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Of football, leadership and ethnicity in Kenya

By Kethi D Kilonzo | Mar 30th 2014 | 3 min read

By Kethi D Kilonzo
[email protected]

“You will never walk alone!”

Kenyans are enchanted, better still bewitched, by England’s Barclays Premiership League.  Unlike the AFC Leopards vs Gor Mahia local football rivalry, the almost fanatical support and following of the top teams in the English Premiership is one of the very few things in Kenya that is not coloured by ethnic lenses. 

Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, in that order, are the most successful clubs in top-flight football in England.  The periods of success of these three teams are marked by the periods in which they have had effective managers.  Arsenal has won 13 League titles and 10 FA Cups.  Arsenal’s tally of 13 League wins is the 3rd highest after Manchester United which boasts 20, and Liverpool’s 18.  Arsenal holds the record for the longest unbeaten run in the Premier League at 49 games.  It is also the only team to have gone an entire League season, 2003-2004, unbeaten. 

Arsenal’s success in the late 1990’s and the 1st decade of the 21st Century is attributed to the leadership of Arsene Wenger who was appointed as manager in 1996.  He brought new tactics, a new training regime and several foreign players.  Arsenal finished in either 1st or 2nd place in 8 of Wenger’s first 11 seasons at the club. He is the longest serving manager.  However, it appears his wand has lost its magic. Arsenal has not won a major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup. In his 1000nd game, the team lost 6-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Leadership, even in football it seems, must now and then change hands to pave way for new faces, new thinking and new methods.

Liverpool has won more European trophies than any other English team; 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups and 3 UEFA Super Cups.  The most successful period in its history was the 1970’s and 1980’s when Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley led the club to 11 League titles and 11 European titles.  In 2001, under Houlier, Liverpool won a treble – the FA Cup, the League Cup and the UEFA Cup. 

Liverpool fans were a depressed lot when the team was under the leadership of Rafael Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Daglish.  Under Daglish, the club finished 8th, the worst league finish in 18 years.  Brendan Rogers replaced him; happy days are back at Anfield.  Like Arsenal, Liverpool’s successes are attributed to effective leadership.

The pain Liverpool fans underwent for many seasons has come to bear to Manchester United fans under the mantle of David Moyes.  It wasn’t always doom and gloom at Old Trafford.  Manchester United are not only the most all-time successful English team in top-flight football, they are also the most popular football club in the world.  They have won 20 League titles, 11 FA cups, 4 League Cups, 20 FA Community Shields, 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup Winners Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 1 FIFA World Cup. Many of their glory days were under the leadership of Sir Alex Fergusson. He was their longest serving manager; he has also received the most honors.  Nothing demonstrates the power of effective leadership more than his exit.  Before even the first season is over Manchester United is spread-eagled on its back like a beetle with no hope in sight. 

Every Kenyan fan of Manchester United is demanding for the replacement of David Moyes.  They have enjoyed success for so long, failure is not only alien but painfully so.  Never mind that they may have no audience or say, where football is concerned, Kenyans demand success, effective team members, and leaders who consistently deliver silverware.  There is unanimity in this.  Ethnicity and the worship of individuals is always given a backseat. Will we one day be as united, demanding and ethnically neutral of our country’s managers and top leadership?

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