Former Harambee Stars and Gor Mahia midfield wizard Sammy Owino ‘Kempes’ feels he is the right man to transform Kenyan football.
Owino, who made his national team debut in 1978 at the age of 18, also featured for Luo Union and Re-Union. He is considered as one of the best midfielders Kenya has ever produced thanks to his skills and mastery of the game. He was idolised by many fans across the country.
Having built his AYSES Academy in Texas, United States, from a scratch and being a product of the famous, Youth Olympic Centres, the U.S Soccer Federation Level A coaching license holder says with transparent leadership and good investment in youth structures and academies, he can help Kenya restore its lost glory both regionally and continentally.
AYSES Academy, which has over 700 players and seven fields, sits on a 32-acre land.
“I’ve been in the US for quite a while now, and I have been involved in football matters for a long period, in different capacities, and I’m grateful of the lives we have changed there through our academy,” Owino told Standard Sports.
“I’ve accomplished a lot there, and I’ve been quite successful and I feel it’s time for me to come back and contribute to football in Kenya as well. So, I’m very excited about the idea of coming back and applying what I’ve experienced and learnt over there, come back home and put it to work here.
“I take football differently because of the opportunities it has provided for me in my life. That’s why I have a passion for this, I don’t have the need to steal money but what drives me is what can be done to the youth of this country.”
With the vast experience he has gained through management of academies and the connection he has across the world, Owino insists that Kenya must go back to the default settings to become a football powerhouse again.
He revealed that his academy has exported a couple of players to Bundesliga teams thanks to its partnership with a certain organization in Germany.
“There’s no doubt that Kenya is struggling currently because of a lack of great academies like the Olympics Youth Centres. I’m surprised with the thinking here, that we expect to do well when we don’t have good infrastructure. To me, academies are the foundation of a successful footballing nation,” said Owino.
“You can once in a while do well in something, but if you want to be consistent you must have a strong foundation. As a country we must recognise that and put a lot of emphasis in the development of academies and invest in it; If we do that, we will have a strong national team, and that’s exactly what the Olympics Youth Centres did for us. We literally owned the East and Central Club Championships and Senior Challenge, and a lot of players were from the Olympics Youth Centres. Academies are critical in the development of football in any country.”
He continued; “I was a product of the Olympics Youth Centre, and as a result of it Kenya did pretty well for many years because of the investment they made in the youth academy. So, given my experience with the Olympics Youth Centre, I fashioned my academy the same way. That’s how AYSES Academy was born.
“From then we have grown quite a bit. I had a vision of the kind of club I wanted, and it has become a reality. Thanks to the two, we have changed a lot of lives there.”
But he was quick to blame poor leadership and corruption as the root cause of Kenyan football problems. He believes such things have made sponsors shun away from the game.
“I think Kenyan football is a true reflection of our society as a whole. We have a cultural problem of corruption there, that’s the number one enemy. So, how do we fight this monster at the federation level? It’s imperative we get the people who are not corrupt. Secondly, we must get competent people. You can get people who are not corrupt, but if they are not competent they will not be able to do the job,” said Owino, who is an electrical engineer by profession.
“Corporate sponsorships will not be involved in our football, if we are corrupt. The first thing that needs to happen is to build credibility and transparency. So, if we have those two, then competent and visionary people, I’m very much confident the corporate world will follow the game. I’m involved a lot with corporate sponsorships in the US, and what they always want to know is how much value they will get for their money. Corporates will not support you if they feel their money is not put to good use.
“If we have a performing national team and leagues managed properly, sponsors will follow you. I strongly believe if the right people come in place, money is not going to be an issue in the game.”
Asked why he is suddenly seriously concerned with Kenyan football and if he is planning to contest in the upcoming FKF elections, Owino said: “I’m very interested in FKF leadership. But at this point and time, it’s a bit hard to say where exactly I can fit in. But I have a vision on how our football needs to be managed, but you can only implement those ideas when you are serving in a certain capacity. My feeling is that if I can get the opportunity to serve the Kenyans in any capacity and become the next generation of leadership to make the change, I can contribute quite a lot in the game.
“We all know what’s wrong with Kenyan football. We know the politics with our game and the challenges we face. But will we allow the elections to be run fairly without any complications and corruption?
“I like the aspect of being part of FKF because if you are doing the right thing, you will be protected by Fifa for the right reasons. That’s why we need the right people to run the federation.”
Though he regrets that his academy has not directly benefited many Kenyans, he intends to build a multi-million football complex in Kajiado.
“The unfortunate thing is that it's really difficult for the academy to directly benefit people in Kenya, it’s really complicated. But we do have a lot of Kenyans in the US who do attend our academy. I think for me, what I see in my value right now is how do I transport what I’ve gained from my experience of building an academy, building infrastructure like facilities and running leagues to Kenya,” he said.
“Many times I’ve been complaining about Kenyan football, but at some point I told myself I need to stop complaining and do something about it, be part of the solution. So, I’ve made a decision that I will come back to this country and contribute to football in any way I can and make sure that I bring that experience here.
“I have a vision of Kenyan football, which touches on the academy, national teams (Men, women, youth), league management across board and infrastructure. But the biggest question is, will I get the opportunity to be involved in that?”
He said he has been contributing to Kenyan football by collaborating with former Harambee Stars coach Jacob Mulee, Musa Otieno and Rishad Shedu.
"I’ve been helping Kenyan football for quite a while now, it’s just because I’ve not made it public. I’ve been contributing in many ways to a lot of youth academies programs here. There are some individuals like Rashid Shedu, Jacob Mulee, Musa Otieno and Austin Oduor who are doing a good job. I’ve worked with all of them together with Umeme FC," said Owino.
"I’ve been coming and giving equipment and stuff like that to some academies. But that’s not good enough because equipment and financial support always go away very quickly. And so, my intention is to come back here physically and be involved in whatever capacity. Right now, I’ve started a foundation called ‘Friends of Football’ together with Sammy Sholei, and we are putting together a team that will distribute football uniforms to various teams across the country. My hope is that we can grow bigger and do more than that."