Exploits of Junior Stars offer hope for football future

 

Louise Ingavi of Kenya contests for the ball with Abasi Kyeyune of Uganda during the finals of the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) Under-18 Boys Championship held at Jomo Kenyatta Stadium in Kisumu on December 08, 2023. [Oliver Ananda, Standard]

The national Under-18 boys team’s stellar performance in the Cecafa Championship that ended yesterday was a revelation of the potential that the country holds.

Watching the Junior Stars’ exploits on the pitch was a joy for the thousands of fans who thronged Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium in Kisumu. 

The 20,000 seating capacity stadium was packed to the rafters as residents from Kisumu and nearby counties thronged the facility to marvel at the Kenyans’ tiki-taka style of football that saw the youngsters sweep aside Sudan, Somalia, and Rwanda, scoring 10 goals in the process.

Only Tanzania offered a stiff challenge, with the teams drawing 0-0 in the semi-finals before Junior Stars won in a penalty shoot-out to reach the final where they faced a more experienced and physical Ugandan side, falling 2-1.

Despite not lifting the trophy, there is no doubt coaches Salim Babu and Anthony Akhulia did a superb job in preparing the team for the tournament and the results were there for all to see, both in the fluidity of the game and how the youngsters gelled into a cohesive outfit. They were simply sublime in all departments.

Their performance offers hope that Kenya is on the verge of fulfilling its potential on the international football scene if more effort is put into nurturing nascent youth talent.

The Cecafa tournament coincided with the Talanta Hela National Under-19 Inter-County Football Tournament, which started in Nakuru on December 3, bringing together both men and women teams from various counties.

For long, the government has repeatedly failed to identify and promote youth talent in sports.

This task has largely been left to schools, where the likes of Adrian Kibet, who put up a star performance in the Cecafa tournament, emerged from, individual coaches, corporates such as Coca-Cola and Safaricom, or private academies.

While Kibet and others have already secured placement in football academies abroad, this is an area that both the national and county governments need to invest in if we are to ensure future success.

In May this year, then Sports Principal Secretary Jonathan Mueke revealed plans to set up football academies in all major stadiums in the country.

Mueke said the plan was to send scouts from Kasarani to search for talent countrywide. But to date, nothing much has been heard of it. 

The ball is firmly in Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba’s court. The CS, who has been passionate about Talanta Hela, should ensure that this initiative is actualised.

Monetising this talent must be prioritised if the country is serious about opening up opportunities for our young people.

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