Missing stars in Kenya Chan squad blessing in disguise?
Jacob Icia in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
When Harambee Stars head coach Sebastien Migne named his 26-man squad for the pre-African Cup of Nations (AFCON) France camp, one name that was thought by many to be there for chopping while naming the final 23 was Joseph Stanley Okumu.
The Real Monarchs centre back, even to Migne himself, was supposed to learn in the camp from his seniors, as an Under-23 captain to build his place for the senior team in the future.
Severally did he mention youthful players and their future, indicating their chances of making the final squad were very slim if any.
Such was the case for Bernard Ochieng and John Avire, who all ended up playing for Stars in the AFCON, with Okumu emerging the fulcrum of Kenya’s centre back.
Musa Mohammed limped out during Madagascar’s friendly, and Okumu was given his only chance then. Brian Mandela had been ruled out of the competition, the main man at the centre back, leaving only Musa and Joash Onyango as the key figures to cover goalkeeper Patrick Matasi from the middle.
Good young Okumu did the unexpected, towering as the main man in that defense which he would repeat in the Congo DR friendly.
By the time Migne was parading his team against Algeria in the opener, the talk had changed to Okumu and who else, from his so inspiring displays. He went on to play all the matches full-time, against Tanzania and Senegal.
The star had been born, and announced at the biggest stage in Africa, AFCON 2019 in Egypt.
CHAN Open Doors
Similarly, for lack of the known better options, Migne will be forced to parade quite a new team against Tanzania’s Taifa Stars in Sunday’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier in Dar es Salaam.
He wanted Kakamega Homeboyz striker Allan Wanga for the CHAN duty, but retired weeks to the start.
He thought Avire, the Sofapaka gem who proved most valuable locally based striker during AFCON would be available, only to go AWOL embroiled in a transfer conundrum just two weeks to the assignment.
He had Francis Kahata and Cliff Nyakeya in mind, but the two joined Tanzania and Egypt clubs respectively shortly after AFCON rendering them ineligible for CHAN fiesta.
Same was the case with newly signed Yanga SC goalkeeper Farouk Shikhalo, and Yusuf Mainge who is now in Slovakia from AFC Leopards.
Paul Were, decided to go partying when Migne needed him in camp, and had to be dropped on disciplinary grounds.
This leaves the team very open for the players in camp, a chance for them to cement their place in the senior first team and for Migne to add more to his pool of credible players for top level competitions.
Kariobangi Sharks custodian John Oyemba has always a marked understudy to Matasi and Shikhalo in the team, but has now an opportunity to prove to Migne he can do the job.
In the absence of the two, Ulinzi Stars captain and keeper remains the only challenger, the latter also keen to show why a section of football fans thought he should have been in Cairo, or at least in France camp.
Just a two years ago, it was Boniface Oluoch (Gor Mania) who was the man for jersey number one, only tomlose it to Matasi when he was given a chance and proved during the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge that Kenya hosted.
While it is clear fit again Gor no nonsense defender Onyango (Joash) and Wazito FC’s Bernard Ochieng will be taking two slots in the defense, the other two are up for grabs by new two faces.
Had Philemon Otieno been available for selection (he’s serving a two-match ban following the red card he was shown against Senegal during AFCON), he would have taken his right back role.
So is it KCB’s Mike Kibwage or Mathare’s Johnstone Omurwa/David Owino who will rise to the occasion to complete the matrix?
Only Dennis Odhiambo, the Sofapaka man is guaranteed a starting berth in the rich midfield, as Migne has named him the skipper.
With his form and consistency during AFCON qualifiers and the competition eventually, he is the main man for the Frenchman but will have to be surrounded by youthful players who have not featured for the national team before.
Save for Gor’s and former Ulinzi man Samuel Onyango and Whyvonne Isuza, Wazito’s duo Musa Masika and Teddy Osok, Gor’s Kenneth Muguna are green horns to watch in the setup.
Isuza and Onyango have not been making the team despite regular callups, since that 2017 Cecafa tournament. Migne has never had an opportunity to think much about the the players in this bracket, as first captain Victor Wanyama, Johanna Omollo, Ismael Gonzalez, Eric Johanna, Kahata, Teddy Akamu, Ovella Ochieng and co are always preffered.
This could be the time for at least two among them to give the coach the answer he is fond of asking for?
This is the most competitively open department for Migne, unlike the usual situations when automatically Kashiwa Reysol goal poacher Michael Olunga leads the attack.
Wazito’s Piston Mutamba, Ulinzi’s Enosh Ochieng, Nicholas Kipkirui (Gor) and Kariobangi’s Sydney Lokale have almost equal chances of starting.
While Enosh has more respect for lifting the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Goldenboot last season, seeing the four in training leaves one asking who could be started.
The true spirit of CHAN can only be realised if at least two or three players rise in the absence of their seniors, like Okumu did in the AFCON.
Certainly, keeping his form, the next all inclusive Harambee Stars duty will be Okumu and someone else, maybe Brian Mandela for knowing the secret of seizing the moment.