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From Afcon setback to Kaizer Chiefs millions, 'Teddy' soldiers on

Sunday May 31 2020
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Kenya's Harambee Stars striker Michael Olunga leads teammates Anthony Akumu and Kevin Kimani in celebrating their first goal against Cape Verde during World Cup group stage qualifiers match at Nyayo National Stadium on November 13, 2015. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By SAMUEL GACHARIRA

It is unbelievable that six months before signing a three-year deal with Kaizer Chiefs, Anthony Akumu was among four players dropped from Kenya’s final squad to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Harambee Stars’ then head coach Sebastien Migne omitted Akumu, Clifton Miheso, Christopher Mbamba and the injured Brian Mandela from his 23-man squad. But it was Akumu’s omission that raised eyebrows with the midfielder having been in top form for Zesco United in Zambia.

“The coach called me and informed me of his decision a day before he named his final squad. I told him: “It’s okay”. The following day after he named the squad my teammates and friends consoled me a lot. We thought we would stay a little longer with the team in camp until they left for Egypt but then we were told we had to leave that night after being dropped,” Akumu opened up on his last days at Kenya’s training camp in Marcoussis in Paris, France.

“It was a long flight back since we had to connect from Paris to Nairobi through Abu Dhabi. I slept the entire journey. When I got home and I was all alone that’s when it hit me that I was going to miss out on a big occasion despite participating in many qualifying campaigns. I couldn’t sleep that night, I asked myself too many questions, why me? Am I not good enough? What is it that I lacked?” Akumu painfully recollects of his first night upon landing in Nairobi.

LEAGUE AND CUP DOUBLE

While at the airport in Paris, Akumu had received a call from Zesco United’s assistant coach Alpha Lupiya requesting him to join the team for the final stage of their transitional season where they were still in contention for the Zambian Super League title and Barclays Cup. To ease his emotional pains, he decided to fly to Ndola and link up with his club.

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“I couldn’t stay in regrets so I decided to pick myself up and go to Zambia to do what I know best. I'm happy it wasn't in vain because I helped my club win the league and the domestic cup. This success made me forget about the Afcon omission but whenever Kenya was playing and the national anthem was being sung the pain of being dropped came back. I felt so bad, you imagine you would be the one playing at such a big stage, against top players,” Akumu said.

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Anthony Akumu (left) signs a contract flanked by his agent George Bwana. PHOTO | POOL

But his resilience was rewarded in December when Kaizer Chiefs declared their interest in signing him as a replacement for Ghanaian James Kotei.

“I was heading to training and this guy calls me and tells me he is the chief scout at Chiefs and they wanted to sign me. I couldn’t believe it because he called me Teddy which shows that is someone who knew me really well. At that time Zesco were keen to renew my contract. We were in talks but there were also other options in Japan, Belgium, Angola (Primeiro de Agosto) and TP Mazembe.

"Chiefs were nowhere in the picture but when they came they showed more effort than the rest because they called me directly. Another top official called me later that night and confirmed they really wanted me. I had always dreamt of playing in the PSL but not for Kaizer Chiefs. When such a top club like Chiefs show big interest, you can't say no. I didn't think twice about it,” asserted Akumu.

BOBBY MOTAUNG FACTOR

His agent, George Bwana, revealed that the Chiefs move was a culmination of more than two years of Amakhosi scouts observing Akumu’s progress.

"When I was studying my Master’s degree at Nelson Mandela University in 2017, I met Bobby Motaung (Kaizer Chiefs Football Manager and son to club chairman/founder Kaizer Moutang) through a friend. I told him he should consider signing players from East Africa since we had good talent in our region. Of course I put in some good word for the Kenyan trio (Akumu, David Owino and Jesse Were) at Zesco.

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Anthony Akumu's agent George Bwana (second from left) with Kaizer Chiefs Football Manager Bobby Moutang (third from left) when they first met in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. PHOTO | POOL

“He didn’t look convinced. Luckily in 2017, Zesco had a good run in the Champions League going all the way to the semi-finals and that sparked some interest from Chiefs’ scouts who started monitoring Teddy and Jesse closely.

“Akumu wasn't a regular but when he came in you could see the difference because he helped stabilise the defence. Chiefs continued monitoring him in the Zambian league since it was live on TV. By then, he had already nailed a starting place and come December Chiefs were sure Akumu was their man. It's one of the smoothest negotiations I've had in my career as an agent thanks to Zesco for being reasonable enough not to stand in the way of the player," Bwana told Nation Sport.

Akumu is believed to be earning around Sh1.5 million per month at Kaizer Chiefs which is around four times his previous salary at Zesco United.

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