Jacob Icia: CECAFA 2017 a riddle for Put in Stars job
After two-year absence the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup is back, with hosts Kenya taking the challenge of hosting a successful competition and possibly win it.
While the tournament is viewed as a consolation to Kenyans who lost an opportunity to see Africa converging home for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN), it also a ‘resurrection’ of the competition whose life was threatened by wrangles at the CECAFA summit.
Secretary General Nicholas Musonye and the Chairman Mutasir Gaffar of Sudan have faced stiff opposition from a section of federation heads within the council, pushing for radical changes in the regional football body.
It was evident in the 2017 AGM held in a Nairobi Hotel on Saturday, with Uganda’s football chief Eng. Moses Magogo who also seats in the CAF Executive Committee withdrawing from executive leaders’ elections citing massive disorder.
Rwanda’s Vincent Nzamwita and Djibouti’s Souleiman Waberi also boycotted the elections, further exposing the discord inside CECAFA.
Thus, a successful tournament will be a big win for the region, considering the background of the preparations, including haphazard change of venues into the last minute.
Narrowing down to Kenya’s attempt to conquer CECAFA again, a keen follower of the sport will sympathise with Paul Put, the new Harambee Stars coach.
Can he be judged with the result of the tournament? In the words of Gor Mahia coach Dylan Kerr, work in Africa starts the day you are unveiled as a coach. Before you have laid down structures for the future, people are calling for your dismissal.
This should be clear to Put, but should not be a worrying or an intimidating factor.
In the backdrop of the entire odyssey to the tournament, Kenya Football Federation (FKF) president Nick Mwendwa has told his technical bench he wants nothing less but the top gong.
The puzzle rests at Put’s desk, who has handled the Harambee Stars squad for only a week, assembled by his assistant Stanley Okumbi. While he has accepted he wants to win, he has emphasized his basic agenda of familiarizing himself with the local players, who form the squad.
“Even before the coming of Paul (Put), we had set a target of winning this year’s tournament. His arrival is therefore a boost, not any reason for underperforming” Mwendwa said.
In the 2013 edition held in Kenya, it was coincidentally a Belgian (Adel Amrouche), like Put is, who took ‘Stars to glory beating Sudan 2-0 at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Now, the onus is on Put, to match his countryman’s record, and bring back a smile on ‘Stars fans who have had rare opportunities to delight in the team’s result.
“I will count on home advantage to make impact in the tournament. I have interacted with the team for a very short time therefore we have a long way to go before we gel but anything is possible in football, so I’m going for the trophy,” Put offered.
In the words of the coach, a deep lying voice calls for patience with him if he does not meet the target.
Okumbi is now covered, but having called up the team he has a big share of responsibility.
Favorites on paper
Fourteen time champions Uganda Cranes arguably offer the toughest opposition in Kenya’s quest to win the title, and their exploits in the 2018 CHAN qualifiers and this year’s African Cup of Nations tells it all.
The Cranes, despite failing in the 2019 World Cup qualifiers made a major impact against football powerhouses like Ghana and Egypt, further making them favorites on paper.
In comparison with Kenya, they have an advantage in familiarity with the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) which has produced the entire Put’s team, than Kenya has for Uganda.
Unlike the Ugandan Premier League (UGL) KPL has always imported Ugandans, either at coaching roles or players who know can easily expose their neighbors.
However, Kenya can draw consolation in the absence of star players who feature in KPL as from Uganda, and most of the first team members who featured in the Afcon and World Cup qualifiers assignments.
Rwanda, finalists in the 2015 edition, are other worthy opponents to worry Put. They are in CHAN 2018, albeit through a double legged playoff against Ethiopia after Morocco took the hosting rights from Kenya.
They are also coached by Antoine Hey, who formerly coached Kenya. Although lethal striker Jacques Tuyisenge and his attacking midfielder Jen Baptiste Mugiraneza (Gor Mahia) are not in the squad, Put will pray the Rwandese who strength is in Rayon Sports and APR clubs will not dim Stars at the Bukhungu opener on Sunday, Kakamega County.
Tickets for the matches are going at a flat rate of 100 and 500 respectively, for the terraces and VIP across the venues.
Fans therefore have no excuse to turn out in large numbers, whether in Kakamega, Kisumu, Machakos or Nairobi.
How ‘Stars performs notwithstanding, fans apathy should not be written in the match reports.
To the counties co-coordinating and with the local organising committee have their place in the success of the tournament, especially to make sure the shame of 2013 when teams were locked in hotels for bills does not recur.
To the national government, although the money given for the tournament remains a top secret, kudos.
Lastly, as football loving Kenyan, I pray with Put anchoring my faith on the thought that ‘nothing is impossible’in football’, and Kenya is the 2017 Senior Challenge Champion in waiting.