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Monday, March 14, 2011

Can 2011 Copa Coca-Cola Provide Kenya the Football Talent it Needs?

The 2011 COPA Coca-Cola tournament kicked off Saturday 13 March, and national talent scouts will surely be checking out for some prodigious talents.

If there’s one thing that has been steadily hitting the downward trend in Kenya, it has to be the ‘Beautiful’ game of football. With every passing year, Kenya has been falling down the pecking order, not only in regional tournament but internationally as well. Once a former East African giant and known for churning out prodigious talents like JJ Masiga, Joe Kadenge, James Siang’a, Joe Masiga, Bobby Ogola,  Hussein Kheri, Musa Otieno, Mahmoud Abbas, Peter Dawo and the likes, Kenyan football is no longer something that arouses excitement among the fans or makes opposing teams consult witchcrafts on the tactics they should deploy.

Granted, the aforementioned players never won anything major for Kenya or made it to the coveted European leagues that define the success and/or failure in modern football, but they were best at what they do. But a look at every passing year, while other countries continue unveiling a Steven Piennar and a Tsiphiwe Shabalala, or a Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou in the same team or generation, Kenya seems to be discovering only one talent at a time. Today Oliech, tomorrow, Mariga. Then a long drought.
Mr. Gerald Chege (2nd right) of the Kenyan premier league poses for a photo with Stephen Odhiambo (left) and Jackson Macharia both of Thika United and Emmanuel Tostao (right) who were voted the best players  during the 2010 Copa Coca-Cola youth soccer league edition.

Blame it on the off-putting, superfluous and incessant wrangles in the management of football in the country (if there’s any), or on the obsession of local fans with outside leagues or even on the lack of real football development at the grassroots level, there seems to be little being done to avert the demise of Kenya from football.

But it’s not like Kenya is bereft of many more Dennis Oliechs or Macdonald Marigas who can play in major leagues in Europe or even in the UEFA Champions League. The talents are there.

That’s why when I hear of a competition like the Copa Coca-Cola, I always get very excited and wish I was U-17 to stand a chance of competing. Initiated in Mexico in 1998, the annual national youth football tournament aims at removing the best out of the good in the grassroots by engaging the youths in football activities while also encouraging them to adopt healthy living. The competition occurs in countries like the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Chile, while South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Angola, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Congo, Nigeria and Zimbabwe compete within Africa.

 In this year’s competition in Kenya, 512 teams from all the 47 counties will participate, down from 1,324 that took part last year. Each county will have an opportunity to put forward eight boys’ and four girls’ teams to take part in the games, whose national finals will be held in Kisumu come July. It will be the first time the national finals will be held outside Nairobi.

This year’s tournament has undergone some key changes in its format and will be carried out in an advanced professional structure. Aside from being played in a league format where each team will have to play three games before qualifying for the next round, if they qualify, the formation of the COPA Coca-Cola dream team, a selection of the best players from the tournament, has also been set aside for a structure that is friendly to teams that have always played together. The tournament will also culminate in a COPA reality TV show which will capture the dreams, talents, challenges and performance of key select players at the COPA tournament, leadership skills resilience and all that goes on in the 5 months of the activation.

For those interested in the finances, the winning boys' team will receive a cash prize of Sh500, 000 while (due to lack of affirmative action), the girls will walk away with Sh200,000 at the national level. Runners-up (boys) will pocket Sh200,000 while girls will have to contend with Sh100,000. Also to be feted will be the Best Goalkeeper and Man of the Match who will both return home (hopefully) Sh20,000 richer, and so will be somebody called “The Best Cheering Fan” also pocketing Sh20,000.

 Some of the players discovered through COPA Coca-Cola last season include Steven Odhiambo who plies his trade with Thika United, the sensational Emmanuel Tostao and Edward Seda of AFC Leopards, Felix Omondi of Gor Mahia, Jackson Macharia and  Joseph Kuria of Thika United, Dan Waweru and Ali Ahmed (Western Stima) and Edwin Mwaura (Rangers).

These players have not reached the end of their careers. The fact that they are already playing for major clubs in the Kenyan Premier League just shows they have the talent and they have been given the opportunity to develop it. The onus thus falls on them and the coaches to ensure they develop as players and become role models to those who will pass through the COPA Coca-Cola competition to realize their dreams. 

Most of these players have shown that COPA Coca-Cola can really unveil the next Macdonald Mariga, the COPA Coca-Cola goodwill ambassador, who himself is a beneficiary of the talent search event, having been the first to be discovered in 1999 while playing during a Coca-Cola sponsored tournament dubbed The Coca-Cola Cup.

Timothy Otieno and Emmanuel Kiprop were some of the stars of last year’s competition. The two were even selected to represent Kenya as Official 2010 International flag bearers at the FIFA World Cup for the Italy vs. New Zealand match which was played on 20th June 2010.  If last year’s competition was successful, this year should even be better.

The tournament promises to give junior players mammoth international exposure which Kenya can surely use during international and regional competitions. It will not only be an opportunity for young and upcoming footballers to showcase their skills, ball control, movement, passing, prowess, power, pace, finesse and class, but also for talent scouts to chose, not pick, the crème de la crème in the Kenyan youth football circles.

Kenya has failed to conquer Africa in the past, let alone East Africa. Perhaps if we have the COPA Coca-Cola tournament, discover and nurture some whizkids out of it, that road towards conquering Africa might prove to be shorter and that dream not as deem and farfetched as it looks now.

Some Facts About Kenyan Footblall
FIFA ranking - 127
Highest ranking - 68 December 2008
Lowest FIFA ranking - 137 July 2007
Biggest win 10-0 against Zanzibar in 1961
Biggest loss 13-0 against ghana in December 1965
FIFA World Cup appearances – 0
African Cup of Nations Appearances – 5 (knocked out in first round in all)
Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup Champions – 5 times

And That's thesteifmastertake!!