Former Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi, Salim Ali not surprised with player’s career progress as they hail his quality.
Without doubt Cliff Nyakeya had a season of mixed fortunes at his Egyptian club FC Masr, recently renamed to ZED, and the national team Harambee Stars last year.
While the former Kenyan Premier League midfielder of the year was among the few bright sparks in an otherwise unpleasant performance from Harambee Stars in the recent 2021 Afcon qualification campaign, he failed to help Masr survive relegation from the Egyptian Premier League.
Nyakeya, 26, produced some impressive displays for both Masr and Harambee Stars, but unfortunately the results didn’t go their way.
The winger’s two goals in 21 appearances for Masr couldn’t save them from relegation after finishing last in the league with a paltry 21 points from 34 matches.
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But he has equally been excellent for Stars netting twice and getting involved in almost all the goals Stars have scored since frustrating African giants Egypt to a famous 1-1 away draw in their opening Group G match in November 2019.
“I’m really humbled to have delivered such a performance in the national team. As you know, it’s never easy to get an opportunity to don the national team colours because there are a lot of players fighting for it, “Nyakeya, who made his Harambee Stars debut against Mozambique in October 2019, told Standard Sports.
In Cairo, he came off the bench to set up Michael Olunga for the equaliser before delivering another assist for Johanna Omollo’s screamer against Togo (1-1) at Kasarani Stadium.
But it is his man of the match performance in Stars 2-1 friendly match win over Zambia at Nyayo Stadium on October 9 that will forever remain etched in Nyakeya’s memory.
The former Gor Mahia Youth and Mathare United midfielder forced an own goal from Tandi Mwape before finally opening his national team’s goal account with a beauty of goal.
And with the newly acquired Al Duhail striker Michael Olunga missing last year’s national team assignments while still at his former Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol due to the coronavirus-related travelling restrictions, Nyakeya stepped up to the plate magnificently in the two-legged 2021 Afcon qualifiers tie against Comoros.
With Kenya trailing 1-0 at Kasarani against 10-man Comoros on November 11, Nyakeya popped up to set up Masud Juma for the equaliser midway through the second half.
Four days later, he took matters in his own hands away in Moroni to cancel out Ben Nabouhane’s opener only for Faiz Mattoir to blow Stars’ qualification chances with the winning goal five minutes into the second half.
Though third-placed Kenya’s hopes of making a back-to-back Afcon qualification look slim, Nyakeya is not giving up.
“I’m honoured to have been involved either directly or indirectly by providing assists for most of the national team’s goals since my debut against Mozambique. How I wish that my performance could have come with positive results for the team. All the same, I know I can still do more and hope and pray that I can keep on climbing the ladder,” he said.
And reflecting on his journey to stardom after winning the best midfielder award in 2018, Nyakeya said that he almost quit football while playing for Gor Mahia Youth in 2014 due to inadequate financial support.
“I’m really proud of where I have come from. It hasn’t been an easy journey. I nearly gave up on playing football when I was at Gor Mahia Youth, but I thank Chris Omondi (Former Gor Mahia Secretary General) for coming to my rescue,” he said.
“It was really tough at Gor Mahia Youth because they didn’t offer me any financial assistance and at that time I was also living with a relative who was not very stable financially.
Despite Nyakeya facing an uncertain future at Masr after relegation, former Harambee Stars and Mathare United coach Francis Kimanzi is impressed with his development.
The current Wazito coach was at the helm of Mathare when Nyakeya left for Masr.
“I think Nyakeya was outstanding last season not only in the qualifiers but also at his club bearing in mind that it was his first time to play abroad. Maybe it is because of the level of competition in the Egyptian league and the quality of the players at Masr that made them to struggle,” said Kimanzi.
“But for him as an individual, he has been making a difference when it comes to the national team.”
Kimanzi’s sentiments were echoed by his successor at Mathare United Salim Ali.
“He’s a quality player and I believe the two goals he’s scored for the national team so far justify that. Having been with a relegation-bound team, he needed mental strength to perform.”