The FIFA World Cup has reached the home stretch. All African and South American teams have been eliminated from the world tournament.
Every team that has ever won the Cup more than once – Brazil, Germany, and Argentina – have been sent packing in what has been termed as the most unpredictable world cup in history.
The fourth one, Italy, had earlier failed to qualify for the finals. This is truly a World Cup of surprises. Last week, the Kenya Year Book Editorial Board launched the book, Kick-Off that looks at Kenya’s football journey and the current challenges in the sector.
“At KYEB, it is our sincere hope that this publication spurs a healthy conversation about how we take this sport forward. We believe that if well managed and with adequate support at all levels of society, football in Kenya stands to contribute significantly to the country’s development agenda. As we Kick-Off, my humble prayer is that Kenya takes part in the next World Cup,” Mr. Edward Mwasi, the CEO of KYEB said.
What is Kenya’s current objective as far as football is concerned? This must be very specifically articulated and understood by all stakeholders in the game. Alistair Campbell, the strategist, communications genius and great sports enthusiast who headed British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s directorate of communications and helped him win three successive general elections, wrote a highly absorbing book about success in life. It is simply titled ‘Winners.’
This is what Campbell has to say about what an objective constitutes: “Getting to where you want to end up doesn’t automatically entail ‘winning’ pure and simple. Winning requires definition or, at least, calibration, according to circumstances. A struggling football team might start the season with the objective not of winning every match but of avoiding relegation. If Manchester United or Barcelona fail to win their domestic title or the Champions League, as happened in 2014, they have ‘lost’ over the season. But if a team that struggled the previous season loses numerous matches but staves off relegation this time around, it has achieved its objective and ‘won’’.
Campbell’s ABCs of winning are contained in three letters – OST. They stand for Objective, Strategy, and Tactics in which objective comes first because it is the most important first step and, as he points out, the easiest to one to define. It’s where you want to go, to achieve.
How good it would be if Football Kenya Federation specified in very simple language what it wants to achieve in so far as Kenya’s involvement in the World Cup is concerned. What would ‘winning’ for Kenya look like? Would it mean simply qualifying for the tournament? Would it mean qualifying for the Round of 16? Would it mean emulating fellow Africans Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana in reaching the quarterfinals? Would it mean getting to an unprecedented semi-final placing? Or would Kenya, against all expectations, go for the World Cup itself?
Like many good managers, Campbell insists that it is impossible to achieve success unless you are SMART – that is, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited in your actions. In simple terms, given the current state of the Kenyan game, many people would end up in the hospital with heart complications if they heard that Kenya’s objective in 2022 was to win the World Cup.
How ambitious should one be when setting an objective? This is a delicate balancing act. It requires skill, sobriety and a great sense of realism. There are dangers in setting the bar too high or too low. If it is too high, one risks disillusionment and a backlash when promised results are not attained. We all remember Nigeria’s captain, John Obi Mikel promising his President, Muhammudu Buhari, that the Super Eagles would the World Cup in Russia. They didn’t even qualify for the second round. Imagine the disillusionment – and derision and criticism – that followed. On the other hand, if the bar is set too low, one risks being ignored as a mediocre. You become the butt of jokes and one not to be taken seriously.
This can result in great harm to national self-esteem and transference of loyalty to other competitors. This has already happened in Kenya where football fans have become fanatical followers of European clubs and national teams and shunned their own people. It sometimes takes much begging for them to show up in stadiums to encourage their local teams.
FKF has, therefore, got its work cut out for it. But of all the multiplicity of actions, it must undertake, the most important is to state in the simplest form what its objective for Kenya is as far as the World Cup is concerned. This message, sold to and owned by stakeholders at all levels in the country, is what will get us started. The observation that Kenya has the talent and only visionary management is needed has been made since the early 1970s. The time has long passed to go beyond that. As they say, it is never too late to do the right thing. Let us bury our failures in the scrapheap of history and turn a new page of success. It is possible. Let the conversation begin.