Mathare United legends reveal what went wrong for the once mighty talent factory of Kenyan football

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FOOTBALL: Mathare United legends reveal what went wrong for the once mighty talent factory of Kenyan football

Joel Omotto 08:00 - 27.06.2023

The Slum Boys were relegated from the top flight for the first time in 25 years and the former players have blamed the sad state on a number of reasons

Mathare United’s former players feel the club’s financial struggles are the main reason for their relegation from the top flight after 25 years.

The club was relegated to the second tier National Super League in the just-concluded season after finishing second from bottom in the Football Kenya Federation Premier League, managing 26 points from 34 matches after eight wins, two draws and 24 losses.

While they hit their lowest point in 2022-23, their relegation has been long time coming. The Slum Boys, as they are popularly known, finished bottom of the table last season but survived the axe due to the confusion created by the caretaker-run league.

Before that, they escaped by four points in the 2020-21, having finished 15th with 30 points. In the last three seasons, they have ended the campaign with 30, 11 and 26 points, showing how precarious the situation has been and most observers were perhaps not surprised when what appeared inevitable finally happened.

For the former players, it is a sad state of affairs which they feel could have been avoided if the club had the necessary finances given they have been unable to hold into their key players due to low remuneration while those around lack motivation.

Financial challenges

“Finances was the reason that made things go the way they did for Mathare. Getting sponsorship for Kenyan teams nowadays has proven to be a herculean task,” Anthony ‘Modo’ Kimani, who was captain when Mathare won their only Premier League title in 2008 told Pulse Sports.

He added: “If a team does not have a sponsor, it means they are not capable of retaining its good players so every season, very good players were leaving the club and at some point, it becomes very hard knowing that you will start a new project and at the end, half or more of those players will leave.”

Another former Mathare captain James Situma agrees with Kimani, saying frustrations due to delayed or no pay at the club is what contributed to his retirement in 2019.

“When I was there last, the team was really struggling and that is one of the reasons I retired. I thought I should do something else apart from football because it’s taking all my time but the returns were too little,” said Situma.

Lost DNA

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Another reason pointed out was Mathare’s inability to stay true to their DNA in recent years. The club is one if not the only one, in Kenya with decent football structures with a laid down plan for spotting and nurturing young talent through the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA).

It meant anyone featuring for the senior team had gone through the various youth ranks, making their transition in the side flowless.

“Before, you had to go through the MYSA structures but when the policy was broken, it started the decline because Mathare was not getting the best players from its feeder teams. The philosophy was lost and you could not recognise them,” said Innocent Mutiso, another MYSA graduate, who was part of the title winning side 15 years ago.

“All is not lost, Shabana took 17 years and they are back. However, they cannot do it alone. They need former players who have the Mathare DNA because it gave you life skills besides football,” added Mutiso, who ditched Mathare for Gor Mahia in 2012.

Kimani, who left Mathare for AFC Leopards in 2013 after 10 years with the club, added: “It is a team that has given lots of players hope especially those from slums and has given us a platform at the very biggest stage as far as Kenyan football is concerned.”

“Those of us who were at Mathare United and have now ventured into other aspects of football ought to have gone back and try to be part of the solution instead of sitting on the sidelines.”

How to bounce back

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With their financial problems likely to persist now that they are in the second tier, Kimani is among those who believe that the club is better off hunting for emerging talent rather than going for established ones who will be expensive to acquire and retain.

“The only possible way now is to recruit young players that will not have very high demands in terms of wages and are hungry to get a platform. It is the direction Kariobangi Sharks has taken now and it starting to bear fruit,” said Kimani.

“They have a lot of partnerships with schools and if Mathare were to do that, they would be able to get good talented players straight from school which they can sustain on their small budget,” added the former Leopards and Bandari FC coach.

While Mutiso fears that things could get worse, he is confident that the club has structures to help them bounce back

“Last time a Mathare team (Mathare Youth) went down, it never recovered. I hope they go back to the philosophy because they played beautiful football and attracted many fans. I fear the team getting lost but all these can be avoided if former players are brought back to help the team.”

It will be interesting to see how long-serving Mathare chairman Bob Munro shapes the team next season given how tough it is to challenge in the National Super League which will also see them play more matches.