Be ready for competition, Ouma tells established Starlets players

Harambee Starlets head coach David Ouma has cautioned established players in the national women football team stiff competition awaits them from their emerging understudies, ahead of the forthcoming international duties.

Ouma is currently laying foundation for the New Zealand 2023 Women Fifa World Cup team having been tasked to deliver the ultimate pledge of the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) administration in their second term – to take Starlets to global extravaganza.

While accepting the challenge, Ouma says a lot will have to be done as far as team “integration and refreshing” is concerned to deliver the pledge.

“The players who are already in the national team must know a lot more football is being played across the country than ever before. At the schools level across the country, we have a lot of players emerging. We have also increased the leagues providing platforms to choose players from; the Women Premier League, Division One, Regional Leagues, County Leagues and youth tournaments like the Chapa Dimba na Safaricom. This means we have a very large pool to scout from, hence more competition,” Ouma averred.

While Ouma appreciates the role of “impact players” who he has worked with already in his team, he maintains they must not rest on their laurels.

“My principle is that a player who gets exposure in the national team for over 10 caps, should be able to realistically show the value for it on the pitch. If I go to the grassroots and find another player who offers the same level, then Kenyans would want to know the new face with impact in the national team. This means continuous integration and refreshing of the team,” stated the former Sofapaka coach.

In the last botched Tokyo Olympics qualifiers, Ouma conspicuously dropped experienced and Europe based players including gifted stiker Esse Mbeyu Akida among others, attracting debate over his selection criteria.

Asked if the world cup pledge by the federation is over ambitious, the Dutch trained coach confidently explained why it is a possible mission.

“It is a realistic pledge. In 2016 we had a dream of qualifying for the AWCON which we did. Now we have set the bar higher and I join FKF President Nick Mwendwa to affirm the promise is achievable and we are going for it because Kenya has the potential to play in the world stage. We have done it in other disciplines, and we can do it in football.”

While FKF is so clear about the Women World Cup 2023, the conversation is not as animated in the men’s team, Harambee Stars, in their quest to make the Qatar 2022 World Cup whose qualifiers are fast approaching.

FKF Secretary General Barry Otieno concedes it is more pragmatic to chase the Women World Cup ticket in the short term, albeit painstakingly avoiding to rule out Stars’ chances for the Qatar fiesta.

“For the women, and this is our position as a federation, we believe there is a big chance because of the structure of their competition and qualifying process compared to men’s. For them you just need to qualify for the African Women Cup of Nations and win at least one match in the tournament which consists of 12 teams, with six sailing through,” elucidated the youthful CEO.

For the Stars, a ticket to Qatar will require the Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee led side to top their Group E which has Mali, Uganda and Rwanda; and beat another group winner In home and away matches.

“We are not ruling out a Qatar 2022 ticket. We want to qualify and it has been our dream we are ready for it but we believe 2026 for sure we have a bigger chance because of more teams as added by FIFA. We are however open, whichever comes first.”

Ouma on his part says Harambee Starlets will make it to the World Cup before Harambee Stars.

“I was telling my friend Mulee that we (Starlets) will go to the World Cup before Harambee Stars, and his view is different. Let’s see who makes it first, but I see him looking at us in awe first,” a laughing Ouma said.

The New Zealand 2023 pledge was officially launched by the FKF during the eighth Annual General Meeting on Saturday, February 6.