When fifth placed Kariobangi Sharks take on Vihiga United in Saturday’s Betking Premier League match, an unprecedented happening in the history of Kenyan football will unravel at Thika Stadium.
Four young boys from the functioning Sharks U20 academy will for the first time be named in the match day squad that will do duty against the county funded side.
Although they will start the match in the bench, with the bubbling hope of gracing the top flight for the very first time at that very tender age, attacking midfielder Mathew Kibiwott, centre back Ian Omondi, left back Geoffrey Onyango and Isaac Otieno will kickstart their dream journey in the top flight league.
That historic occasion will mark the first step in their journey of a thousand miles to come.
From playing in the national division two Eastern Zone to being included and sharing dressing rooms with names such as Eric Kapaito – the league’s current top scorer and the 2018 Most Valuable Player and Top Scorer – in the same matchday squad. Is there anywhere dreams cannot take you?
And is there any better place to draw inspiration to take back to your mates in the academy?
But this trendsetting moment started a while back. Three years ago, in the league’s annual general meeting, an unknowing Robert Maoga proposed a change to the Kenyan football rules and regulations that should allow any premier league team to let their junior players to be promoted to the senior side as it is done in other established leagues in Europe.
Basically, the point was, if a club has an academy that is run by that club, then that club should be allowed to promote a few players per week into the senior set up on requirement that they have given the league management a 72 hour prior notice and that the academy players are registered and have their player cards, a proposal that was passed and approved in that meeting.
Three years on, the very same amendment has come to the aid of Sharks – where Maoga is the chairman – as the club is missing a large of its contingent due to injury and three of its U23 players namely Brian Bwire, Fredrick Alushula and Bonface Mwangemi being engaged in national duty ahead of the upcoming CECAFA tournament.
With the rule coming to effect for the first time in match day 26, Maoga went on to emphatically explain the impact of setting such an early foundation that hopefully will gain traction locally and put the local game side by side with global footballing practices.
“The club is short on numbers due to too many injuries and some of the players being away in Ethiopia on national duty. Due to that, we invoked the rule that I, as the chairman of the club, proposed three years ago without knowing such a situation would arise. So the four players will be on the bench and they might get their senior debut in the match,” he stated.
“We are the only club that has a junior side that is managed by us, registered and is playing.
This shows that having a junior side can bring depth to your team because at any one particular point, if you have star players in your junior team, you can promote them to the senior team, give them playing time and eventually by the time they are transitioning fully, they already have the needed playing time, they know the team’s philosophy and they will be ready for the big stage ,” the chairman added.
“With too many games as has been witnessed during these times, it means you can actually rest your senior players and play another team.
So, we are the pioneers of such an unprecedented thing in the league and we hope it will improve the quality of the league. This shows that Kenyan football is adopting to global standards that we hope other teams will be quick to implement if successful,” Maoga concluded.