With just five minutes remaining on the clock and Inter Milan comfortably coasting to a would be famous victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League, TV pictures beamed a footage that will forever remain etched in the memory of many Kenyan football fans. A boyish smirk plastered all over his face, a nervous-looking MacDonald Mariga responded to coach Jose Mourinho's last minute touchline instructions with rhythmic nods of the head.
That was the night of 16th March 2010 and history was in the making. A minute later, the lanky attacking midfielder strode into the hallowed grounds of Stamford Bridge as a replacement of Dutch cross-master Wesley Sneidjer. It can only be left to the figment of one's imagination the immense swelling of emotion that must have been bubbling inside this young lad at that historic moment.
And this outpouring of emotions for the unprecedented achievement by 'one of our own' was just too infectious. At my Eastlands humble aboard, Mariga's cameo appearance was greeted with a spontaneous round of rousing applause from the many adjoining dingy video showrooms. Even in the studious of a local TV channel, FKL Technical Director Patrick Naggi was visibly besides himself with pride as he heaped superlative upon superlative on Mariga - his one time protégé at the defunct Kenya Pipeline FC.
It was while we were all wallowing at the apex of that dizzying height that it somehow occurred to many of us that the furore over Mariga's botched move to Manchester City only a few weeks earlier had been misplaced after all. Inter Milan was definitely a blessing in disguise!
With that single act, Mariga had singlehandedly put Kenya on the world map in a sport that we are still considered lightweights. Many years from now (or perhaps just a few), many other Kenyan players will follow in Mariga's footsteps and don the famous colours of some of the best European clubs. Its not a question of if, but rather when this prophesy will be fulfilled. And that in itself portends another question; which way forward now that Mariga has broken all barriers for us?
While it is in order to acknowledge Mariga's accolades, it would be be foolhardy to connotate this great achievement as rocket science. There are certainly many more Mariga's and Olieches waiting to be discovered.
Though its common knowledge that the root course of our football's near death is chronic maladministration of the game by selfish football officials, it would be pointless to dwell on these sideshows here.
For now, it is imperative that we quickly get over this “feel good” effect occasioned by Mariga's exploits. The sooner the better (“hatujafika bado”). Of primary significance now is how to land many more Marigas in the Italian Serie A, the English Premier League and even the lucrative Spanish La Liga.
A good starting point is through tournaments like the just concluded Super 8 and Pepeta Ball football tournaments as well as the ongoing Copa Coca Cola. We could even engage a latter-day “Bernard Zgoll” to revive and revamp the defunct Youth Olympic Centers across the country. This personality would be mandated with the responsibility of using such tournaments in identifying raw talent from the grassroots. Thereafter, a sound follow-through program would be set up to nurture and develop these young players.
Football is all about continuity; with time these players would mature and step-up into the big leagues both locally and internationally when the big boys call it time. As they say, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. This is the way all the other continental powerhouses like Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Egypt have gone to achieve their degree of success. Kenya can only do itself a big favour by aping our 'big brothers' from the West and the North if we ever hope to see many more Marigas doing us proud in European Leagues.