Mariga sets the region a huge precedence

Finally, the East and Central Africa region has a football player in one of Europe’s top clubs. At last, we have got someone to market the region to the elite clubs network, I believe. Aren’t you excited? A region that has for so long lagged behind compared to other regions on the continent in terms of exporting players to some of Europe’s big clubs, a region that has been the laughing stock of critics and deservedly so…but with Kenya’s McDonald Mariga move to Inter Milan, at last we can start to believe there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, the East and Central Africa region has a football player in one of Europe’s top clubs. At last, we have got someone to market the region to the elite clubs network, I believe. Aren’t you excited?

A region that has for so long lagged behind compared to other regions on the continent in terms of exporting players to some of Europe’s big clubs, a region that has been the laughing stock of critics and deservedly so…but with Kenya’s McDonald Mariga move to Inter Milan, at last we can start to believe there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

I find it kind of funny to be saying this but it’s not all gloom after all… we’ve waited for this moment for so long, that’s why I too much pride in Mariga’s move.

I analysed news of the midfielder’s move to Inter Milan, Serie A champions and one of Europe’s best clubs in two phases; first with relief and delight that our region has finally got a representative at the very top of world club football, secondly as a challenge for the rest of the players in the region, who have ambitions to play at the highest level.

Not very many in Rwanda or outside Kenya took note of Mariga’s transfer issue, if at all they even knew anything about it but the hullabaloo the whole affair raised in his home country – Kenya, was amazing.

Kenyans were so excited when news first started filtering through that the Kenyan international was leaving Italian side Parma heading for Manchester City in England.

I was in Nairobi during that period, and I witnessed first hand the excitement surrounding the whole Mariga transfer.
But even before the speculations had sunk in well, things turned hilarious when it later emerged that the deal had fallen through after the 22-year-old midfielder failed to get the work permit.

As the clock ticked towards January transfer window deadline, reports came through that Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga – an ardent football fan, frantically, using government channels at the highest level to try and secure Mariga the document but all in vain.

A few minutes after the deadline, which fell at 8pm (East African Time), the next we heard Mariga had moved to Inter. The reaction this time was less agitated.

There must have been a feeling of disappointment from some Kenyans, who had warmed up to the idea of watching one of their own play in the richest and most popular league in the world, the English Premiership every weekend.
Mariga’s move to Inter will surely alert scouts for Europe’s top clubs that there is potential in the region.

I have a feeling clubs are going to start paying attention to our footballers, now that the jinx has been broken.

Unprecedented challenge

To even think of the fact that Mariga’s move to Inter is the first ever for any footballer from this region to play such a big club, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth but looking at the bigger picture, it sets an unprecedented challenge to upcoming players.

Our players, especially those on the right side of their age for an athlete should take this as a challenge to work even harder, stay focused, pay attention to every detail, avoid being duped into falling into the trap of dubious agents, who are simply looking to exploit them for a quick buck in Europe’s lower leagues.

Don’t get me wrong on playing in the lower leagues because many African players have started there and gone to become big stars, but my concern is the type of agents/managers as they like to call themselves when they’re convincing young and less informed African players.

While almost all Africa’s best export to Europe’s top clubs have come from one region of West Africa over the years, with a fair share coming fromsouthern Africa and to some extent the north, our region has been an unknown in terms of producing top players but I believe Mariga’s move will go along way to change all that.

Ideally, this would be the opportune moment for whoever cares about developing the beautiful game in our region to start thinking big after we finally have someone to look at as a yardstick for nurturing the abundant raw talent which is just rotting under our noses.

Players in this region should look at Mariga and start to rethink the way they approach their journey to the Promised Land because he has opened the door for scouts of Europe’s top clubs to say, hey, there is potential in the region, why not go and take advantage of it.

 …and who knows if in five or so years, the attention will have shifted to our unexploited region, after all the west has been overexploited and it appears as though it is running out of resources.

Just the fact that Mariga once was a team mate of our very own Olivier Karekezi in Sweden with Helsinborg, having come from the lower division, should be enough encouragement for Rwanda’s aspiring footballers to aim higher than ever before.

But the unfortunate bit of it is that while the Kenyan midfielder will be playing in Uefa Champions League against Chelsea next week and almost already assured of a Serie winner’s medal at the end of the season, little is known of what Karekezi will be doing then or what he plans to do next…the last time I checked, he was club-less!

nku78@yahoo.com