Is Kenya shooting itself in the foot by allowing Ugandan players to dominate the local league at the expense of homegrown talent?
That is one question football pundits in the country are grappling with even as many foreign players continue to move to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL). And while many argue that we need the Ugandans to improve our game, the Kenya Football Coaches Association (Kefwa) chairman, Ricky Solomon, thinks otherwise.
“I believe that allowing many Ugandans to play in the KPL denies our own capable young boys a chance to flourish. We want to go for shortcuts instead of developing our own. We need structures, a little bit of patience to build our own talents. Trust me, in five years’ time, we will have no reason to spend heavily on these foreigners,” he says.
On whether Ugandan players enhance our league’s competitiveness, Ricky says:
“The Gor Mahia team that won the Mandela Cup in 1987 comprised of only Kenyans. But they still managed to conquer Africa! Tell me, how do you measure their (Ugandans’) contribution to our competitiveness in football? In fact, we should consider lowering the quota from five to maybe three,” he says.
As the debate rages on, it may not come as a surprise that local teams still have an insatiable desire for Ugandan players.
Often, the Ugandans not only attract high wages, but are also the most expensive when it comes to transfers, which means they come with a guarantee of playing regularly. To the regular footballer starting his career in some village in Uganda, moving to Kenya is almost a guarantee of better tidings in future. A move to the KPL is considered a big leap.
As teams gear for the 2017 season, four clubs have already confirmed Ugandan coaches will be heading their benches.
These are; Sofapaka (Sam Ssimbwa), Tusker (George Nsimbe), Bandari (Paul Nkata) and Muhoroni Youth (Richard Tamale).
Over the past, say nine years, only Ulinzi Stars, and to a large extent Mathare United, have not benefited from the services of Ugandan players.
A number of Ugandan players have won accolades in Kenyan football, something that has not gone down well with many locals. Take the case of Dan Sserunkuma, who was feted as the Player of the Year in 2012 Kenya Premier League Awards. This left a lump in the throats of many Kenyans.
Uganda Cranes head coach Milutin Micho Sredojevic knows just how much KPL has helped to build his players.
“I am grateful to the Kenyan league for giving Ugandan players a chance. They are doing very well, and that has improved my job and made it easy for me here. I have top players that I follow in KPL league as well as the Tanzanian league,” he said.
In the recently-concluded Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Gabon, Micho had four players in his team who can directly relate with the KPL – Shafik Batambuze (Tusker), Walusimbi (Gor Mahia) and Aucho and Kizito, (formerly of Gor Mahia).
Ugandan coaches have also landed in KPL and made names for themselves. One such person is the reigning KPL Coach of the Year, Paul Nkata. He led Tusker to a double last season and joins former Sofapaka coach Sam Timbe as some of the top Ugandan coaches to have taken Kenyan football by storm.