When Gor Mahia played Tusker in a midweek clash last Wednesday, two teenage players - Paul Were and Kevin Omondi- caught the eyes of many fans. Then there was Musa Mohammed and Ibrahim Kitawi who are also barely 20 years.
While Were was the toast of the fans with a superb goal that silenced Gor Mahia fans in the 63rd minute, Omondi’s hit a 30-metre scream that rattled the crossbar also didn’t go unnoticed. Kitawi has, for over the last two seasons, been a darling of Gor Mahia. On the other hand Musa Mohammed, a younger brother to boxer Fatma Zarika is emerging as one of the best sweepers in the country today.
While these players continue to chase their ambitions in football, they all share one thing in common-they are products of Fisa Academy. Based in South B, Fisa Academy has emerged to play the role once held by Olympic Youth Centers in the seventies set up by German Bernard Zgoll.
With a national youth development programme virtually absent despite millions of shillings being forwarded to the Football Kenya Limited for the same, Fisa is leading by example and has set a target to provide the national team Harambee Stars with the entire squad within the next five years.
Already two of their products - Patrick Oboya and Maurice Odhiambo - have played for the national team and are pursuing professional interests in the Czech Republic while Kitawi has also in the recent past been considered, but it is the emergence of Were and Omondi that is exciting many.
Were is a 19 year old who, until we featured him in this magazine three weeks ago, had only had 20 minutes of Premier League action in a match against Thika United coming close to score only to be upended in the box and denied a penalty. He has been a revelation scoring in the three matches he has played since including a classic one against Gor Mahia.
Omondi on the other had has become the creative link at Gor Mahia midfield and at 19, he is bubbling with talent while Kitawi fleet feet have been keeping fans off their seats. It is at Fisa where this talent is being nurtured. The academy started as a centre to help young boys from the Mukuru Slums in South B out of trouble.
It was initiated by Dr Maurice Ojwang, a lecturer of law at the Catholic University. The first graduates from the academy - Oboya and Odhiambo - were plucked from squalid lives in the slums where they had lost hope of even finishing their education. “Initially we wanted to keep these boys busy, my fear was they would end up in wrong hands and given I live in the neighbourhood, my fear was if they end up in crime, it is us the residents who would fall victims.
Odhiambo, for instance, had dropped out of school after his mother passed on and he had lost hope in life. “When we saw the kind of talent these boys had, we decided to set up an academy and go deep in the slums to scout for more boys. The challenge was to encourage them to go back to school because some of them had dropped due to lack of fees,” says Ojwang’.
An academy that started with just one ball being used for training is now becoming the conveyor belt for Premier League clubs and is offering a source of livelihood for slum boys who would otherwise be engaging in petty crimes around South B. The over 50 boys from under-10 to under- 19 age categories converge at the Police Lines grounds in South B every evening for training, coaches from Premier and Nationwide teams are lining up to pick talent.
Were for instance was initially targeted by Mathare United who interestingly have their own youth system in Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) but it is Tusker that was quick to offer him a contract albeit on loan. Red Berets have also signed Victor Ashinga from the same academy.
But if there is a club that is benefiting from the talent at Fisa, it is Gor Mahia who have taken in four boys - Kitawi, Musa Mohammed, Robert Onyango and Kevin Omondi. “These boys have talent and will go very far,” says Gor Mahia technical director Zedekiah Otieno. “For instance Mohammed at 19 is emerging to be one of the best defenders in the league. He times his tackles, is good in the air and is very disciplined,” added Otieno of the Lang’ata High School form four student.
One of the coaches at Fisa, Mickey Weche, a former AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars defender and himself a product of the Olympic Youth Centres says Fisa is a perfect example of how a youth centre is supposed to be managed. “Of course due to financial problems the boys cannot get everything but the coaching there is of high standards and you can see by the kind of products they have,” says Weche.
Apart from offering footballing skills, Fisa also sources for secondary School scholarships for its boys. Omondi and Musa were in the squad that won the national secondary Schools title with Langata High two years ago.