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Aldrine Kibet: The next big thing in Kenyan football

Aldrine Kibet of Kenya's Junior Stars in action against Rwanda at Jomo Kenyatta Stadium in Kisumu.[FKF]

In a dazzling showcase of skill and precision Aldrine Kibet left an imprint on the 2023 Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) U18 Championships in Western Kenya.

At just 17 years old, the youngster, currently honing his craft at Spain's Nastic Academy, left spectators in awe at the bustling Bukhungu and Jomo Kenyatta Stadiums, prompting them to rise from their seats.

Kibet is not just an emerging star but also changing the story of Kenyan football.

From a little-known village of Poror in Baringo County, Kibet has blossomed into a true inspiration for young football enthusiasts in the region.

“The roots of my football journey trace back to my father who sparked my love for the sport when I was around four years old. He handed me a ball, and from there, my passion flourished. Playing around the compound became a daily routine, and my father's continuous support, evident in his repeated provision of footballs, fueled my growing affection for the game,” he recalled.

Hailing from a county renowned for its athletic prowess, boasting a legacy adorned with legendary names like Paul Tergat, Mathew Birir, Joshua Chelanga, and Mary Keitany, Kibet is acutely aware of the prevailing preference for athletics over football.

Kenya's Junior Stars attackerAldrine Kibet showcasing his football skills after an interview.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Nevertheless, his achievements stand as a powerful testament to the profound impact of exposure. Through unwavering tenacity and dedication, he stands tall as a beacon of hope, demonstrating that triumph in football is not only attainable but also instrumental in nurturing the development of budding talents.

Though Kenya lost 2-1 to Uganda in the final, Kibet's remarkable performance at the Cecafa tournament was nothing short of spectacular as he secured the Golden Boot award with three goals. Partnering seamlessly with the likes of Tyron Kariuki, Stanley Omondi and Louise Ingavi upfront, he turned the field into a spectacle every time he touched the ball, captivating fans from all over the country at the fully packed stadium.

The Kenyan crowd, including 300 youths from his constituency, Eldama Ravine constituency, came not just to support Kenya but to witness the next big thing in Kenyan football. The support from his constituency reflected pride and admiration, marking a significant moment in Kenya’s most popular sport.

However, the finals brought heartbreak to Kenyans as the Junior Stars lost 2-1 to their Ugandan counterparts. Despite the disappointment, Kibet remains focused on the ultimate goal of leading the team to glory in future tournaments.

Aldrine Kibet (center) with his mother Irene Kwalia (left), Father Christopher Komen (right) and siblings Cherryl Jemutai (second left) and Oliver kibet(second right) posing for a photo after an interview.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Amid the exuberant crowd, every time stands a familiar figure, Kibet's unwavering pillar of support, his mother Irene Kwalia. Through the years, she has been a constant presence, never missing a match where her son graces the field.

“I have attended every match he’s played, providing unwavering support and motivation as I realised how much he valued parental encouragement. Since his move to Spain, staying connected has been challenging, and we primarily communicate through WhatsApp," said Kwalia, Kibet’s mother.

Kibet's father, Christopher Komen said he doesn’t regret making his son love football.

“Recognising his passion for the sport, I made it a priority to ensure he always had a ball. Understanding the importance of consistent practice, I read somewhere that to become a professional footballer, one must touch the ball 10 million times. Kibet had a ball with him all the time – even placing it on the mosquito net above his bed while sleeping. Each morning, before breakfast, the ball was his first focus,” recalls Komen.

At St Anthony's Boys Kitale, Kibet left an indelible mark with impressive performances at the 2023 school games, scoring a staggering 25 goals and providing 27 assists. His exceptional contributions played a pivotal role in securing Solidarity Boys’ record-breaking sixth national title at the Kenya Secondary School Sports Association (KSSSA) games.

His stunning display didn’t go unnoticed as Kibet earned a football scholarship in Spain. The culmination of his school journey led him to Nastic Academy in Barcelona, where he currently refining his skills.

"I’m in Spain for two reasons; to study and improve my football skills. Nastic Academy has been great for both studying and playing football. Looking ahead, I'm determined to become a professional player in the next five years because of my dedication and passion,” said Kibet.

Kenya's Junior Stars attacker Aldrine Kibet showcasing his football skills after an interview.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Three months after setting foot on the grounds of Nastic Academy in Spain, Kibet paints a vivid picture of his new life in the Southern European nation.

"Our daily schedule is well-planned to help us do our best. In the morning, we have an energising training session from 8 to 9:30, followed by classes starting at 10.00 am. After studying, we take a short break and have lunch at 2:30. In the afternoon, we focus on more training, and as the sun goes down, we have mental coaching or gym activities in different groups. The day ends with dinner at 8:30 pm, and then we have free time until we go to bed at 10:00 pm. This routine helps us develop," shared Kibet.

One notable highlight of his experience so far includes witnessing a spectacle at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on November 8, a UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid and Braga. In this exhilarating encounter, the home team bagged a resounding 3-0 victory, courtesy of goals from Brahim Díaz, Vinicius Junior, and Rodrigo Silva.

“After that Real Madrid and Braga match, a friendly game was organised against an opponent whose name I can't recall. Nevertheless, it was a captivating match, and we performed exceptionally well, securing a 2-1 victory. Post-match, the Real Madrid coaches showed interest in our performance and expressed their intentions, saying they would talk more with our coaching staff,” said Kibet.

Though he failed to sit for his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations, Kibet passionately emphasises that Nastic Sports Academy has not only allowed him to further his education but has also seamlessly facilitated his studies.

“The education system in Spain, though somewhat different, encompasses a rich array of subjects, from mathematics to English, and now I am studying linguistics. I can say so far the Academy has been instrumental in shaping my academic and football journey,” he said.

Reflecting on his junior national team debut at Cecafa U18 tournament, Kibet candidly acknowledges the challenges encountered by the national team. Limited training time emerged as a significant hurdle, casting a shadow on their preparedness. However, in the crucible of competition, these challenges metamorphosed into invaluable lessons and a collective determination that defined their journey.

Kenya's Junior Stars attacker Aldrine Kibet showcasing his football skills after an interview.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Despite these challenges, there was a sense of joy that came from the experience, helping them grow as a team. He says learning to work together and handle tough situations was a crucial lesson for the youngsters. As the top scorer, he stays focused on the main goal – leading the team to victory in future assignments.

“Being named the top scorer is a great personal achievement, and it shows our dedication to winning the tournament. However, there's a bit of mixed emotion because true happiness would have come from winning as a team. Still, this recognition boosts my confidence for future games, and I'm grateful for reaching this personal milestone,” he said.

As Kibet continues to make a name for himself on the international stage, the family's pride and joy are evident. Even as he is enjoying his stint in Spain, his main aim is to secure a professional deal in the coming few years with Arsenal being his dream destination.

Though he is an avid Gunners supporter and adores Argentina captain Lionel Messi, a soft-spoken Kibet expresses his aspirations to play professional football for a well-known European club.

"In the next five years, my goal is to become a professional footballer, and Arsenal is my dream destination. Nevertheless, I am open to playing for any respected football club," he stated.

As Kibet and his family members prepared to leave Poror village on Monday to join other Kenyans in celebrating Jamhuri day celebration in Nairobi, he left a message to the aspiring footballers.

“I want to convey a message to my fellow youth and young boys aspiring to achieve success in football: your dreams are valid. If you aspire to be a star in football, dream about it and set your sights on it. Don't simply relax; work diligently towards your goal. As long as you remain hardworking, disciplined, and humble, doors will open for you. Most importantly, stay prayerful, as faith and dedication can play a crucial role in realising your aspirations,” said Kibet.

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