Monday, September 29, 2008

Harambee Stars final hurdle

I am eagerly waiting for the weekend of October 11 when hopefully Kenya's Harambee stars will do what they rarely manage to do - win away in Conakry.

A win will boost the team's confidence greatly ahead of the next round of qualifiers for the 2010 tournaments, and at the same time boost the country's FIFA rankings (currently at 86). This might have a positive knock on effect of maybe opening up the doors for a Kenyan to land in the English Premier League (a friend of mine says that a country needs to be ranked 70 or better for its nationals to play in the EPL - unless its an exceptional talent).

We need a few more strikers though. Watching the game against Namibia, we were too tame, albeit in control and failed to finish off the game with a few more goals. I've not watched Ambani play but it's said that he could be a solution..

By the way, whatever happened to Mwaruwari of Zimbabwe? Last season he was scoring here and there (remember Man U). This season I can't even remember which team he belonged to.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Disclaimer: this post was penned in the backdrop of serious emotional conflict on the writer’s part; readers are advised to take every word herein with a pinch of salt.

This week am strongly compelled to begin with an apology and a concession. An apology for my prolonged absence from this space and a concession that my absence was necessitated by the cares and burden of this place of wrath and tears that is our world. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, yet I can no longer withstand the overwhelming urge to break my deafening silence.

While my pal Redondo was busy juggling matrimonial responsibilities that came along with his newly acquired polygamous status (in the form of that pay-TV thing that he has been ranting about for so long) mine was a more heartrending experience. From a frustrating wild goose chase in pursuit of a dodgy newspaper editor (perched high somewhere in a glass office) who simply didn’t have the balls to face a smalltime writer like myself over the cancellation of loose-end deal to an accidental rendezvous, in downtown Nairobi, with an old flame lost in my radars for so long, I was left completely drained out; more like a fish out of the waters, you could say. So much of my minor mishaps for now. Perhaps that’s a tale I’ll live to tell one day when all men and women here at shabik will have grown old and grey with age. Am not digressing further!

For some reason I was only able to catch the weekend action of the English Premiership in bits and pieces. In total, the second half of the Liverpool-Man U match, the last ten minutes of Arsenal’s walk about at Ewood Park and the first quarter hour of the Man City-Chelsea game was all I caught. At the risk of sounding very politically incorrect, the results didn’t disappoint me in the least. When you hold the enviable titles of English and European champions you should contend with the simple fact that you are an easy pick for all and sundry. I also think Man U’s dominance over Liverpool was becoming a bit annoying. Many Man U fans will hate to admit that the 2-1 deficit wasn’t a true reflection of the game. The fact is that Man U were clueless for the better part of the match and they are pretty lucky that Rafael Benitez’s team spurned chance after chance that came their way on that rare opportunity to run over the Old Devil like a steamroller. Period. And why on earth was Wayne Rooney playing in defense?

Allow me to make yet another concession at this point; for any other reason, Arsenal’s 4-0 thumping of Blackburn, courtesy of an Adebayor hat-trick, might have been flattering enough, only that am neither a hater nor a lover of Man U. Conversely, I feel nothing for Arsenal either. Ati now Arsenal can breathe easy coz Adebayor has finally found his scoring boots, right? Wrong! Putting my money on a team that is perpetually a ‘work-in-progress’ with a lousy striker who has a reputation of often blowing hot and cold is the last thing am doing. After all, its still not lost in the minds of many Arsenal fans the superb pacesetting job they did for their rivals last time round, or is it? For lack of better words, I think at this stage there is a dire need for restraint and magnanimity – not the chest thumping and name-calling that am already hearing.

Then there was the so called Battle of the Billionaires or the Clash of Cash – a game that came and went by without much of a spectacle apart from a glorious Robinho goal on his debut and the dramatic expulsion of John Terry for a dangerous tackle. Too much ado about nothing, huh? And this actually reminded me about my little chitchat with Redondo the other day on the same issue. Does a team which hasn’t laid its hands on any major trophy in almost forty years now suddenly become successful overnight as a result of a takeover (whatever that means!) by some rich Arabs in the Middle East? Apparently, and sadly so, that’s the crusade that the Abromovichs of this world are suddenly trying to preach.

Much as I’ve heard some absurd arguments to the effect that the money invested in football clubs by these wealthy businesspeople is good for the game, I still read a lot of mischief in this whole takeover fad. I stand to be corrected on this, but there exists something genuine about all successful teams the world over, an authenticity that not even money can buy. Its called a tradition, a winning culture indoctrinated right from birth. It is this culture that has brought endless success and an infinite financial windfall to great teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona (Spain), Liverpool and Manchester United (England), Rangers and Celtic (Scotland). Closer home, teams like Al Ahly and Zamalek (Egypt), Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa) and of course Tanzanian perennial rivals Yanga and Simba have upheld the same winning mentality from way back when money was not a major factor in the game.

The point here is that in each of these cases, success on the pitch preceded the boardroom financial boon – not the other way round. It has to be said, though, that Kenya is the only nation in the world known to have killed the closest semblance of that winning culture that was embodied in AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia. But then, we Kenyans are a strange lot.

It would therefore be foolhardy to believe that Manchester City for all their mediocrity over the years will suddenly become an English football powerhouse two or three years from now simply because their new billionaire owner has a few more loose-change in his deep pockets to spend. It didn’t happen with Shinwatra, their former Thai owner, and am not so sure it will happen now with… that rich guy from the Abu Dhabi United Group (what’s his name again?) Even Chelsea was a relatively successful team with a couple of domestic and continental honours (albeit minour ones) long before the moneyed Abromovich arrived. My point? Success in football is something that comes gradually - painstakingly built over time - not something to be instantly bought over the counter with free flowing petro-money. Furthermore, am still skeptical about the business interest of these billionaire businessmen in football. To me it looks more of an ego trip, a temporary distraction to the more demanding business matters; some sort of rich man’s play thing. What happens when these rich men get bored with football and its boring routine (did I just say boring?) is a question that I dread to consider at the moment. Your views and reactions?

Sunday, September 14, 2008


As a married man, I have learnt through experience to admit when am wrong and to give second consideration to my every perception, attitude and decision. Unlike in my erstwhile state of bachelorhood when I thought I knew it all and my knowledge was infallible, I have come to the realization that I have no monopoly of knowledge

I suppose you are wondering why I would begin my post on such a remorseful and pensive note. Well I have just realized that the more I think I understand the dealings of soccer (especially the business aspect of it) the more it becomes a complex maze that I know little about. I have penned some very harsh criticism of Wenger on this blog but as the old adage goes, 'only a fool never changes his mind'. Am not saying that am convinced that Arsenal is going to clinch the Premiership this season, am just saying that am beginning to see the wisdom in Wenger's pragmatic approach to buying players and building a team. This morning, I read Mike Ashley's statement on his intention to sell Newcastle United. He painstakingly pledged his love for the club and his unwavering commitment to see the club succeed both as a business and in terms of trophies haul. I could not help but feel sorry for him as he narrated how he no longer felt safe going to watch matches at St James' park with his kids, for fear of an assault. What a way to treat a man who's only crime is trying to offload some baggage (Owen, Smith and Barton) from St James' Park. For all the money he has poured in the club, he should at least have a say in what approach it should have in buying players. My intention is not to rekindle the hot debate on who (between club managers and owners/directors) should decide which players to sign. No am just saying that there should be a consensus on this and that consensus should be based on which approach yields the desired results.

It’s on the basis of the story of Newcastle & Westham vis-à-vis Arsenal that I pull my hat off for Wenger. Any club that is aspiring for glory yet does not have the financial muscle of Man-U or Chelsea must decide whether they want to go Arsenals way or Man-City’s way. The choice is between selling a club and keeping the overheads low through careful purchases that provide value at a bargain. While the transfer market and the going-ons there in has made huge headlines, Wenger has remained true to his philosophy of keeping off all that drama. Arsenal has meticulously executed their business approach to soccer. They don’t renew contracts for players above 30 for periods longer than 1 year. Arsenal’s youth program has been very vibrant even though Wenger has been accused of not co-opting enough graduates of the youth academy into the senior team. It was delightful to watch 16 year old Jack Wilshere deliver a sublime final pass to Adebayor that resulted in the 4th goal. At Wenger’s service is an astute team of scouts that have been known to track their targets sometimes for as long as 2 years. While other clubs are driving themselves to debt in pursuit of expensive, over-paid big names that many times end up as big flops, Arsenal's approach even incorporates a wage structure that has a ceiling.

I must say that Arsenal’s way has shown promise both for the current campaign as well as for the future. Come to think of it, its pure genius how Wenger buys cheap, builds, utilizes and eventually offloads players at a profit as they get to the sunset of their careers. With the emerging onslaught on the EPL from the East and other rich dynasties, English club owners will have to decide whether they want to run their clubs smartly or let them become another rich sheikh’s/princes’ play thing. As for Arsenal I must say they have it right, not just with the financial bottom line but the quality of play too. Their Saturday display at Ewood Park was to say the least exquisite. I was reminded of Real Madrid of old. Allow me to quote Blackburn manager Paul Ince on his take on the match- "Arsenal's passing was a joy to watch"

Monday, September 8, 2008


My silence here has been deafening. Well am back. I have been attending to other matters: football.
About two weeks ago, the good Lord shone his mercy on me and spoke to my dear wife. Believe it or not my wife decided that she was done fighting this co-wife I call soccer. She decided that she should take her undisputed position of first wife. As my first and only true wife, she reckoned she had nothing to fear.To show how liberating her new found realization was, she installed DSTV in our home. Now, that was my wife in her true colours, taking the bull by the horns.

I must say that I was quite puzzled, wondering where the catch in all this was. My confusion however did not hinder me from devouring these lovely goodies. I suddenly found myself in this hitherto dream world. So wide was my choice that on the first night I didn't watch any single match for more than 5 minutes. My channel flipping was akin to the proverbial hyena that split himself right through the middle trying to follow two opposite paths leading to two sumptuous meals. In fact my situation was worse than the hyena’s: there were more than two meals in the form of Supersport 1-7., ESPN, ESPN Classic etc.

I have since accepted that this is no dream but reality. This acceptance has ushered in a new lifestyle that is virtually lived on my couch right in front of my TV. I have no interest in anything that draws me away from my beloved companion. My wife however is beginning to question the wisdom (or the lack of it) of her brave action. She has realized that living in harmony with a co-wife is no easy task. Tolerating her (the co-wife) is hard enough. She has resorted to other tactics to restore sanity into her territory. For starters, we seem to get allot of invitations to birthday parties and family functions. Curiously, the timing of these functions has been spot on- Saturday and Sunday afternoons. My reluctance to attend these parties has been met with even more creative distractions. She has decided that since I claim to be such a sports lover I may as well extend my love of sports to playing at least one sport. Her choice of sport and her way of communicating the need for it couldn't be more ego-bashing. This past Saturday, she dragged me to a swimming pool ostensibly in a mission to put a check on my ever distending pot belly.

Dear brothers, be careful what you ask for, coz you might just get it. What begun as a dream come true has turned into a crisis. As if fighting my wife is not hard enough, I have found a new 'foe' by the name of Trufena (our house-help). When I think DSTV, I think soccer. Little did I know that there’s more to it than just soccer. Her busy fingers have discovered Africa magic, a channel of African movies. Yes, those movies that I so love to hate. My wife on her part has developed a new liking for blockbuster MNet movies and it’s becoming a real headache explaining to her why we should lock the channel on Supersport. The remote control has become a WMD (Weapon of Marriage Distraction).
So what does a man do? Honestly, I don't know. Maybe there is need for the formation of an FA (Fanatics Anonymous) as my friend Helen wittily quipped.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Harambee Stars , Too much money in soccer?

Just bought myself a ticket, though I am still not sure I am going for the game yet.

After following the frantic last minute dealings as the transfer season in Europe, I am now not sure whether I want to keep following English soccer that keenly. It has become a case of who has the most money (never mind debt) to buy the best players. It will be interesting to see how Man City fare with their new billionaire owners who, as rumuored, offered a 'blank cheque' for highly regarded players around Europe.

Something's got to give though. There's only so much money, and so many players. And what happens to the small clubs.