The world cup starts in less than three days and football is all over the air; but before we start a conversation about world cup, there’s something else you should know first.
The most popular league in Kenya is not the Kenyan premier league but the English Premier league mostly referred to as the EPL. Most football fanatics (I included) in this country can name the entire Chelsea squad reserves included but would struggle to name even one left back playing in the Kenyan league. Personally, I can name the entire squads of the top six clubs in the EPL and the top two clubs in the five major leagues across Europe. I don’t mean to brag about how much I know about football, I am merely stating the extent of the problem. It’s bizarre.
What’s even more alarming is that despite Kenya’s fascination with the English game, Victor Wanyama remains to be the only Kenyan to have ever played in the EPL. I disregard Divock Origi for reasons best known to everyone despite him having his roots here. Shockingly, no Kenyan has ever played for Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham or Liverpool (and I don’t see it happening anytime soon); the same clubs that we so frantically watch on weekends and our children dream to play for. The same goes for the other big European clubs. I don’t mean to be a dream killer but that’s just the reality of things. I have at one point dreamt of the same, being a footballer myself.
Now onto the big question. Why are there few Kenyans Players in Europe?
Here is what many Kenyans don’t know. It is not just talent that gets you into topflight European teams; there are other considerations. Let’s look at a typical Kenyan player. We’ll call him Cooper. Yes, and that is not just for the purposes of this article. I am an actual football player, not professional but still a player, and thus found it relevant to use myself as an example.
Let’s say Cooper is extremely talented (which I am). I am for my team what Phillip Lahm was for Bayern and Germany or Marcelo is for Real Madrid and Brazil respectively but I don’t mean to beat the drum for myself as they say. He’s 19 years old (I can still pass for a nineteen-year old without the beard) and has played all over Kenya garnering attention from scouts and coaches even internationally. I might have inflated things a little bit there but let’s just say that for the purposes of this article. But Cooper is also a Chelsea supporter (I am an avid Chelsea supporter and Willian and Hazard are my two favorites) so his biggest dream is to one-day play at the Stamford bridge.
What is it going to take for Cooper to play for Chelsea? And is his dream realistic?
The bottom line is that for Cooper to play for Chelsea, he will need to be offered a professional contract by the club. That means Cooper will have to be offered a job and like with many other jobs given to a foreigner in the UK, Cooper will need a British work permit.
And how does Cooper get a work permit?
Basically, think of any other English job. For an English company to employ a Kenyan they have to prove to the English government that the Kenyan is in fact better than any English man they can find locally. For this reason, the rules are extremely strict when it comes to work permits.
When it comes to football, the English FA states that a foreign or non-EU player like Cooper must have played 75% of Kenya national team games in the year he is signed by Chelsea. Simply put, Cooper has to be a star with Harambee stars for at least one year for him to sign with Chelsea and at age 19, for Cooper that is highly unlikely. I mean, there are players I grew up hearing are in the national team who are still there now that I’m a grown ass man (a 19-year-old grown ass man-football wise). I will say our system is not favorable in nurturing young talents. More like our political system does not favor the have nots.
But let’s say Cooper is a star. There is another rule that the English FA has put in place. It states that to get a work permit, Cooper’s country must be ranked in the top 75 countries in FIFA’s football rankings. Can you guess where Harambee Stars is ranked after being thrashed 3-0 by India? Kenya is now ranked 112 in global football behind countries like Central African Republic, Libya, Vietnam and even Sierra Leone. I mean no offense to any Indian reading this or in extension anyone who has affiliations with India, but how on earth do you get beaten by India? A country that was banned from the Olympics for playing barefoot (not that this fact has any bearing on the team now but I felt that I should bring it up). So all I’m trying to say is that Cooper’s chances of playing for Chelsea are extremely slim.
But all hope is not lost.
For Chelsea to sign Cooper, the club could appeal to the English government. In doing so, they would need to prove that Cooper is truly exceptional quality and will help promote the game of football in the country. Cooper would have to be just as good as a player like Chelsea’s Willian who went through work permit issues before he signed there.
Conclusively, the chances of Cooper playing for Chelsea are very low.
My example is just one of the many reasons why we see very few Kenyans in European leagues because at the end of the day, football is a job. And as those of us in business know, countries don’t want to employ foreign labor when they have options in their ow country. That would explain why Matiangi recently revoked some Asians’ work permits.
But there is hope.
It is important to note that there are countries with less strict immigration policies when it comes to football. Countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greece to mention but a few. These are the channels that many African players use to break into European Leagues. The likes of Wanyama and Mariga are a statement to that. Though teams in these leagues also have restrictions on the number of foreign players per team they are still much easier to get into for us Kenyans. That explains why Michael Olunga is in Girona (Spanish Laliga) on loan following the restriction on the number of foreign players in his mother club Guizhou Zhicheng.
All in all, this should not discourage our Kenyan players. Knowledge is power and there are many players who are naïve when it comes to understanding how the world of professional football works. Though it may be hard to play in Europe, there are many other countries that play football in this world. There are many opportunities to make a life through football. The game is so much bigger than what we see on TV on the weekends.
BUT PLEASE DO NOT GO TO INDIA!!!!!
Name: Cooper Jose Njoroge
Height: 173 cm
Age: 24 years
Jersey number: 22
Preferred foot: Both
Strengths: Ball control, dribbling, consistency, aerial duels and passing
Weaknesses: Ground duels, long balls