Is retirement a hang sentence for footballers?

Is retirement a hang sentence for footballers?

After the battle of the Waterloo was won in 1815, Arthur Wellesley said: “The only thing worse than a battle lost is a battle won.”

Those words have transcended time and space and still ring true today moreso for our sportsmen whose once glittering careers have come to a sudden grinding halt.

George Waweru, fondly known as ‘Jojo’ by his legion of fans knows only too well the truth in those words. The once lanky central defender is now a pale shadow of his former self.

I trace his roots to Maringo Estate, in Nairobi’s sprawling Eastlands area where he grew up. He is still something of a legend here as I quickly find out.

I call him for directions to his house and he tells me to ask anyone I see to direct me. True to his word, the first person I ask good-naturedly says ‘ni kwa Jojo unaenda? Nakupeleka one-touch’.  (You’re going to Jojo’s? I’ll take you immediately). So I take a leap of faith and follow this stranger, blindly trusting him to lead me to Jojo. We follow a winding dirt-path littered with broken glass and trash, pass through what can best be called as a settlement, clothes hanging outside to dry, naked children with running noses staring at us. We duck our heads just in time to avoid collision with a flying object; could be anything!

There’s raw sewage flowing in a broken pipe just outside Jojo’s house and my benefactor turns back at me with a smile so bright it breaks me a little and cheerily says, “ni hapa tumefika!”(We’ve arrived). And we have indeed!  Jojo stands up to usher us into the dimly lit room reeking of cigarette smoke and stale air. The tall and sturdy frame that gave him an edge in aerial duels in glorious days-gone-by is slightly bowed; perhaps in shame or from the many burdens it silently bears.

After shaking hands, he invites me to have a seat. I gingerly lower myself to the saggy couch and I can’t help but take note of my surroundings.

Jojo folds his lanky self in the couch opposite me, the couch has clearly outlived its usefulness and bare sisal and torn mattress are peaking out at the corners of the cushion. There’s a transistor radio with some life left in it and its currently playing an unknown tune. There’s an old stove in one corner and a tiny plastic basin on top with what I assume are utensils. The floor is dirty and has pot-holes and the wall-unit on the other corner wears it’s years with pride, telling of the once affluent life of ‘Jojo the Star’.

After exchanging niceties, I gently ease him to the reason of this interview. He is guarded and nursing a hangover and avoiding eye contact. So, to break the ice, I ask him what his highest moment was to which he instantly lights up and says:“Wearing the national team jersey was such a joy not just to me but to my family. Nothing has ever given me more joy than donning the national colours and knowing I wasn’t playing for self but for my country. Those moments on the pitch gave me the greatest fulfillment. It was a long way from Maringo where I came from. I still remember the day Musa Otieno gave me the national jersey,” he says nostalgically.

He wears the face of a man who’s momentarily travelled to a beautiful place in his mind. The guarded look he wore when I came in is momentarily discarded and he immerses himself fully in reminiscing the good old days.

He is absently rubbing his neck as we talk and I gather there’s a lingering pain from the hairline fracture he suffered in 2004, at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Tunis, Tunisia, after butting heads with Fredrick Kanoute of Mali at the group stage matches where Kenya fell 3-1.Since the injury, picked on an international assignment, defending the flag he so dearly loves, life has never been the same.

Waweru has nothing to show for his illustrious career. And he is bitter the clubs he played for have neglected him in his time of need despite having brought pride to them in his hey-days.

“They only want you when you’re playing for them and making them shine. Once you’ve retired they have nothing to do with you,” he says with a tinge of bitterness in his voice.

Jojo’s story is shared by many ex-internationals whose sunset years are a sharp contrast to their days on the pitch.

Former Gor Mahia captain Julius ‘Awilo’Owino during his heydays

About three kilometres from Maringo is the famed Makongeni Estate. Here lives former Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars captain, Julius Owino, who hit the media headlines four years ago when it emerged that he collects and sells plastic bags along Jogoo road in a pitiable effort to make ends meet. This sad story drew the interest of the K’Ogalo nation which he had diligently served, with the Green Army raising funds to help him rebuild his life.

These stories are varied but the common denominator is that they give pain not just to the reader but perhaps, to a future generation, which, should, in essence, be drawing inspiration from beautiful tales. But, it seems, in a way,  fate has conjured to serve them with bitter tales.

For instance, former Harambee Stars’ striker, Henry Motego, works as a casual labourer in construction sites. And then there’s Former AFC Leopards’ legend Francis Oduor who sells maize for a living in the streets of Nakuru town.

Peter Dawo, a former Kenya international, who played for clubs in Kenya, Egypt, and Oman, was recently in the media appealing to well-wishers to help him raise funds towards a medical procedure.

But, it seems, the problems associated with retired athletes is not just unique to Kenya but a global phenomenon.

Just recently, the world was taken aback when Ivorian and former Arsenal great Emmanuel Eboue broke his silence announcing that he was flat broke after a messy divorce, and was on the brink of committing suicide.

Eboue, according to the English press, had blown his fortune realized during playing days with elite leagues in Europe and with the court ruling, was tottering on the brink of collapse.Eboue blamed his situation to lack of proper formal education and a wife who took advantage of his ignorance.

But as these painful tales dominate our media space, on the flip-side there are retired footballers who have escaped the poverty and misery bug in their retirement. Just across the borders in Uganda, David Obua seems to be doing well for himself after hanging his boots. The former defender was in 2011 reported having built a mansion in Uganda which was projected to have cost Ush 2 billion( around Sh 20 million).Besides, the out-spoken man who is known for his rabble-rousing antics is said to have invested in the insurance sector amongst many other business interests which have kept him comfortable even after retirement.

The house that is allegedly owned by former Ugandan footballer David Obua while still under construction four years ago/PHOTO/COURTESY/DailyMonito

His countryman and former Cranes long-serving captain, Ibrahim Sekagya, fondly known as the ‘leg billionaire’ amongst his compatriots, is arguably the most successful footballer the Pearl of Africa has produced.

According to a report by Uganda’s leading newspaper, The Daily Monitor, in 2015, the former Cranes man earned huge fortune projected to stand at Ush 1.2billion when he turned out for Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg in 2015.He also made tidy sums while plying out his trade with New York Red Bulls in the USA, and seemingly, made sound investments.

In Kenya, big-stars such as McDonald Mariga, sibling Victor Wanyama, Dennis Oliech and Michael Olunga seems to have made huge sums in their trade.

Kenya international McDonald Mariga was handed a five-game ban for injuring a referee. PHOTO/OmniSport

Oliech broke the glass ceiling in 2005 when he became Kenya’s first export in the modern era to turn out for a top French league side, penning a deal with Nantes FC, then in the French Ligue 1, in what was believed to be a mouth-watering deal.

Besides Nantes, “The Menace” as Oliech is fondly known, turned out for AC Ajaccio and Auxerre where he is believed to have made good returns.

Mariga, on the other hand, besides making history as the first Kenyan to play in the Italian Serie A and the  first to win the coveted Uefa- Champions League in 2010, under current Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho, then coaching the Azzurri, also made lots of money going by the fat weekly wages they earn in Europe.

Mariga is believed to have massively invested in real estate in a well laid-out-plan to cushion him in retirement.

Mariga’s fuel guzzler, The Hammer.It is atop range car owned by the very wealthiest.PHOTO/CITIZEN


His younger sibling, Victor Wanyama, is arguably the poster boy of Kenyan football. He currently turns out for North London side Tottenham Hotspur where he is on a daily Sh 1 million wage, translating into Sh 30 million a month, making him probably the best paid Kenyan on planet.

Wanyama, according to sources close to him, has also invested heavily in real estate, buying property in the upmarket estates of Nairobi and in London, where he owns a home.

With such kind of planning, the duo is expected to lead a comfortable life even in retirement.

The new kid on the block, Olunga, for instance, also turned a chapter in Kenyan football when he left IF Djurgardens of  Sweden last year for China in a deal worth Sh 450 million. As part of the deal, Olunga he is said to have pocketed huge monies.

According to his former coach- cum- mentor, Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, Olunga has, for instance, turned around the life of his single mother, purchasing a house for her in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa area.

The above tales, sums up the power of talent moreso football which has the capacity to transform humble beginnings into overnight riches.

Sadly, in recent times, the Kenyan media has been awash with reports that Oliech, long revered in the golden days-gone-by could have fallen on hard times.

Dennis Oliech in a file photo.


Oliech spent quite a fortune treating his ailing mother, Mary, in France, and the loving mother has in more than two occasions come out in defence of her son.

The former Harambee Stars striker has also refuted these claims but whichever way one looks at it, it boils down to one thing: planning.

Granted, the athlete has the ultimate call; either to make the wisest of decisions during play-time or to face the dark trodden path of struggles that has become too common amongst Kenyan and African footballers.

According to Ronald Ngala, the long-serving Gor Mahia’s assistant secretary general, the relationship between a player and a club is a short-lived marriage, which only exists “as long as the player has a running contract with the club”.

He said: “Once they (footballers) stop playing for the club we have no obligation to them. We engaged them and paid them for their services once they were contracted with us. Footballers should wake up to the fact that the lifespan in football is very short – ten years at most– and they should plan well and invest their earnings to ensure a comfortable life once they retire,” he said, adding that: “They (players) should start a kitty where they can contribute funds that will help them once they hang up their boots.”

Ngala’s sentiments are echoed by former Harambee Stars coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee.

According to Mulee, footballers should strive to get sound education and skills first even as they seek to make a name in the game.

Mulee who guided Tusker FC to three Kenya Premier League titles observed: “After retirement, these players have no back-up plan….and this has been a major concern. It explains why many of them live in abject poverty once they call time on their careers.”

Mulee, a founder of Liberty Sports Academy and the force behind Olunga’s meteoric rise believes that the society hasn’t put in place structures and systems to aid these players once they retire.

“In the past, after retirement, most of these players were absorbed by corporates – unlike now when they are left on their own – once they hang their boots hence the chances of slipping into difficulty.”

The former Tusker and Armée Patriotique Rwandaise Football Club coach who led Harambee Stars to their fifth Africa Cup of Nations finals appearance in 2004 in Tunis, Tunisia, also challenged the players to invest their monies wisely, apart from getting formal education.

He said:“We are emphasizing on football and education because at the end of the day you will retire at thirty-four or thirty-six if you are lucky. That is relatively a very young age, what do you do with the rest of your life?” he posed.

With the examples of Olunga, Wanyama, Mariga, and Obua across the border, footballers can lead a life of decency once they quit the game as long as the proper mechanism is put in place.

Sadly, in Kenya, as is in the rest of the third world countries, where there are no structures and institutions such as Football Kenya Federation and the parent ministry fail to give guidance to athletes, such success stories become few and far between.

In the developed world such as Germany, the United Kingdom, amongst others, players save a percentage of their earnings for pension, this is, however, unheard of in Kenya.

In a separate interview with Citizen Digital, FKF boss Nick Mwendwa summed up the matter thus: “This(problem of players living a life of squalor after retirement) is not just a Kenyan problem.It is everywhere,” he said:”As a federation, we have rolled out coaching programmes across the country.This is aimed at helping those interested-former players included- get coaching skills which could be beneficial to them.

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa makes his speech during the Kenyan Premier League 2016 awards in Nairobi on December 13, 2016. Photo/Stafford Ondego/

“What do you do with a player if he doesn’t have a skill?To me, that is the issue.They need to be empowered and that is what we are doing. At Kariobangi Sharks,(a football club owned the federation chief) for instance, we remit 6 percent for the players’ salaries to pension as per the law.This is to help them once they retire,”Mwendwa said, adding that, “It is the skills that will help the retired players rebuild their lives.”

The federation boss also added that his body is working on an empowerment plan which will come in the form of seminars and workshops for the players.


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