An inconvenient truth about the tenure of Stanley Okumbi at the helm of Harambee Stars is that it will cost Kenyan soccer several years of progress. It will also waste a generation of footballers who would have gained directly or indirectly from these qualifiers either from rankings or participation in AFCON. When dangling from the ledge of a building, one doesn’t worry about making the dean’s list or getting promoted to vice president. One merely looks forward to the next visit to the bathroom.
This is the circumstance in which Okumbi’s incompetence has driven Harambee Stars. Harambee Stars has zero points after the first match of 2019 AFCON qualifiers, in a group that has Ghana and Ethiopia. Kenyans are made to seem desperate early in a qualifier.
Stanley Okumbi didn’t become a bad coach last week. He was an inept tactical manager with bad ideas at Mathare United two years ago. If the top clubs locally: Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Tusker, Ulinzi, Sofapaka could not even consider a glance to his C.V. why would the national team give him a job? Perhaps such a fact prevailed upon Victor Wanyama to invite him to Tottenham for further one week training. He must have seen a serious deficiency in his coaching and managerial attributes.
The simplest explanation for Okumbi’s calamities when it matters most is ineptitude. His insatiable drive to prove himself worthy of the job even when by all accounts he is not is proving costly for this country. Those who defend Okumbi tend to be of a single variety: Kenya has had qualified coaches, even the foreigners, and never qualified so why not give him a chance? This kind of arguments is what is fueling Okumbi’s arrogance and in extension his employer Nick Mwendwa. It is important to note those “mzungus” were never facilitated to excel. How many matches were at their disposal to test different tactics and players? Okumbi has been facilitated.
It has not taken long for criticism of Okumbi to escalate during his second spell of playing a major qualifier. His lack of tactical knowledge, penchant for using unqualified players, playing players out of position and habit for giving ludicrous excuses for defeats and instead of blaming his lineup selections or his own game plans – are becoming perpetual talking points among those against his appointment and hence advocating for change.
Most obnoxiously is that Okumbi doesn’t seem to learn, even while on the job. The issue of capping players that are unfit technically, tactically and mentally to play such high profile matches is an issue many thought was the past after a disastrous experiment with Patillah Omotto against Guinea Bissau. Untested Masoud Juma was given a starting berth away to Sierra Leone. His shambolic performance was as conspicuous as ever. Does Masoud Juma rank ahead of John Makwatta, or Allan Wanga or even Humphrey Mieno in the Kenyan attack pecking order? In such matches there is no margin for error. Concentration and quality in front of goal is key and according to Okumbi’s analysis “Stars created four clear chances and scored one while Sierra Leone created four and scored two” sums up the fact we lacked quality in front of goal in the name of Masoud Juma. He is employed to get results not to say things that may be deemed correct. Period!!!
It is not a coincidence that unqualified players given caps in such high profile matches are all coming from one club – Kariobangi Sharks, which is also not a coincidence that the owner is the same FKF president who handed Okumbi a job he didn’t deserve. It’s not that Kariobangi Sharks players don’t deserve to be called to the national team, but it should be on merit. Currently none of the players, apart from Osborne Monday, deserve even a call up. They should work hard; improve their skills and importantly their mental ability for a call up to the national team. Mediocrity begets mediocrity. The mediocre process which led to Okumbi’s appointment is the same process now being used in national team player selection.
A coach can only mess around with formations and personnel during friendly matches. Okumbi has enjoyed an unprecedented number of friendlies matches organized by the federation – credit to Nick Mwendwa on that, but will be the first coach (whether foreign or local) to receive unprecedented support from the federation and still fail. Talk of incompetence. Okumbi is winning when it doesn’t matter and losing when it matters. It’s good to win in friendly matches, it’s not critical. Okumbi has been in 4 major AFCON qualifiers. He has lost 3; 2 against Guinea Bissau, 1 against Sierra Leone and drawn one against Zambia. At 75% losing rate one doesn’t need rocket science to know the direction he is taking Harambee Stars. Kenya will be “rewarded” by CAF and FIFA for improving in the rankings while the ranks of Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon will always be rewarded for winning championships. What a lopsided benchmarking criteria. Never have I seen a country’s football prowess determined by the number of friendly matches won but championships. Heck Kenya doesn’t even qualify for these championships.
In his post-match interview at the airport upon arrival, he posed “Does it mean if you score goals in the league you will score goals in the national team?”. This was in reference as to why Masoud Juma (2 goals in KPL and inexperienced) started ahead of Stephen Waruru (7 goals in KPL and experienced). This sort of perspective is seen by many as arrogant or at least dismissive and it combined with the loss away to a country ranked 39 places below Kenya without an active league, has only fueled Okumbi’s critics. So what criteria does he use to select players if it’s not about form and experience? Then why did he select Boniface Oluoch in goal instead of Patrick Matasi, or Anthony Akumu instead of Ernest Wendo? His statement is contradictory and only fuels the notion he doesn’t know what he is doing hence a misfit for the head coach role of Harambee Stars. He is not reasonable and his selection actions suggest he did not consider the potential benefits and consequences of his decisions, and is now acting irrationally. He does not have the judgement to lead. He doesn’t have the management skills. He lets his emotions overshadow logic to the detriment of the national team. He cannot be trusted to make sound decisions.
The tinkering of line ups and formations only make players uncomfortable. Tactical consistency helps especially in qualifiers where there isn’t enough time for training. A coach has only 6 matches to qualify and we have already lost one. Recent history has shown us that predicting the percentage of something happening doesn’t really matter. But for the sake of reference, when was the last time Harambee Stars lost her first match in a major qualifier and still went ahead to qualify? Fielding unworthy players makes players start asking questions and lose respect for the coach. There are usually indicators when a coach has lost a locker room. A few players abstained from national team duty to attend club duties. It’s not that they are afraid to compete for their respective positions but deep inside they know far worse players will get the nod ahead of them defeating the purpose of competition which is the main purpose of playing football. If there isn’t any competition for places in the national team in training or via performances in the league, there can never be competition for Harambee Stars to win and qualify for major tournaments. Arnold Origi has quietly been left out of the squad willingly or unwillingly because of his character to enquire why certain issues aren’t addressed. It is the same senior leaders like Origi whom Okumbi will need to motivate their teammates to fight for him. Instead he chooses to alienate such players instead of managing them. He can’t handle such egos. And where these things come together, at the convergence of poor judgement and losing the locker room, is the awful performance of Harambee Stars. The discontent is starting to reveal itself.
If a player can be flown all the way from England, China, Sweden, South Africa or Zambia only to receive a paltry ksh. 750 from the federation (forget about the government), and when the federation chief queried “Do they look hungry?” in his response to the saga, sums up about the condescending attitude meted towards players rights who are expected to carry the national flag and win. Nick Mwendwa is far from delusional when it comes to psychological preparation of big matches. Money is a motivating factor. It is the same individuals, including the head coach that will take credit for the success of the national team even after the major players of the success die in destitution. Okumbi’s conspicuous silence on the meagre allowances debate is testament he doesn’t care about the players’ welfare and in extension the success of Harambee Stars at the international platform. How will players perform for a manager who doesn’t care about their welfare? Does Okumbi care about the most important aspect for any sports personality which is his mental state – psychology?
What’s the purpose of having a bloated technical bench if we can’t get a simple task like fielding correct? Does Okumbi listen to the other coach’s advice? What are their specific individual roles within the technical bench if for example Frank Ouna seems to be working as a physical trainer rather than a coach? Aren’t we demeaning hence diminishing their influence on the national team? Why not use the advice and experience of Musa Otieno (105 caps) in such matches? Is Musa comfortable with how shambolic things are done?
Okumbi seems unconcerned about his job status. This is because he cannot be fired for failing to achieve the country’s objectives but his master’s objective. His master, Nick Mwendwa seems comfortable with the direction things are taking. Nick Mwendwa cannot fire Okumbi at this juncture because it would mean admitting that he had made the wrong move. His ego cant allow that.
Sorry FKF, sorry Nick Mwendwa but the litmus test on Okumbi isn’t working. Okumbi is digging a hole we may never come out of. If we cannot compete against the likes of Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau hence qualify for AFCON how will we then qualify for the world cup? For a country that wants to improve soccer standards, turning a blind eye to such comedians creates a perception of ambivalence. This 2022 world cup rhetoric is not only a fallacy but a mirage.
Harold Ndege is a former Tusker FC Player and Sports Consultant