Category Archives: Football

KENYAN FOOTBALLERS NEED TO INTROSPECT: LESSONS LEARNT FROM GEORGE ‘JOJO’ WAWERU (AND OTHERS)

It was the 2019 AFCON qualifiers games last week, and we were up against Ethiopia. We desperately needed to beat them in order to have a shot at qualifying for the tournament.

The first leg of the fixture was in Ethiopia, with both teams unable to score. The game ended in a barren draw, and I for one could feel my heart sink.

What if the Wallas managed to beat us in our home turf? The Stars have not always been particularly consistent in terms of performance; what if they had chosen this second leg as the perfect opportunity to drop the ball? (figuratively and otherwise).

Please don’t forget about all of the financial hardships our national team has had to endure this year. Delayed allowances and delayed staff remuneration were bound to have a detrimental effect on the morale of the team.

However, these were apparently cleared up before the second leg of the tie (thank you Jesus! But it is seriously shameful to see how poorly funds are managed within our sports fraternity)

I would have been mortified if we lost at home.

But we did not lose.

If you watched the second leg of the Ethiopia-Kenya tie, like I did, that performance must be etched in the upper echelons of your limbic system.

You, just like me, must be thoroughly impressed with our boys’ performance. We won 3-0 in a must win fixture and it was my best football experience this month, of course after our (Arsenal’s) 5-1 thrashing of Fulham earlier this month.

There has been some debate in some quarters on the financial benefits that teams accrue for reaching different levels of this and other CAF competitions, but this post is not about that.

(although a 166%increase in prize money for the winner is quite an impressive financial incentive. Maybe if we at least manage to reach the quarter finals, we can stop relying on handouts to support the Stars).

This post is about how we treat, train, and guide these sports men and women who make us so proud as a nation. These individuals who invoke in us a sense of nationhood. Individuals who make us proud to be called Kenyans, albeit for one game or one race. They are doing something worth celebrating; but most importantly, worth protecting.

Being a Kenyan is one of the most difficult roles under the sun- there is constant disappointment literally everyday and everywhere you look- but the way these individuals use their talents to put us on the world map- that is indeed something we need to hold dear, guard and guide.

But we have failed to do so… miserably!

The last time Kenya qualified for the AFCON tournament was in 2004 in Tunisia under the able leadership of Jacob Ghost Mulee.

In the lineup was a young, brilliant defender who played a crucial role in helping us qualify for the tournament. His name is George ‘Jojo’ Waweru. He is among the last generation of Kenyan players to have played in the AFCON competition.

He has won several accolades throughout his football career, which included winning the KPL title as a Tusker FC player.

Sadly, his career took a nosedive after suffering a neck injury while training for the AFCON game against Mali. He was literally abandoned and left to his own devices by the league, by his club, by his government, and by his country men.

News reports indicate that he has been battling with alcoholism for years after being abandoned, and this has had a tremendous impact on his health.

He is currently admitted in hospital owing to alcohol-related complications where his condition is reported as being grievously ill.

Unfortunately, he is not the only legendary footballer who is ailing, living in squalor, and addicted to alcohol amongst other drugs.

I’ve heard numerous stories of Kenyan football legends who have been forced to eke out a living from menial jobs such as sweeping the streets.

They are so many and it’s a situation that has been repeated year after year, squad after squad. Worse still, we don’t seem to want to fix the problem.

Remember the Kadenge story I wrote earlier this year? As I was doing the research for that article, it dawned on me that this man-this hero has been suffering financially and health-wise for several decades after hanging his football boots despite being the biggest legend in Kenyan football history.

Watching the match between the Wallas and the Stars on Sunday, I couldn’t help but feel anxious about these men’s futures.

Will they end up on the same path as JoJo and the others?

Do they know that there is life after football? Do they understand how short a football career can be especially one occasioned by injury?

Do they have basic money management skills? Have they started saving for retirement?

Are they getting paid their worth? (Doubtful especially when you consider delayed payments both at the national or club level)

Are they investing the little money they do get in order to multiply their sources of income?

Or are they drinking it away- living for today with absolutely no consideration for tomorrow; chasing a celebrity lifestyle that they cannot afford to maintain- not with their pay and not in this economy.

Do they know that their so-called friends will desert them immediately their hard earned money runs out?

What about their minds? Are they taking care of their minds? Are they furthering their education? Are they investing their time in acquiring skills that can make them an asset even after hanging their football cleats?

Do they have the mental strength and resilience to avoid the alcoholism and drug abuse trap- a scourge that has permeated to the very fabric of our nation- destroying each of us including children everywhere you look?

We live in a nation where alcohol advertisements form the bulk of adverts on TV, and on billboards, in newspapers and on social media. We’ve made consumption of alcohol so cool and so alluring that it has become a national culture. We entice people to enter into alcohol and drug abuse, but we abandon them when they are overcome with addiction, and cannot get out.

Can they withstand the pressure and not follow their peers into this death trap?

Do they understand the gravity of the fact that the Kenyan Government, their clubs, FKF, and the country they play for will not give a hoot about them when they leave the game? If it takes months for them to receive their dues now when they are active, how much worse will they be treated once they retire?

Twenty years from now, where will each of these Stars be?

If I’ll be there, will I be penning another sad story of a fallen football hero, addicted to drugs and alcohol and unable to pay his own medical bills?

I don’t want that. I don’t want to see people who once gave me so much joy, who had a chance to be bigger than we have ever imagined, and who consistently put their bodies on the line for national pride end up poor, deserted, sick, dejected, and plagued by alcohol and substance abuse.

I don’t want that.

So, I’m calling on all Kenyan footballers, regardless of club, league, or whether they play for the national team or not- to learn from the mistakes of the legends who have gone before them, and purpose to be better;

To learn how to manage their income with tomorrow in mind;

To discern that this is a short term career and they need to develop alternative sources of income now before they retire;

To shun bad company (slay queen’s are not your friends; neither are your boys if all they want to do is drink your money or invest in shady deals);

and to know that in this country, heroes are treated badly, literally abandoned, after their service to the nation.

Anyway, back to the present. Let’s wait to see if we have to play Sierra Leone or not.

Good luck Stars; AFCON here we come!!

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USHERING IN THE 2018/19 PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON

By Lennox Kimtai

The 2018/19 Premier League season is here. How time flies! Just the other day we were enjoying the World Cup in Russia. Talking of the World Cup, I must say it was one of the best, if not THE best world cup tournament I have ever watched.

The drama started early in the group stages, where the 2014 winners Germany were eliminated. Coming into the tournament, Germany was one of the favorites to lift the trophy. They had just won the Confederations Cup with a squad that was mainly made up of under-23s. There was no doubt about their quality. The only explanation for their early exit is that they underrated their opponents.

Looking at the overall performance of teams, I must say I was impressed by the smaller teams such as Switzerland, Sweden, Russia and Serbia which had hitherto been expected to pose little threat. It is a clear indication that any well-organized team can outshine a traditional football heavyweight.

The Croatia Vs France final was an amazing one. After a 3-0 drabbing of Lionel Messi’s Argentina, we knew that the Croats were up to something great. Personally, I was rooting for Croatia in the final but they just couldn’t replicate their form against other teams in the final. Although they dominated the midfield and controlled the tempo of the game, they were too shy in front of goal.

Anyway, congrats to Les Bleus!

Now back to the Premier League. Clubs have been busy reinforcing their squads since the season ended in May. The summer transfer window has been a busy one, with almost every club making a major signing. Let’s have a look at some of the transfers.

Chelsea

Former Chelsea coach Antonia Conte was replaced by Maurizio Sarri. Antonio Conte apparently failed to meet the expectations of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has a habit of changing managers almost every season. His lowest point was selling Diego Costa, perhaps the best striker in the premier league when he was at Chelsea.

Sarri has brought in a couple of players. The first is Kepa Arrizabalaga (goal keeper), Mateo Kovacic (defender), Jorginho (midfielder) and Robert Green (Goal keeper). Looks like decent signings. Having lost Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, Kepa is a great replacement.

Manchester United

Manchester United didn’t really do much in the transfer Window. Only three players have signed for the Manchester club: Diogo Dalot (defender), Fred (midfielder), and Lee Grant (goalkeeper). Mourinho was unable to land most of his targets so it could be a difficult season for the Red Devils. I can picture Mourinho employing his infamous defense tactics when playing against tougher opponents.

Arsenal

The Gunners go into the new season without their former manager Arséne Wenger who has been with the North London outfit for 22 years. It looks like we are going to see a new arsenal under Unai Emery. The former PSG head brought in a number of players: Stephan Lichtsteiner (defender), Bernd Leno (keeper), Lucas Torreira (midfielder), Sokratis Papastathopolous (defender), and Matteo Guendouzi (midfielder).

It will be exciting to see what type of squad Unai Emery will develop, having had tremendous success with PSG and Sevilla. Arsenal looks ready to make a return to Champions League football.

Liverpool

If you look at the current Liverpool, you can’t help but admire Klopp’s genius. He has brought in Naby Keita (midfielder), Allison (keeper), Xherdan Xhaqiri (midfielder) and Fabinho (defender/midfielder).

Having reached the Champions League final last season, it looks like Klopp is hungry for more. With the dangerous trio of Firmino, Mane, and Salah, it looks like Liverpool will contend for every trophy this season.

Manchester City

The Premier League Champions made a few additions to their excellent squad: Philippe Sandler (defender), Riyad Mahrez (midfielder), Daniel Arzani (midfielder). With so many options for nearly every position, Pep Guardiola will easily terrorize opponents with his B team. It looks like the former Barcelona manager might retain the Premier League trophy.

Everton

Everton might look like the underdogs in this list but going by their activities in the transfer window, we can conclude that they are serious about winning the premier league. On deadline day, the Merseyside club completed a deal for Yeri Mina (permanent deal) and Andre Gomes (loan) from Barcelona. The club also signed Brazilian midfielder Bernard. With great players like Tosun and Sigurdsson already in the team, the new additions will enable Everton to fight for a top-four spot.

Tottenham has made history as the only club not to have made a signing in the summer transfer window. This means that Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will open the club’s new stadium with the same squad that finished third in the 2017/18 season. Despite the fact that they have a strong squad, the absence of a new signing may come to haunt them.

As the new season begins, I hope the league remains competitive to the end. I wouldn’t want Man City to retain the title.

WRITER BIO: Lennox Kimtai is a content writer who is passionate about football. Apart from football, he writes on a wide range of topics such as self-improvement and productivity. Check out his blog here and here.

 

FOR THE AFRICANS, IT WAS A WASTE OF HEIGHT!!!!

Here is a fun fact for all of you football lovers. The shortest squad in the entire World cup this year was Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had an average team height of approximately 176.2 centimeters. Compare that to the tallest team in the WC, the Serbians, who had an average height of 185.6 centimeters.

All the African teams were snuggly fit within this range with a country like Senegal leading the African pack in terms of average team height.

The Senegalese World Cup squad had an average height of approximately 183.7 centimeters.

The Tunisians had an average height of 184 centimeters.

The Morocco squad had an average height of 182.4 centimeters.

The Nigerians’ average height was 181.2 centimeters.

The Egyptian’s average height was 180.1 centimeters.

With all of this respectable height, why were the Africans hell-bent on conceding goals from set-pieces?

I know, I know, being tall does not necessarily make one a good defender and defending set pieces is much more complex than just jumping and using your body parts to stop the ball from going into the net (or is it?).

However, height does come in handy when you are trying to ward off those pesky aerial balls from reaching their mark within your penalty area. Height gives your team aerial dominance, so to speak.

Having been the shortest squad, Saudi Arabia was at an obvious disadvantage when it came to defending aerial balls from corners and free kicks. For me, it did not come as a surprise when they conceded two goals from set-piece situations (we are only referring to corners and free kicks here). There was the Gazinsky’s goal in their first match against Russia, and then Suarez goal in their 1-0 loss to Uruguay.

However, the Africans fared much better in terms of height and they should have been able to use this to their advantage when it came to defending aerial balls from free kicks and corners. Each team had a good number of relatively tall players, an asset that would have surely helped some of them avoid elimination at the early stages of the competition. Things did not go exactly according to plan.

Take Egypt for instance. They lost their match against Uruguay in the dying minutes of the game because none of the Egyptians could outjump Gimenez. They were so close to earning a point from the match by the way with only a couple of minutes to stoppage time.

In that Morocco vs Iran match,  a defensive blunder against a free-kick during injury time resulted in the Iranians securing all three points. Morocco was also so close to bagging a point in that game against a spiritless Iranian side. I’m sure Bouhaddouz is still having nightmares about that own goal. (Okay, this is more of a defensive miscalculation rather than a height thing, but it still goes to show that the African teams were defending these set-pieces very poorly). Five days later, they lost to Portugal, despite playing very well, because, in the fourth minute of the game, they let in a Ronaldo header from a corner kick.

Nigeria lost to Croatia also because of failing to defend set-pieces correctly. Both goals emanated from set-piece situations, with the first set-piece action resulting in an own goal. Next, the Nigerians were unable to deal with a Croatian corner definitively, resulting in some man-handling, and ultimately a penalty awarded against them.

The same set-piece nightmare visited Tunisia in their match against England. Both English goals scored in that match originated from corner kicks. This was a bad start to Tunisia’s World Cup campaign, and it only got worse from there.

The most heart-wrenching moment for African football came when Yerry Mina rose highest to meet a corner kick and head it into the back of the Senegal net. Granted, Mina is 195 cm tall, more than 10 centimeters taller than the average Senegalese player in that squad, but I feel like the Senegalese could have shown a bit more initiative by marking him comprehensively.

How many times will the African dream be quashed due to carelessly giving away set-piece opportunities? Nimechoka!!!

That Mina goal drew the curtain on Africa’s participation in this edition of the World Cup. I think this has been the continent’s worst performance in the global tournament in recent years. And I think it is quite clear where the greatest weakness in African football teams lies.

Truth be told, almost every team in this WC has conceded a goal from set-piece action, and there have been more goals from these dead ball situations in this edition of the World Cup than in any previous editions. So maybe, it’s not so much an African-specific phenomenon, but that should not be an excuse for our poor performance.

Hopefully, by 2022, all of the African teams that qualify for the WC would have mastered the art of defending set pieces by maximizing on their height advantage and scoring more goals from both open plays and set-pieces. I hope we all learn from the mistakes we made in this edition, otherwise, none of us might win this cup anytime soon.

Anyway….

May Croatia win the World Cup!!

EMBRACING WHAT IS OURS

We are inching closer to the semi-final stages of the 2018 World Cup, and the competition is getting juicier. This is definitely one for the memory books considering how many great teams have fallen along the way (wink wink Portugal; wink wink Argentina; sad wink wink Germany).

Count yourself lucky if your favorite team has at least made it into the quarters of the World Cup. Mine didn’t; they did not even make it past the group stages. For a minute, okay, let’s be honest, for some time now, I have been suffering from an internal paralysis. Don’t be alarmed! My organs are not failing. But, I feel a deep sense of loss, a deep sense of mourning, and an even deeper sense of stunned motionlessness. ‘Where did they go wrong?’ is a question that keeps ringing in my head. It actually feels like a small part of my heart is broken. These changes in the world order are too monumental, you cannot ignore them.

That is how much emotion I had invested in the German national team going all the way to the finals of this tournament. Their football, their passion, their lust for glory has beguiled me for years, and it was like a kick in the stomach when they could not meet my expectations this time around. I probably should have seen the signs when they lost to Brazil in that international friendly match three months ago. I ignored those warnings!!

I craved and yearned to see them play at their best. My body and mind needed that fix I get whenever they play. I was looking forward to that excitement, to the numerous goals, to the un-ending action. But it all came to a sudden stop, and now my drug of choice isn’t flowing anymore.

For some time after they were knocked out, by South Korea no less (you can check out my short commentary on how devastating this loss was here), the World Cup for me felt empty. At least until I caught the Belgian bug.

I’m better now, thanks for asking. I am beginning to enjoy the WC  a little bit more, so that’s a ray of sunshine.

I am still very disappointed though, but my disappointment is not only directed towards Die Nationalmannschaft. They sucked, and that is on them, but I also feel a bit disappointed in myself.

Why?

I just came to the sad realization that I am putting too much effort into deifying another country’s football team whereas I can barely remember eight names from the Harambee Stars’ starting line up. That is so sad!

Sure, the love of football should transcend all borders, but how comes I do not feel the same commitment, and loyalty to our national team?

Why don’t I get thoroughly depressed when they lose? Why do I dismiss them so easily, and only take the time to watch just a few of their matches annually?

Why is it that I do not feel connected to Harambee Stars as I do another country’s national football team?

Fifa currently ranks our national football team at position 112, which is a bit embarrassing I have to say. I also think we have the worst football management in the history of football management. There are so many reasons to not pay attention to Kenyan football, to Kenyan sports for that matter.

But, I feel like a traitor. Whether they suck or not, there are tens of men and women all over this country who are playing football at a professional or semi-professional capacity for many months every year. We see the sacrifice our brothers and sisters are putting into playing in this toxic, depressing environment that is Kenyan football, and they do not stop. That’s their love for the game. There’s a resilience about being a Kenyan football player; about being a Kenyan sportsperson that you just cannot find anywhere else.

We, scratch that, I need to honor this sacrifice (you have to do it as an individual before we can achieve the desired collective action).

Our standards, techniques, coaching, or management may not be anywhere close to professional standards, but the sacrifice these players are making has to count for something.

And, I am all about embracing everything that is Kenyan, including that which is inherently wrong with us, football included.

Maybe if we paid more attention to it, like serious attention to it, and own this process of understanding the intricacies (problems and all) of Kenyan football, we can start revitalizing it; correcting the mistakes one by one.

Maybe that’s how I (and hopefully you) will learn to feel more connected to it.

It’s ours; love it or hate it, it’s always going to be ours, and we might as well find the gems hidden in the cow dung that is our sports fraternity.

We have a national football team. It is not the best but it is ours. We have to give it a little more love.

Enjoy the rest of the WC!

THE CL FINAL, PARENTS, AND ABORTION

To be honest, that Champions League Final was not as epic as I had anticipated it to be. Maybe because the team I was supporting lost, or maybe because they lost undeservedly. There was something really off about that game especially when Salah had to leave the game so unexpectedly.

It broke my heart. Like, literally, I felt a sharp pang inside me when he went down from that Ramos tackle. And a wave of anger, confusion, disbelief, and bewilderment washed over me as I watched him try to soldier on, and eventually leave the pitch.

There is a dark, lonely hell waiting for Ramos, I hope he knows it. (Please sign this petition in order to have him punished for his intentional assault on Salah; be a trooper and let’s change the world together).

And then there was Karius. His career is obviously over, and I hope he knows that. I am not feeling empathetic towards this man and his situation right now. I doubt I ever will. And that says a lot considering I feel sorry for almost everyone and everything, regardless of what they have done. Well, except bad popes, bad US presidents, all Kenyan presidents, and the rapist that lives in the hood I grew up in (why is this man still alive?).

Anyway, back to Karius. I am convinced he half-arsed that game; all I want to know is why. Just why. He is toooooooo fine to be making such egregious mistakes at such a stage. There has to be a reason behind his poor performance. There just has to be!

I hear he could be going to Rimini FC; let’s see how that works out.

So, my heart bled that night, that game cut me really deep. But, I noticed something else, something outside the game. I really really really really enjoy my parents’ company. I thought football was just my thing because I am the only one in this family who consistently takes the time to watch these matches. It’s a big deal because I’m the only girl…in a family of five.

But, last Saturday night, I realized that football could be a family thing. Okay, not my brothers, I feel like they feel that they have better things to do. Things I’d rather die than do. But, it could be a thing for me and my 70-year-old parents to do together; our thing on top of the other many things that we do together like going to church together, and watching and arguing about Kikuyu soap operas on Inooro.

Which reminds me; we have been having a recurring conversation over the last few Saturdays that I have visited them. It revolves around my love life; specifically my lack of one. They are a tad concerned that I do not seem to be in a hurry to find someone, scratch that, get knocked up. Yes, my parents want me to get knocked up, and they do not care whether there will be a man or not in the picture. I can even quote them word for word, but I have never really known how to write in Kikuyu, so I will spare you. My dad is particularly unbemused by the fact that I may not want to have children.

That man wants a grandbaby, and he wants one now! Too bad for him because he knows my ovaries are waiting for Miguna Miguna to become president.

So, yes, football. We had so much fun that night. I made my dad laugh so hard with one of my reactions, he nearly choked. And they love how dramatic I get in life in general, but more specifically, when I’m watching football. And my mum, the antagonist that she always is, was on Real Madrid’s side. You have not had your worst football experience as a fan until you have to live through your own mother berating you and your team, and actually celebrating as you mourn. Her taunts were like swallowing hot glass; she’s really good at it (the taunting, not the swallowing hot glass part). IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!!

It felt much more fulfilling than if I was at some club somewhere, or at my place, alone. I cannot wait to watch many more games with them during the World Cup. This is going to be epic.

Oh yeah, I also found out they are pro-abortionists later on that night. I was shocked, especially hearing it from my dad. They believe women do not need to go through unwanted pregnancies. They think the reason why there are so many kids on the street, and so many kids into drug abuse is because their mothers never wanted them from the get-go. Why bring a child into this world when you know you’re never going to love them the way they deserve?

I cannot wait to uncover more layers of my parents’ inner thoughts over a series of football matches.

Happy days, people! Happy days.

GOR ARE THROUGH TO CAFCC GROUP STAGES, NO THANKS TO THEIR MANAGEMENT

Hearty congratulations to Gor Mahia for making it into the group stages of the CAF Confederation Cup. Awesome work guys and I am super proud of you!.

I wish this post would just end there, and I would bid you, dear reader, a wonderful evening. But, there is a poignant downside in this story, and it is a problem that needs to be addressed soon because now it is getting embarassing.

Right now, we should be focusing solely on how amazing this victory is for not only the club, but for our country. Better yet, we should be praising the K’ogalo boys for that rapid comeback  within a minute of their own goal, which demonstrates the character of the team. We should also be applauding them for going through this stage and managing to hold on to their advantage despite not having their best two players on the field. There are so many other beautiful aspects of their game last night that I would like this post to focus on.

Unfortunately, my attention is drawn to the fact that these boys almost did not make it for the second leg of the CAFCC draw in South Africa. In fact, if Mike Sonko had not stepped in and purchased those 30 air tickets for the team in just the nick of time, Gor Mahia would have had to forfeit the game, and we would have been the laughing stock of the entire region.

The Sports Ministry did not release the tickets in advance (because Gor presented a delegation of 40 individuals, I’m assuming), which meant Gor Mahia had to fend for themselves. This begs the question: doesn’t Gor Mahia have its own finances that could at least cater to their traveling expenses if the government is unable to do so? Like a small kitty for a rainy day that is enough to transport the core team (not 30-40 individuals) to a nearby country for a regional tournament? What does the management do with the club’s revenues after deducting salaries and remuneration? K’ogalo claims to be the most popular football club in East Africa so I expect it is attracting a lot of money from fans and the government. Where is this money going if Gor Mahia is being reduced to beggars hoping that a good samaritan will come along and pay their way?

The management knew that they would have to go to SA for a return leg back in March so why didn’t they start sourcing for funds then?

And what about the mixup over the visas for the players and officials? There was a serious delay in processing their visas owing to the club officials blatant disregard for the visa application rules of the SA embassy. They knew it took five days to process visas to South Africa, but the K’ogalo officials applied for them with only four days to go. The officials are blaming each other for the mixups and delays, which is just embarassing. Jeeeeeez!!

As if that wasn’t enough clusterfuckery from the club management, Tuyisenge and Guikan could not get the visas to SA because they did not have the appropriate Kenyan work permits. Problem after problem with no end in sight.

Or so it seems. You see, despite all of these problems, Gor Mahia won the draw, and with that comes a Ksh 27 million payout for reaching the group stages. That, for me, qualifies as an end in sight even if they do not progress in the competition. Let us hope that its management learns from this entire debacle, and saves some of that money to cater for their traveling expenses for the coming international games in the competition.

Let us also hope that they process the visas in time so that we do not go through this mess again.

Finally, this insistence on including unnecessary individuals in the travel delegation should end here! Even Sonko was conned when he had to pay for THIRTY individuals to go abroad for a football match. Keep the delegation small and people (including the govenment) will be more than willing to foot the expense, NKT!

Anyway, good job Kahata, good job. Your country thanks you (for coming through for us).

COULD THIS BE THE END OF THE MOST BORING ERA EVER? I HOPE SO…BUT NOT SO FAST!!

(PS: Long post ahead; Barca’s misery makes me happy, hence, I have a lot to say!!)

Barcelona’s ‘global’ soccer dominance received a seismic shock on Tuesday last week when they were THROWN OUT of the Champions League competition (I was so so so happy).

It would have been less of a shock if they were dumped out of the CL by a superior team. But, let’s face it, there is hardly a team that deems itself superior to Barca let alone equal to these Spanish giants.

I am sure Roma knew they were done for the minute they were drawn against Barcelona for the CL Quarter Finals. I do not think they expected to survive the second leg let alone beat Barca on aggregate score.

They were thoroughly thrashed in the first leg with Barcelona scoring four to their measly one goal. But, they turned it all around in the second leg on Tuesday last week by beating Barcelona 3-0; the aggregate score was 4-4 and Roma went through because of the away goal rule.

It was such a rare unexpected comeback for Roma at this stage against such a team and a shockingly cruel and an unimaginable turn of events for Barcelona.  Just last year in the same competition at the same stage, Barca had been able to claw through PSG’s 4 goal lead from their first leg, and beat the French giants 6-5 on aggregate score in their second leg match (this was a beautiful night of football btw).

So what’s the dish? What made Barcelona go from King of the CL comeback in 2017 to the biggest victim of comebacks in 2018?

The answer is that alot contributed to their fall from grace last week, but let me start by saying that I have NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER liked Barcelona. (Hence, some of the views presented in this post may be slightly biased).

Their style of play, for me, is completely outdated and makes every game a drag! It is crucial to have a formation for the squad, but, let it come with some spontaneity and bring the game alive. Neymar, Suarez, and Messi used to bring the wow factor when they played together, but before and after this trio, it was just boring!

Arguably, they may not use tiki taka at every instance, but, come on, that is the go-to technique for that midfield (that never seems to get replaced).

I also feel like tiki taka is a bullying technique of sorts; mentally and physically for the opponents, which is fine until it becomes a tad too predictable, too domineering, and the players do not often have to think outside of the box in order to win the game. Tiki taka has curtailed their creative expression (don’t roll your eyes, it’s the truth!!).

Anyway, back to the topic. For me, the biggest reason for their poor performance last week was tired, lethargic players. Why would Barcelona have tired players when they have such a good line up sitting on the bench?

Because Valverde seems not to have learned the beautiful art of squad rotation regardless of competition or stage. His over-reliance on his top scorer is evident, and it seems he was a bit too scared to muddy the waters by experimenting with other players. I know nearly everyone considers Messi as some god (more like freak of nature), but even he deserves a break. We have barely seen the likes of Alacer, D. Suarez, and Gomes being used when it counts, and I’m sure they would have a profound impact if they are not forced to live in Messi’s shadow, were taught the ropes, and were allowed to be as creative as they want.

Another closely connected area that the Barcelona coach should have paid more attention to was substitution. The minute Barcelona were two goals down in that second leg he should have brought the other squad members in. We have already spoken about D. Suarez and Gomes up there, but the list is long. Vermaelen, Dembele and/or  Paulinho could also have come in to pick up some of the slack earlier on in the game. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your side of the fence), he was making substitutions with like 10 minutes to go. Honestly, how would that help anyone?

And this business of playing defense when you should be attacking, all in the hope of protecting a lead, is not working this time round especially when you are facing a team as hungry as Roma. Go out there and score goals before they even think of making a comeback.

However, the loss (and hopefully several future losses) is not entirely Valverde’s. The board of this team seems to also be full of it when it comes to making purchase decisions (Barca and Arsenal continue to have more in common as the years drag by). Fans have accused Bartomeu and his cohorts of selling their top talent (NEYMAR!!) and purchasing expensive individuals who have not been as productive as fans would have hoped in the domestic leagues.

Here, we are talking about Coutinho and Dembele, who together cost Barcelona more than 200 million euros, but presumably only have three goals between them (but then again, it is the coach whose refusing to rotate these players, although Dembele has suffered serious injury setbacks over the season)!

And let us not forget how old their midfield is, and this Iniesta is still keeping us in the dark about whether he is retiring or not. I think if he renews that contract, I will break something (I still have beef with him over his goal against Netherlands at that World Cup final btw).

Furthermore, Messi and L. Suarez are not getting any younger with both of them in their early 30s. I am sure they still have a lot of gas, but at that age and their level of competition, that gas runs out fast!

Anyway, I wish I could definitively claim that Barca’s glory days are over. But, that is not the case. All they need to do is improve on squad rotation, and avoid exhausting their players especially the older ones. Give Coutinho (and perhaps Dembele) more time away from Messi, and he will become a regular on the score sheet. They also need to utilize the other younger players during games to give them a more hands-on experience as well as allow them to create their own magic and learn through their own mistakes, the BARCA way!

(FYI: These youngsters played really well this weekend with most of the veteran players out and they won)

(I also wanted to say that I really miss Puyol)

Finished. Done. I’m satisfied now.

‘DAT GUY WELBZ’ IS BACK, AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT!!

We have been treated to a couple of amazing soccer comebacks this past week, with the most dramatic being in the Manchester derby, where we saw the Red Devils coming back from two goals down to win the match against Manchester City (see my comments about the game here).

That game was superb to watch as a football fan, especially, the 2nd half, but that is not why I am writing this piece.

I want to talk about another comeback, this time, an individual one.

Danny Welbeck is back, people, and my faith in Arsenal (not Arsene) is slowly being restored. I can’t help but get a little bit emotional about his recovery and glorious return to form. He has been through so much since May 2015 owing to severe knee injuries, and this has had a profound impact on his career, his confidence, and his game. I firmly believe that his relentless spirit is what has brought his career back to life, and seeing him being able to play, and do so with the same pizzazz he had when he moved to the Emirates, is nothing short of a miracle.

That is why it is so annoying to see people try to bring him down when you can clearly see he is giving his best. Yes, I am talking about those individuals who were harshly criticizing him for not being able to score yesterday against Southampton from this beautiful pass from Wilshere. Granted, he was only about three yards away from goal, and to most people, it was an obvious shot. But, he wasn’t able to stretch far enough to get his foot in, and that is perfectly okay with me. He tried; he missed, but, he tried!

It is also okay that he missed because I do not want him putting his limbs in egregious harm again.  Who knows what would have happened if he had just stretched enough? Who knows what kind of pressure that would be putting on his healing form? For me, it’s better a Welbeck who misses a couple of chances here and there, but he’s taking care of himself on the field, and he’s playing in most games; than, a Welbeck who scores an amazing goal, tears one of his knee tendons, and cannot play for the rest of the season. He is a long term investment, and we need to be seeing him contribute regularly to the growth of our team.

And why are we being such gigantic pricks right now? How can we let the fact that he missed one opportunity overshadow the fact that he scored TWICE in yesterday’s game, and also had an assist? How can we play down the fact that he scored his first goal in seven months yesterday? We’ve had a horrid season, and I cannot believe we are takig his return for granted.

Anyway, I’m just glad he’s BACK, I’m glad he’s BETTER, and I’m definitely glad that he’s SCORING AGAIN!!

We are so glad to have you back, Welbz, please keep scoring for us! (I cannot wait for the day I’ll be writing a piece on Cazorla’s comeback, keeping my fingers crossed!!!)

PS: You can catch my comments about the rest of the game on my YouTube Channel.

NAKUMATT’S FINANCIAL TROUBLES CONTINUE TO SPILL INTO THE FIELD

We had some mid-week afternoon action in the KPL with Mathare United (strong title contenders) taking on Nakumatt FC (a team that is so close to disappearing from the league, it is even shocking that they are still playing). Obviously, Mathare was the stronger team, and was expected to carry the game, which they did. What I didn’t expect was for Nakumatt to give them a run for their money. Impressed!

When it comes to spirit and fighting against all odds, this Nakumatt side has it down to a T. To give you a bit of perspective here, Nakumatt were the underdogs coming into this game not only because they are on the other end of the KPL table, but also because they have been facing serious financial hurdles especially this season.

This is a KPL team that does not have money for training, for salaries, and all the other expenses that a normal team in our league incurs within a season. Shocking! I know other KPL teams are struggling but Nakumatt’s case is just over the top in my opinion. And, it seems like this problem is not getting solved soon. Just last month it was announced that the club was up for sale, and I quote ‘…to anyone, including those who would like to change the club’s name!!!!’

For me this is scary (mainly because I’m an alarmist and I blow everything out of proportion). But seriously, what would new management for Nakumatt FC look like? What would be their prerogative when taking over the club? I, for one, would not like to see a money-hungry corporation take over and destroy the FABRIC of that team by selling some of their best players or eroding the culture the players have built around each other especially during this tough season.

I also would not want a company with a risky financial outlook to get their hands on the team. I know it is so difficult to get credible sponsors in the local football scene (something that needs to change btw), but I would not want the current management to just settle for any buyer. Like, please do a background check first, otherwise, the current team will keep bouncing from buyer to buyer, and that will have serious ramifications on their quality, their output, long-term careers, and their contribution (both individual and collective) to our local leagues.

To be honest, this is a riches to rags story in our local football scenery. There was a time when Nakumatt was considered one of the richest teams in Kenya. YES! Back when they could afford foreign coaches with names that sounded like a mixture of expensive chocolate and men designer wear, but whose faces, demeanor and body structure lacked the same exquisiteness. I’m talking about the time before Nakumatt had been upgraded to the KPL, and they were playing in the National Super League. That time we (just the media) used to refer to them as the ‘money bags’ team, and they were thrashing people left, right and center! Ai!

Sadly, those days are over, with the currently financially strapped Nakumatt only being able to manage one win this season, and their loss to Mathare this week continues to lower the morale of these boys. I don’t know for how long these guys can keep fighting, but, I’m proud of them regardless.

You can check out my other comments on the game here (and don’t forget to subscribe!!)

BAYERN’S DECISIVE LEFT-WING SAVES THE DAY!

Easter Monday football was awesome, but Tuesday was even better with Champions League action where we had Sevilla FC going head to head with Bayern Munich. Sevilla put up a spirited fight against Bayern Munich in their first leg of their quarter-final Champions League draw. I am a Bayern Munich fan, and I take every opportunity I get to watch them play (Germany is my favorite footballing nation as you might have gathered from this article that I wrote). However, we (glorious Bayern fans) did not expect the kind of zeal the underdogs were bringing into this match. Sevilla did not give Bayern much space to control the ball, which is usually the latter team’s modus operandi.

From the get-go, Sevilla were in control of the game much to my surprise. They had some really impressive counters, and their speed was incredible. Their performance in that first half was why they deserved to score the first goal. I almost bit my tongue when Sarabia struck a powerful ball with his left to open the scoreline for the visitors. He had had an obvious opportunity a few minutes earlier but he missed. Luckily, he redeemed himself with his second attempt at goal.

It felt like Sevilla wouldn’t stop coming against Bayern, and I was beginning to think Sevilla might take the match (much to my dismay). Those feelings quickly evaporated once James Rodriguez got into the mix. Vidal had to come out of the game due to an injury, and Rodriguez was his replacement. Minutes into James’ entry into the game, and Bayern’s attitude changed, I could feel it. And, clearly, they could feel it too, because immediately after he came in there was a Bayern goal. A long pass from Bayern’s left wing (Ribery?) deflected off Navas, and went into the net, and we (glorious Bayern fans) all breathed a sigh of relief.

That left wing for Bayern Munchen is the epicenter of their attack. It was quite clear that much of their shots towards goal came from here, especially when Rafinha came in for Bernat. Rafinha showed more confidence in feeding Ribery on the left-wing from the mid-field than his predecessor, Bernat.

Thiago’s goal, Bayern’s second for the night, was also as a result of a decisive long ball towards goal from the home team’s left wing. Thiago caught on to Ribery’s long ball and headed it in into the back of the net. There were suggestions (mainly from one of the commentators) that the goal was as a result of Thiago’s header deflecting from the visitors’ captain, and thus, it should be considered an own-goal (Sevilla’s second of the match). It seemed that everyone ignored this sentiment and Thiago was credited with the goal.

It almost became automatic that the left-wing was where the ball towards goal would come from for the home side. If only Sevilla had taken notice of this and covered Ribery more fiercely especially in the second half. If they could just intersect the passes from Rafinha towards Ribery, they would be able to build up stronger counter attacks that emanated deep within their own half. If only! (Luckily, they did not, otherwise, I would be a sorely disappointed but still glorious Bayern fan).

And Heynckes as well as his men need to know this kind of predictability can harm their attack in the upcoming games in the CL, especially if they beat Sevilla next week and progress in the tournament (be careful, guys!!!!).

Bayern won the match, but credit to Sevilla for putting their best foot forward, and performing much better than people (glorious Bayern fans) would have expected. There is really not much hope for Sevilla after this in the Champions League, but the tide could turn next week.

Let’s wait and see.

PS: If you missed my comments after the match, you can catch them on youtube here.