blame it on generational change but some of these players have shown total lack of discipline towards their coaches, fans, officials and even their careers. One magical moment and he becomes larger than life, untouchable, it is time to wine and dine with his fans, late night with different women, missing training with myriad of excuses but he won’t tell you it is hangover related so on and so forth.
Our recent loss to Tanzania didn’t go well with Kenyan soccer fans, I included. We took to the social media to vent our disappointment. Surprisingly some players had the temerity to use pseudo accounts to counterattack fans even after the dismal performance. Personally I was asked, as a former player where did I take Harambee Stars? You wonder, if we’ll ever go anywhere with this kind of attitude! My answer to that question is, if your parents raised you in poverty it doesn’t mean that when you grow up you too should be poor. To you it should be a motivating factor to work harder in order to uplift the previous living standards of your parents as well as yours. Comparing yourself with people whom you deem pathetic makes you worse pathetic.
Until when I will see some 10-12 year olds assembled as our future national team, that’s the time I will come back to football. A game that I loved, a game that has earned me a decent livelihood, a game that earned me friends and enemies, a game that gave me a wife, a game that has shown me the world, not to forget a game that took me to school. RESPECT FOOTBALL and FOOTBALL WILL RESPECT YOU!
Matthews Ottamax is a former Kenyan international soccer player and a former goalkeeping coach for Harambee Stars also worked at Gor Mahia and Afc Leopards