What you need to know:
- Virtually everything Mr Mwendwa has touched has turned into a controversy.
- Harambee Stars has had seven coaches during Mr Mwendwa’s five-year reign.
A special talent in England gave the footballing world the expression “Bend it like Beckham”. In Kenya, a special voice among us is likely to give the world another epithet: “Ruin it like Mwendwa”.
Mr Nick Mwendwa, who was elected president of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) in 2016 aged 37, was viewed as the person to change Kenya’s football fortunes in the nick of time after Mr Sam Nyamweya’s controversial four-year reign.
But unlike the fabled King Midas who turned everything to gold with his touch, virtually everything Mr Mwendwa has touched has turned into a controversy — including a “24-carat gold” UAE-made Premier League trophy he unveiled in July, whose exact cost he could not reveal.
“Why do you want to know the cost of this trophy?” he posed when a journalist enquired. “Why are we asking about trivial things? What is the value in telling Kenyans about it?”
There have been other controversies, including multi-million-shilling deals with various stakeholders, some that were terminated abruptly; questionable national team selections; his treatment of Kariobangi Sharks, a club he owns; barring journalists critical of his policies from stadia; questionable movement of FKF funds; and mismanagement of the top-tier league.
In 2016, the year Mr Mwendwa took over the FKF reins, Kenya’s average ranking on the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa) global men’s charts was at position 89 out of 210.
The following year, that rank slipped to 106 and it has been in triple digits since. Kenya stands at position 102 as per the latest update of September 16. It will be at sixes and sevens even more when Kenya’s 6-0 aggregate loss at the hands of Mali earlier this month is factored in.
Talent dearth remarks
If 4-4-2 is the most defensively solid football formation, you might say Kenya’s formation under Mr Mwendwa has become an alien 4-4-4, which sounds like describing deep slumber in Kiswahili.
Ruined, rudderless, and rueful.
Harambee Stars has had seven coaches during Mr Mwendwa’s five-year reign, the latest serving on a two-month contract, though the national team’s number of wins over the period can barely fill a palm. Seeing stars has been the name of the game as the national team keeps sliding from grass to grease.
And on the back of a debilitating loss to Mali in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, Mr Mwendwa — in his usual dismissive way of talking — cast a doubt on the available talent in Kenya.
“Even if you bring Mourinho, even if you bring Arteta, the work that needs to be done is that we need to bring the talent to the table. For you to win, you need quality players,” he told NTV, comparing Kenya with Mali: “Are we better than Mali? The answer is no. Because we never brought out our players to that level.”
Jose Mourinho, the AS Roma coach he referred to, is often called The Special One, a nickname he gave himself due to his belief in his tactics. Mr Mwendwa, an IT expert with no lesser ego than Mourinho’s, might well be The Special Case.
In Article 2 of the FKF constitution, one of the objectives of the federation is “to improve the game of football constantly” but the jury is out on where that has reached under Mr Mwendwa.
In his defence of the talent dearth remarks, Mr Mwendwa has previously said FKF has been actively developing a pool of talent, which started through training coaches.
“It’s going to take time, but we are doing well on that front (developing young talent in the grassroots),” he told Citizen TV recently, noting that Kenya cannot fix a 60-year problem in four years: “Tacticians on their own won’t take you to the World Cup.”
There has been widespread condemnation over Mr Mwendwa’s Monday remarks. Former Kenyan international McDonald Mariga wants him to resign, as do a number of sports critics.
When his first four-year term ended, he was re-elected in September 2020, meaning he is likely to be around until at least 2024 unless someone flashes out a red card.
That card might be triggered by the Sports ministry, as Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed on Friday ordered the Registrar of Sports to audit FKF accounts. Given its timing, you might call the audit a free-kick at the edge of the 18-yard box. Will it hit a wall or will it be the kick that outwits Mr Mwendwa, who has often used court orders to defend his turf? Keep it here.