The Circus that is the Harambee Stars Squad Selection

National team selection is always a moment of pride for all football stakeholders: fans and more so players who have given their all throughout the season to catch the eye of the selectors. Squad selection for a tournament like AFCON marks the end of the long and vigorous process of scouting, analyzing and assembling the country’s best to represent their flag. When Kenya’s provisional squad for this years Africa Cup Of Nations was released, the country came to a standstill, as anxiety and hope gripped the country who knew all too well how pivotal their squad selection would be for their ambitions in this year’s tournament.

Although Frenchman Sebastien Migne finally announced his squad days ago, I’m still trying to understand the logic behind it. One thing I must commend the Frenchman for is that he stuck with a large chunk of the players who ensured qualification for Kenya after a 15-year absence from the continental showpiece. Apart from that though, there are few positives to write about the squad.

I strongly believe that merit should be a key consideration when it comes to selecting anyone for any post, but that clearly was not a consideration to the Harambee Stars selectors when it came to whom should man the posts in Egypt. Current Kenya Number one goalkeeper Patrick Matasi, who plies his trade with Ethiopian side Saint George, deserved his call up, as he was exceptional during the qualifiers. The same goes for Farouk Shikhalo of Bandari, who has been outstanding for his club and was even crowned goalkeeper of the year in the Kenyan league last season, he has kept Bandari in the league hunt and has attracted interest from Tanzanian Premier League giants Yanga SC.

The surprise inclusions in that department are Kariobangi Sharks first and second choice goalkeepers John Oyemba and Brian Bwire. Kariobangi Sharks are placed 10th in the Kenyan league and out of the 18 league sides only 5 sides have conceded more goals than Kariobangi Sharks. If we are looking at league form, it means that there are 13 more deserving goalkeepers to choose from. Brian Bwire doubles up as the Kenyan U23 goalkeeper, and he was horrendous between the sticks for the side. His schoolboy mistakes caused Kenya to be knocked out by Sudan in Olympic qualification.

Gor Mahia goalkeeper Fredrick Odhiambo did not make the cut, despite the fact that they are currently top of the league and he is a CAF Confederations Cup quarterfinalist. Apparently that is not good enough to make the Harambee Stars squad. James Saruni the Ulinzi Stars goalkeeper was also left out of the AFCON squad despite his fine form for the military side, that begs the question. What do the Harambee Stars selectors look for in a player? It goes without saying that Kariobangi Sharks is affiliated with the Kenyan FA President Nick Mwendwa and I won’t labor to explain how.

The biggest contention with the Kenyan squad has to be the attacking options especially the center forwards because the selectors did a good job with the midfield selection and therefore the striking department will prove to be Kenya’s biggest weakness if nothing is done about it. No matter how well you defend and play in the midfield victory will come from banging in the goals. Apart from Kashiwa Reysol of Japan attacker Micheal Olunga, there is no proven goalscorer in the squad. If Olunga gets injured or suspended our goose will be cooked. The veteran Allan Wanga made the cut, he has worked for it by virtue of being the Country’s league top scorer with 18 goals so far, AFC Leopards Paul Were and Beijing Renhe’s Ayub Timbe will be good options on the wings if they regain their form and gain much fitness in time for AFCON but there is nothing else to write about the other options.

We must agree that Clifton Miheso has been good for the team in the past but who knows where he plays right now since he left Zambian League side Buildcon FC. The Federation itself does not know and that is why they just wrote Portugal next to his name, he plays for Portuguese third tier side Olimpico Montijo but it is clear that the selectors did not even watch his matches if no one from the federation even knows where he plays yet he still got a callup. Next in the list is Libya based Masoud Juma who the country will depend on if Olunga is unable to play. No disrespect to Masoud Jumam but he has been on a globe-trotting spree and has barely had any part in competitive football in the last seven months. Finally we have Zimbabwe born former Swedish U17 Christopher Mbamba who plays for Swedish third division side IK Oddevoid, the lad has not played any match for Kenya but still gets a callup, if he was that good he would have played for Sweden or Zimbabwe, but welcome to Kenya where the unusual is usual. I will not talk about Ovella Ochieng after his performance against the U23 of Sudan.

What perplexes me the most is how Zambian based striker Jesse Were could not make the cut. We are talking about Zesco United’s all-time record scorer with 72 goals. This is a CAF Champions League semifinalist, and he was shortlisted among the best players in Africa. Jesse Were scored a brace to single-handedly knockout Kaizer Chiefs in the CAFCC. To cap it off he has scored 12 goals this season both in the league and in CAF competitions but the coach says he is not good enough because he is yet to score for the country because Masoud has scored 4 goals in CECAFA, a tournament which no one takes seriously these days, as shown by teams bringing their second string sides. Going by the selection of the attackers, Sebastien Migne is trying to tell us that the Swedish third division and Portuguese third division are way better than the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup, an opinion that I strongly disagree with.

All in all the squad is out and there is nothing that anybody can do about it. As a Kenyan I will support the team and wish the team all the best, but in the event that we don’t excel it will be as a result of our poor selection process. Kenya are in group C alongside Algeria, Senegal and neighbors Tanzania.