Which way for Harambee Stars coach Migne?
If Harambee Stars head coach Sébastien Migne did not have an idea of what Kenyans are about since being appointed a year ago, then what ensued after he picked his Africa Cup of Nations squad gave him a sobering experience.
The Frenchman has found himself at the epicentre of a furious and divisive debate between his vocal critics and supporters that literary tore social media into two.
His employers the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) led by the president, Nick Mwendwa, were dragged into the saga as the age-old controversial selection drama played out in public.
Hailed for leading the country back to the AFCON after a 15-year hiatus, Migne quickly found out that in Kenya, a hero can be turned into a villain with the snap of a finger.
Like any other national coach of repute, Migne kept his faith with most of the lads who were involved in clinching a ticket to Egypt.
Inheriting a team that was in shambles, Migne bravely rallied his troops to the promised land.
Kenya is, nevertheless, a unique football nation, where the government, as opposed to FKF due to chronic budgetary constraints plaguing the federation, pays the head coach.
The State has poured Sh244m to the AFCON campaign and Kenyans feel entitled to have a huge say on the composition of the team.
There is nothing untoward with his faith with the squad that he moulded into a formidable defensive unit to reach the AFCON that will run from June 21 to July 19 across six venues in the land of the Pharaohs for the first time in 15 years.
However, this is Kenya, where everything touching on public coffers is often met with a pinch of salt, conspiracy theories - real or imagined - as well as deserved or ill-deserved outcry.
While most had no reservations with majority members of his squads, Migne sparked controversy with choices playing for or associated with SportPesa Premier League (SPL) side Kariobangi Sharks.
Goalkeepers John Oyemba and Brian Bwire, as well as midfielder Ovella Ochieng’, made his AFCON squad along with striker Masud Juma who top-scored for Sharks in the 2017 SPL.
The omission of Zesco United hotshot striker Jesse Were also touched a raw nerve with Migne emphatically stating although the door has not been slammed shut on his international career, he has not scored in 26 internationals to warrant an AFCON place.
Critics pointed out among others; SPL side Ulinzi Stars keeper James Saruni and his in-form striker teammate Enos Ochieng’ with 16 to his credit this season, Mathare United free-scoring midfielder, Cliff Nyakeya (13) or even Sony Sugar sensational forward Derrick Otanga (11) deserved a look in over the so-called ‘Sharks axis’.
South Africa-based Golden Arrows goalie Ian Otieno’s absence also raised eyebrows, especially after a season where he played a vital part their 10th finish in the Premier Soccer League.
Migne - perhaps with or without due merit - stood accused of being a stooge of Mwendwa and therefore, using the AFCON platform to ‘market Sharks players’ at the biggest football tournament in the continent.
“Fraud; Harambee Stars selectors do not know which club Clifton Miheso plays for yet he has been picked in the AFCON provisional squad.
“Massoud Juma has not played actively for any club over the last six months yet he is in the list,” veteran sports journalist, Odindo Ayieko, ranted on his Facebook Page.
“According to Migne, Ovella (Ochieng) is better than Were, but the real joke is out of the 18 Kenyan Premier League clubs, only one team produced two goalkeepers,” he added, capturing the feelings of many of the detractors.
“FT Sony Sugar 2-0 Kariobangi Sharks Please note: The Sharks keeper is in our squad to AFCON,” radio presenter Carol Radull wrote on Twitter, summarising the thoughts of many social media users.
To be fair, not everyone was against the decisions taken by the coach who maintained at his press conference that most if not all the controversial figures would not be on the plane to Cairo.
In some cases such as Bwire, who first stoked national ire when he was blamed for the exit of the Under 23 side to Sudan in the race for the Africa championships that will act as Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualifiers, inclusion is to accustom them to national team experiences as one for the future.
“The coach has done a great job with this team, he has a system which he prefers (and) he knows which players he needs!! Let us support him!! Full stop!! Githeri media will not help,” local rally driver, Issa Amwari wrote.
“The Harambee Stars coach is good. A coach must have a philosophy and principle. The man has stuck with his the team he created, not what the mob and the githeri media want,” Awori Achoka agreed.
Celebrity award-winning boy band, Sauti Sol, backed Migne and his team to excel at the AFCON as well.
“We all know Harambee Stars are gonna win all their group matches and finish top of GROUP C! Tusibishane tafadhali!!! (Let us not argue),” the Sura Yako hit makers wrote on Twitter.
While the divergent debate has been part and parcel of Kenyan topical issues, the divisive split on Migne’s selections come at a time when a whole nation should unite behind the course and rally Stars who will depart on May 31 for a three-week training camp in France.
After promising the national team head coach would be free to run the side when he announced his appointment, Mwendwa and his top brass at FKF should desist from making Migne cut the sorry image of a hostage carrying the wishes of a higher power.
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