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At 23, bus for premier international football may have already left

The bane of Kenya’s game is lack of  attention to U17 soccer

BY the time he was 23-years-old, Samuel Eto’o was a Cameroon national football team player for six years and having made a Fifa World Cup debut appearance in 1998. That was when he was 17 years  three months, seven days old, a record only bettered by only one other player in World Cup history — Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside who attended the 1982 finals aged 17 years one month and 10 days.

Kenya’s current Under-23 (Olympic) team goes by the curious description of “Emerging Stars”. They are re-inventing the wheel, aren’t they? Or they simply have no idea of the development path in the game. Most of these so-called “Emerging Stars” are indeed 22, 21 and 20. They should be concerned that their performance did not come to the fore and noticed a whole many years earlier!

The Kenya U23 football team in current qualifying campaign for the African championship. Above: Ovella Ochieng' of the side and already one of the genuine talents for the full national team Harambee Stars

The Kenya U23 football team in current qualifying campaign for the African championship. Top:  In action for the U23s, Ovella Ochieng’ of the side and already one of the genuine talents for the full national team Harambee Stars

KENYA

2019 Africa U-23 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers:

First round:

W  KEN 5-0 MRI

W MRI 1-3 KEN

Aggregate KEN 8-1

Second round:

KEN v SUD

Third rond:

KEN/SUD v LIBYA/NIG

If you were not on the full  “Harambee Stars” radar in your “teens”, then you were likely not of the caliber of the world renown players who make admirable national teams. Under-23s certainly aren’t the material on which future bright looking national teams are built on.

Rather than being “Emerging Stars”, these Kenyan players are merely being accorded an opportunity to keep busy – outside the “real” football played by Harambee Stars; borderline players who were never clear direct picks for “Harambee Stars”. The Under-23s are a “B” side, really — men in danger of being overtaken by time.

Even in Kenya, the “bright stars” show themselves, rising above the rest pretty early; and Kenya’s history is resplendent with youngsters who did duty for the country when they were teenagers,  barely in senior high school.

Kenya U23 during their emphatic 5-0 win over Mauritius at the Moi International Sports Center, Nairobi -- first leg tie

Kenya U23 during their emphatic 5-0 win over Mauritius at the Moi International Sports Center, Nairobi — first leg tie

They took school breaks and commuted from national duty. They read: Joe Kadenge, Allan Thigo, Sammy Owino, Nashon Oluoch, Charles Ochieng’, Eric Omonge, Mahamoud Abbas, Joe “JJ” Masiga, Mike Amwayi, Ben Musuku, Austin Oduor, Mike Okoth,  John “Shoto” Lukoye, Musa Otieno, Dennis Oliech, McDonald Mariga, David King’atua, and lately but not least Ovella Ochieng’. High school and in the U17 AFCON and  U17 Fifa World Cup teams is where you lay your foundation for the future. These are in fact your “Emerging Stars”.

In their wisdom, Fifa and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) saw the plight of “senior” players who could not make the grade in the very competitive national team selection for the “elite” Fifa World Cup, be it in the cut-throat qualifiers round the world or the actual finals.

Kylian Mbappe, aged just 19 earlier this year when he led France to capture the Fifa World Cup trophy in Russia

Kylian Mbappe, aged just 19 earlier this year when he led France to capture the Fifa World Cup trophy in Russia

The U23 Olympic competition was formed. To give opportunity to those who missed a chance in “elite” football. At first Fifa and IOC agreed that, to create interest in the soccer competition at the Olympics, teams were allowed to “spice up” their teams by inviting a maximum of three “over-age” players, clearly intent on attracting crowd-pulling super stars.

Young super stars, preferably teenagers, have historically been the magic pull of football worldwide. In this year’s Fifa World Cup in Russia, Kylian Mbappe (France) and Marcus Rashford (England) led a field comprising not less than 20 top players, all 20 or 19-years-old and Mbappe crowned it as being one of the most inspirational players for the crowned champions, France.

Samuel Eto'o, debut for Cameroon at 16 and Fifa World Cup representative at 17 years three months and seven days

Samuel Eto’o, debut for Cameroon at 16 and Fifa World Cup representative at 17 years three months and seven days

A nation stands doomed in football if it does not have in the ranks, teenagers who signal a bright future. They way Pele (debut for Brazil at only 16), Michael Owen (England), Samuel Eto’o, Rigobert Song’, Salomon Olembe (Cameroon) excited the world.

Nations are happiest indeed when the bulk of their full national team are laden with players who have already gained lots of experience while still as youthful as 20-22 years-old, with a sprinkle of are talent having gotten into the team from as early as 16 and 17 years old. It is disturbing when you hear of a Kenya pinning their hopes on 23-year-old players for competition much in the distance.

Pele (second from left) starred for Brazil in 1958 World Cup, aged 17y 7m 23d

Pele (second from left) starred for Brazil in 1958 World Cup, aged 17y 7m 23d

Kenya’s current “Olympic” team ought to be laden with plenty of players already with decent number of full Harambee Stars caps; men like Ovella Ochieng’ who has already honed his skills as a full international. Coach Francis Kimanzi’s array of over 20-year-old nondescripts almost unrecognisable even for their own clubs is disturbing. And please banish this “Emerging Stars” thing. Just call them the “Olympic [U23] Team”; Heck, they could well be “Over-the-Hill Stars” already.

Norman Whiteside - Northern Ireland - youngest ever Fifa World Cup player at 17y 1m 10d

Norman Whiteside – Northern Ireland – youngest ever Fifa World Cup player at 17y 1m 10d

20 and teenage rising star players during 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia:

20 YEARS:

#20 Albert Gudmundsson – (Iceland) June 15, 1997

Club: PSV

Iceland – 5 caps,  3 goals

Albert Gudmundsson of Iceland (10) playing at Fifa World Cup in Russia. Born June 15, 1997

Albert Gudmundsson of Iceland (10) playing at Fifa World Cup in Russia. Born June 15, 1997

#19 Amine Harit – (Morocco) June 18, 1997

Schalke – Germany. Came through the academy at French side Nantes

France – at youth level

Morocco – 3 caps

#18 Bassem Srarfi – (Tunisia) June 25, 1997

Nice – France. From Tunisian side Club Africain

Tunisia – debut March 2018

#17 Rodrigo Bentancur – (Uruguay) June 25, 1997

Juventus – from Boca Juniors

Uruguay – 6 caps

#16 Kasper Dolberg – (Denmark) October 10, 1997

Ajax – First team  since 2016, 32 goals,77 appearances

Denmark – 4 caps

#15 Nikola Milenkovic – (Serbia) October 12, 1997

Serie ‘A’ side Fiorentina – from Partizan Belgrade

Serbia  – 3 caps, first 2016

#14 Hamza Mendyl – (Morocco) October 21, 1997

Lille – France

Morocco – 13 caps

Hamza Mendyl, Morocco, born October 21, 1997

Hamza Mendyl, Morocco, born October 21, 1997

#13 Edson Alvarez -(Mexico) October 24, 1997

Club América  – Mexico

Mexico – 11 caps. Debut goal in the Gold Cup against Curaçao when he became the youngest Mexican player to ever score in the tournament

#12 Marcus Rashford -(England) October 31, 1997

Manchester United – 123 appearances for United, scoring 32 goals

England –  career start in the World Cup by scoring a wonder goal against Costa Rica

Marcus Rashford (centre), one of England's shining stars in Russia

Marcus Rashford (centre), one of England’s shining stars in Russia

#11 Luka Jovic -(Serbia) December 23, 1997

Eintracht Frankfurt, on a two-year-loan from Benfica

19 YEARS: 

#9 Ismaïla Sarr  -(Senegal) February 25, 1998

Rennes [France] – from league rivals FC Metz at the age of 18.

Senegal –  24 caps, 5 goals

#8 Ian Smith  – (Costa Rica) March 6, 1998

IFK Norrkoping – Swedish

#7 Jose Luis Rodriguez, No.9 above,  -(Panama) June 19, 1998

Gent – Belgium

Panama – U21, senior caps 2

#6 Moussa Wague  -(Senegal) October 4, 1998

Eupen – Belgium

#5 Trent Alexander-Arnold -(England) October 7, 1998

Liverpool

#4 Francis Uzoho  -(Nigeria) October 28, 1998

Deportivo La Coruna – Made his senior debut for Deportivo while he was 18 and becoming the youngest ever foreign goalkeeper to debut in La Liga

#3 Achraf Hakimi  -(Morocco) November 4, 1998

Real Madrid  – The Moroccan full-back broke through the ranks at this season after making 28 appearances for their reserve team last year. Has made nine league appearances, scoring his first La Liga goal against Sevilla in December 2017

Achraf Hakimi of Morocco plays at Fifa World Cup in Russia, born November 4, 1998

Achraf Hakimi of Morocco plays at Fifa World Cup in Russia, born November 4, 1998

#2 Kylian Mbappe -(France) December 20, 1998

Monaco – Broke into the first team at age of 16. Form earned him an initial loan move to Paris Saint-Germain last summer and he scored 21 goals

France – 2018 Fifa World Cup star, scorer, championship winner

#1 Daniel Arzani  -(Australia) January 4, 1999

Melbourne City – Australia

Australia – 2 caps, first goal v Hungary

The attacking midfielder only player born in the year 1999 to play World Cup in Russia

Youngest players ever in history of World Cup: 

#15 Chris Wood, 2010 – (New Zealand) 18y 6m 8d

#14 Michael Owen, above, 1998 – (England) 18y 6m 1d

#13 Assimiou Toure, 2006 – (Togo) 18y 5m 12d

#12 Vincent Aboubakar, 2010 – (Cameroon) 18y 4m 28d

#11 Bertus de Harder, 1938 – (Netherlands) 18y 4m 22d

#10 Christian Eriksen, 2010 – (Denmark) 18y 4m 0d

#9 Manuel Rosas, 1930 – (Mexico) 18y 2m 26d

#8 Carvalho Leite, 1930 – (Brazil) 18y 0m 25d

#7 Rigobert Song’, above,  1994 [also played ’98, 2002, 2010] – (Cameroon) 17y 11m 18d

#6 Bartholomew Ogbeche, 2002 – (Nigeria) 17y 8m 1d

#5 Pele, 1958 – (Brazil, also played ’62, 66’, ’70) 17y 7m 23d

#4 Salomon Olembe, above,  1998 – (Cameroon) 17y 6m 3d

#3 Femi Opabunmi, 2002 – (Nigeria) 17y 3m 9d

#2 Samuel Eto’o, 1998 – (Cameroon) 17y 3m 7d

#1 Norman Whiteside, 1982 – (Northern Ireland) 17y 1m 10d

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