The formation of the Kenya U13, U15, U17, U20 and U23 national football teams is Football Kenya Federation (FKF) roadmap towards qualifying to the 2026 World Cup for the first time in Kenya’s history.
The year 2016 marked a new dawn in Kenyan football. A Change in administration renewed hope that Kenyan football, which was on its deathbed, would have a new lease of life.
No sooner had the new regime gotten its house in order than the first assignment for the senior national football team, Harambee Stars, came calling. Newly appointed coach Stanley Okumbi, who had been called upon against all odds to replace Bobby Williamson, would kick off his reign with a two-legged African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Guinea Bissau.
Harambee Stars lost both matches to the West African nation in the space of four days, a rather harsh induction for the youthful coach to the senior ranks. This amid a promise by the then newly elected President Nick Mwendwa, who remained adamant that Kenya will make it to the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
But how is the Mwendwa-led administration, which has been in office for four years now, planning to achieve the tall order?
U13/15 Youth Leagues
Upon coming into office in 2016, the new FKF regime started off with sorting out youth structures that barely got attention in the past. The Federation established U13 and U15 Youth leagues in close to 56 of the 84 sub branches. Close to 30,000 players from 1500 teams across the country had a chance to showcase their talent.
These leagues gave birth to the U13/15 Youth Championship, whose first edition was held in Nakuru in April 2017. The championship, won by a Nairobi select team, brought together the top performing players from eight regions across the country.
20 players were then selected to form the U13 national team, which was drafted into the annual Southampton Cup in England in August 2017. The team came up against top European academies and returned home with the Shield trophy as well as an experience of a lifetime.
National Center of Excellence
Following the junior Stars’ exploits in England, there was need to keep the players actively playing football. This necessitated the conceptualization of Centers of Excellence where the players would not only play together but also study together.
In 2018, the players were enrolled at the Juja Preparatory School and the Laiser Hill Academy, courtesy of a partnership between FKF and the institutions.
Come January 2019, FKF resorted to centralize resources for a National Center of Excellence by merging the two. Right now, the 30 players drawn from the two institutions are housed on a homeschooling program in Thome, Nairobi County.
The players hold daily training sessions at the Wadi Degla Club in Runda, a state of the art facility that boasts of an 11-aside astro-turf pitch, fully equipped gym and swimming pool, among other amenities. The players also take online classes during the day.
The Kenya U15 national team came second at the 2019 CECAFA U15 Championships in Eritrea, their first ever podium finish at international level.
Earlier in April 2019, the team had taken part in the Mediterranean International Cup in Costa Brava, Spain, where they bowed out at the quarterfinals stage, at the hands of top French academy, Clairefontaine.
Locally, the team takes part in the FKF Elite League, whose first edition they won in November 2019.
Up next is a second appearance at the Mediterennean international Cup in Spain in April 2020, where they will be hoping to better last year’s performance. The team leaves for Valencia, Spain on April 1, 2020, where they will have three training sessions and a friendly match before they head to Costa Brava for the tourney.
The junior Stars, with a year more in experience, will also be taking part in the CECAFA U17 tournament as well as the Africa U17 Cup of Nations Qualifiers later in 2020.
“I have always wanted to be a professional footballer. Joining the Center of Excellence is a dream come true for me. Last year I was invited to Tottenham and for sure I’m looking forward to soon joining the Tottenham Academy and to play for the senior team in future”
“It’s always a pleasure going for sessions under top conditions with my fellow players. It is also good that I am able to further my studies while pursuing what I love,” Teddy Sirma, a member of the team says.