By OMULO OKOTH
Football fans who are familiar with the career of George Weah will always remember a story of the former world footballer of the year.
That he coached and single-handedly financed the Liberian national team, The Lone Star, in its unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 2002 Fifa World Cup.
Weah, the best footballer never to have featured in a World Cup, just fell short in qualifying by a single point. He was playing, coaching and financing the team’s travel, and accommodation.
Few players have the wherewithal to undertake such an expensive and daring investment, which even national federations occasionally find challenging.
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But Weah, known as George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah, who spent 14 years playing for some of Europe’s richest clubs, did that. Whether he was doing it with his subsequent presidential bid in mind is neither here nor there. But he did it. After all, in 1995, he scored a hat-trick of World, European and African footballer of the year.
Here, the footballer coming nearest to Weah in terms of achievement and status is MacDonald Mariga Wanyama. Two years ago, the current Serie A side Parma midfielder, also won a hat-trick with Inter Milan with whom he won the UEFA Champions League, the Serie A and Italian Cup.
We don’t like mentioning figures earned by Kenyan sportsmen because of the experience of our gallant athletes, but Mariga, who horned his talent at Kamukunji High School under teacher and mentor Peter Orero, earned loads of it two years ago.
Dennis Oliech of French Ligue 1 side AJ Auxerre is another Grand Prix player. His ostentatious life style tells it all. Oliech never hides the fact that he is not doing badly off, after all.
By their status, Mariga and Oliech are our most celebrated players and can, like Weah, if called upon, meet financial obligations for the national team without breaking much sweat. Mariga was even assigned an ambassadorial role with the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, a responsibility which comes with huge expectations.
This is a big deal folks. This is why I found it intriguing that the son of former AFC Leopards star player, Noah Wanyama, should walk out of the national team, Harambee Stars for no-refund of Sh1.2 million he reportedly spent on his air fares from Italy.
Much as he had a genuine case, which could have been handled administratively, walking out of the team did not reflect well on him, given his status and achievements.
The qualifying match against Togo for the 2013 African Cup of Nations finals in South Africa, last Wednesday ended in Kenya’s favour. But Mariga’s absence, under such unsavoury circumstances, could have easily dampened the mood of Kenyan football fans.
A disclosure by a close family member that the air tickets issue may not even be the real reason, but only an excuse, did not make the matter any better. According to the family member, Mariga has a beef with national coach Francis Kimanzi following the latter’s comments about the player’s ability, which he found inappropriate.
This throws the whole thing into a spin. But I want to commend Football Kenya Federation for assuring the public that no punitive action will be taken against Mariga. His place in the national team is intact. But that his demands for refund must be handled administratively and that the FKF will only pay what can be justified.
If indeed, part of the refund should have been handled by the Harambee Stars Management Board under Dr Evans Kidero, and that Mariga travelled to Kenya for the Seychelles match knowing he was injured, then it raises more questions than answers.
But, I firmly believe that Harambee Stars need Mariga and that his issue should be resolved amicably, outside the glare of the Media, and that he should be in a position to play in the remaining qualifying matches for the 2013 Afcon.
— The writer is The Standard Sports Editor