Let's win back football players in Diaspora

As Divock Origi stroked a quickly taken corner past a shocked Barcelona goalkeeper to send Liverpool through to the Champions League final, it got me thinking about local sporting teams. Divock is the son of Michael Okoth Origi, who, for the sake of younger readers, played for Kenya 120 times from 1989 until 2004, scoring 28 times, and spent a big part of his career playing in Belgium. While his father was playing for KV Oostende, Divock was born and bred in the Western European nation.

In 2013, as Divock was plying his trade for French Ligue 1 side Lille, the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) tried to convince him to play internationally for Kenya. He had not even turned 18. “This is a very promising lad. We are all aware that the main problem with the national team, and even the local league is the striking department. We cannot afford to lose this boy, as he has a long successful career ahead of him and we want it to be with the Harambee Stars,” Kenya FA’s head of technical committee Elly Mukolwe said at the time.

Unfortunately for the Harambee Stars, Divock, who had already turned out for Belgium’s U15, U16, U17 teams and the U19 side, decided to continue playing for the Belgian national team, playing and scoring in the World Cup. Many understand Divock’s decision to stick with his country of his birth, who are real World Cup contenders, playing alongside some of the best players in the world like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. The idea of Origi playing for Kenya is now a thing of the past, but we should be thinking ahead of how to track and tap the potential of young Kenyans abroad.

In his speech during the April during the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade, President Uhuru Kenyatta called on Africans to reach out to its brothers and sisters around the world. In fact, he has a number of times emphasized the need to have Kenyans in Diaspora reconnect actively with their motherland. Besides other critical economic and social implications that this link would bear, the local sporting arena stands to reap a lot. Obviously, Divock is not in Europe because of the slave trade, but he will always be part of the Kenyan Diaspora, was eligible to showcase the green, red and black colours to the world.

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The football’s global governing body Fifa requires a player to demonstrate a “clear connection” to any country they wish to represent. Even if a player were to represent one country at youth international level he could still play for another at senior international level, provided that the player applied before their 21st birthday. This means that we should be scouring the leagues of Europe looking for the next Divock Origi, or even the next Victor Wanyama, who thankfully has represented us at every level. We should be looking for anyone with Kenyan ancestry and convincing them to play for Harambee Stars.

Obviously, our current fortunes do not make the Kenyan national team one of the most exciting prospect in the world, but it has worked for other under-performing national teams in the past.

Anyone who remembers the success the Republic of Ireland national team had in the 1980s and 1990s will recall that majority of the squads that manager Jack Charlton put together had players with a very minimal connection to the country. However, Charlton was able to assemble talented youngsters with Irish ancestry, who left a mark in international football competitions.

Closer home, Nigeria has successfully tempted the likes of Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi to play for the Super Eagles after representing England at Under-16s. It is therefore remarkable that the Government is reaching out to Kenyans abroad through the issuance of new generation passports and even the Huduma Namba. It’s also noteworthy that whenever he travels abroad, the president meets with the Kenyan Diaspora to discuss ways in which they can maintain strong connections. Such gestures can only bring them closer to their motherland. Our sporting administrators should follow this route, drawing up lists of promising athletes with a clear connection to Kenya and convincing them to take a chance on us. 

- The writer is Murang’a County Woman Representative

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Divock OrigiDiasporaFootball Players