Kenya’s national football team, Harambee Stars, is facing a crisis that requires lasting remedy if the side is to avert gaffes experienced during international duty.
The goalkeeping department has been Kenya’s weakest link in recent times; a dire situation that is now forcing the technical bench to consider recalling Arnold Origi from international retirement.
An error of judgment by Patrick Matasi denied Stars all the three points in a 1-1 draw against Egypt at the last Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers away in Cairo.
The same mistake hit Kenya the hardest during the 2019 Afcon group stage match against Senegal when Matasi conceded three cheap goals.
These costly errors have now forced head coach Francis Kimanzi to consider recalling Finland-based Origi who was a permanent feature in Stars squad for over a decade before he dropped the national team gloves to concentrate on club football.
Why Origi, who currently plays for HIFK Fotboll, you might ask?
Herein lies the reason, at least according to one Kenyan goalkeeper.
At the moment, almost all the top clubs in Kenya, led by record champions Gor Mahia, have at least a foreign goalkeeper in their ranks.
While this could be seen as something to celebrate since East Africa’s most competitive league attracts talent from around Africa, some people think this is not entirely a positive thing as it may stunt the development of the national team.
Twenty-four-year-old Isaiah Wakasala is one such person.
The Sofapaka custodian believes the goalkeeping crisis facing Kenya has largely been brought about by this.
He argues that the trend, if allowed to continue, will have long term consequences on the national team if corrective measures are not put in place.
“It worries me a lot,” the former Kakamega Homeboyz youth team goalkeeper said on the effect of having ‘too many’ foreign keepers in the Kenyan Premier League.
Gor Mahia has Tanzanian Robert Mapigano in its list of goalkeepers while arch rivals AFC Leopards and Tusker both boast of Benjamin Ochan from Uganda and Emery Mvuyekure from Rwanda respectively.
Burundian Justin Ndikumana plays at Bandari with Ugandan Allan Owiny turning out for KCB. Ugandan Ismail Watenga is Wakasala’s teammate at Sofapaka.
The trend, Wakasala worries, will create bigger problems in future for the national team.
According to Wakasala, the only way to avert the dearth of talent is if Kenyan keepers pull up their socks.
“Almost all the big six clubs have foreign goalkeepers so the challenge is on us local keepers,” he said.
“But I think local keepers must also pull up their socks; show what we are capable and that’s the only way for clubs to stop importing foreign keepers.
Matasi is based in Ethiopia with St George and with his cover Faruk Shikhalo in Tanzania, there is a need for a sustainability programme nurturing more talent to take over.
“If you look at the trend in the KPL, a lot of goalkeepers who are getting playing time are foreign and that basically means that in future we might have a shortage at the national team because we are not nurturing our keepers for future assignments and we might be hit hard if the likes of Matasi and Faruk have retired or should anything happen to them,” Wakasala told Milele FM.
But apart from safeguarding the future and protecting the interest of the nation, Wakasala’s other biggest worry is the dwindling standards of the local top flight league.
This, he says, is also a major contributing factor to the slow growth of talent in this very important department.
“The return of Origi will give some impetus to the squad because, if you look at the trend, all our keepers played in Kenya at one point but they are currently in foreign leagues. I think the upcoming keepers like me should also strive to break out before we can be ripe for the national team.
“At the moment, it is not easy for a local based keeper to break into the national team because they argue that the Kenyan league isn’t that competitive and even if you are called to the national team, they will always settle for those foreign based stars. That’s why I want to work hard so that i can play in a foreign league.”
Wakasala, who looks up to Manchester United goalkeeper David Degea, currently spends his free time during the current Covid-19 break to train young and upcoming goalkeepers back.
“I can’t move out of my neighbourhood because this is where I was brought up and I want to give back to my community by training these young keepers who look up to me,” he added even as he risks his life during the lockdown to pass down knowledge to a younger generation of players.
Wakasala started his club football career at Kakamega Homeboyz youth team then moved to Ushuru FC where he spent two years before Sofapaka approached him two years ago.