On Tuesday 14 May, Harambee Stars head coach Sebastien Migne named a provisional 30-man squad that will hit camp in preparation for this year’s AFCON tournament that will be hosted by Egypt in a month’s time.
The Frenchman kept faith with a huge chunk of the players that had featured in the tournament qualifiers but just like in those qualifiers, some of his call-ups have been questioned. Was there due diligence? What has been the reasoning behind some players missing out and others getting the nod?
All worthy questions that need answers to and as he sought to explain away his decisions when he announced his squad, Migne, who is the sixth coach in Kenya’s history to qualify the team to a Nations Cup, likened this very situation to that of French national team coach Didier Deschamps, who has endured great backlash for ostracizing some of the country’s most high profile and experienced players in the recent past.
Migne’s provisional squad does not include David Cheche Ochieng nor Jesse Were, two players not devoid of experience gained from years in the national team and from playing abroad. Two players that were present in the qualifiers. But it does though include the inexperienced quartet of goalkeepers John Oyemba and Brian Bwire, striker John Avire and uncapped midfielder Chris Mbamba.
“If I was to take the best 23 players from this country then possibly Jesse is there. But I have to think about the harmony of the group. That is what comes first. It might not be a list that everyone wanted but it is what I want and feel I can work with,” Migne said.
His sentiments are more along the same lines of what Deschamps said when he dropped Karim Benzema from his 2018 FIFA World Cup winning side. Benzema, a four time Champions League winner with Real Madrid has won 81 caps but an off the field incident involving Les Blues teammate Mathieu Valbuena back in 2015 has seen him unable to feature for his country since then.
“I am here to make choices. Choices that go in the direction of what is good for the team of France. I only make sporting choices, never personal choices,” Deschamps said in 2018 before leading his country to its second world title.
Just like his fellow countryman, Migne has brushed off any claims of there being a personal issue between him and the said players with his decisions only made for the greater good of the team.
“I like the two players and the door isn’t closed for them but I have my reasons. For example Cheche has not shown that he is ready to play at the high level. I watched him in his last game for his club and he did not look ready even if he has been playing in a position that is not his.
Cheche, who resigned with AFC Leopards at the mid-way point of the current season after parting ways with Bromma FC of Sweden, has been deployed in midfield at Leopards instead of his usual centre back position.
“For Jesse, he has not been able to really get going for the national team as he is yet to score in 26 caps even though he is prolific for his club. He is the best striker in Zambia but we also have in our squad the best striker in Kenya
“Sometimes also if you have experienced players that are not happy with sitting on the bench you end up creating trouble for nothing. But if you have someone who wants to learn (reasons why Bwire, Avire and Oyemba are in the squad) and is happy to be there and brings positive spirit, that also is important.
“I want a positive attitude in camp among my players. So it is not necessarily the most talented pool of players but the most cohesive.
“It was difficult also for my French colleague Deschamps who excluded Karim Benzema from his world cup squad and at the time Benzema was in one of the world’s best attacking duo with Cristiano Ronaldo. For this reason Benzema had to be in the list but Deschamps had another idea to harmonize his group. It is the same for me today and I have nothing against any player,” he concluded.
The 46 year old also confirmed that he had spoken personally to every single one of the players that he had dropped before releasing the list because he did not want them finding out from the media.
Camp for the local based players will start from next week before the squad fully assembles for a three week training camp in France from May 30th to June 18th. 26 players of the 30 named will travel to France where three more players will be dropped for the final 23 that will jet into Egypt.