Watching a soccer match evokes a certain level of emotion that cannot be adequately described. Football fans all over the world have been known to attach so much importance to the sport that some end up making irrational decisions. Tales of people who committed suicide after a team lost or harmed others just portray the lengths people would go to get over the pain inflicted in them. When players excel, praises for their heroics come flowing. Those players are almost worshipped by fans. It does not escape my mind how, in 2009, I saw McDonald Mariga play in one of the most prestigious leagues in the world- UEFA champions league. He was the first player in the region to ascend to such a high. He played in a club that went ahead to win the champions league- Inter Milan under multiple-award winning manager- Jose Mourinho.
Mariga’s success in Europe inspired young and upcoming talent in the country. This instilled belief in the young talented footballers in the country. It put Kenya on the global soccer map and paved way for other youngsters who were called for trials abroad. A perfect example is his brother, Victor Wanyama who has become one of the best known midfielders in the Barclays premier league.
While growing up, these two brothers knitted polythene wrappers into soccer balls which they played in the streets just like most boys do to date. Playing in these prestigious leagues then would pass a wild dream. But they made it there. This is purely attributed to the person who discovered their talent and linked them up with the football clubs that they first played for.
75 young talented footballers unveiled yesterday under The Safaricom Next Generation might enjoy success like the aforementioned players. This is after they passed the trials to join the My Professional Dreams (MPD) Academy which is a football talent programme designed to identify and nurture football talent.
It all began last year when Safaricom partnered with MPD to launch this programme that would change lives and fortunes of talented youth in Kenya. Between September and November 2015, the Safaricom Next Generation program embarked on an initiative to discover talented youngsters aged between 11 and 16 years, from different social classes across the country. Eight tryouts were carried out in different counties assessing the participant’s skill speed, fitness, agility and their participant’s understanding of the game.
Opportunity to the youngsters
There are thousands of immensely talented youth in the country but they never end up maximising that. They neither reap benefits nor represent the country at major championships. MPD Academies is a step in the right direction. Youngsters who succeeded in securing placement into the academy will get the rare opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches in the world. The 57 boys and 18girls will be offered coaching, nutrition development, mental exercises and testing fixtures with professional teams as well as trials at professional football clubs. “Some of the seventy five selected players could be selected to travel to Portugal for trials in the coming months depending on their progress,” said Terry O’Neil, MPD Academies chairman.
The future of football in Kenya
The future of football in Kenya looks bright of the plans put in place by Safaricom Next Generation programme is anything to go by. MPD Academies targeted relatively young people, between 11 and 16 years. Selecting players from different age groups and different gender means that the future of the game is not as unpredictable as it has always been.
Need for more football programmes
MPD Academies could only accommodate 75 young people. The eight tryouts conducted in the country showed that Kenya is a country that has many talented people. There is need to have more football programmes to accommodate those who did not make it to the top 75 yet they are talented. These players will then represent the country both regionally and in world championships.
Full time academy
The players selected will get to learn from ten leading UEFA-qualified coaches in the elite football training academy. MPD Academies, which was founded in 2012, has had successful programmes in Dubai, England and Wales but the best part is that the Kenyan academy becomes the first full time academy for MPD Academies. Players will get coaching at the highest level from coaches who will be flown in for training and mentorsrhip from countries such as England, Nigeria and Portugal.
The 75 finalists will be able to develop their skills and be placed in positions which will enhance their careers.