Over the years, Kenya has proved a popular destination for some of the world’s top sportsmen and women, especially football players.
Just days after the departure of one of the world’s best players ever, Brazil’s Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho Gaucho, another football star comes calling this weekend.
Former controversial England striker Robbie Fowler lands in Nairobi on Friday to join ex-goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, strikers John Barnes and Ian Rush on the list of Liverpool legends who have marked Kenya off their bucket list in recent times.
Before them, the world’s fastest man ever, Usain Bolt, visited Kenya alongside fellow Puma poster boy Samuel Eto’o.
Endorsing global products
Nigeria’s ball wizard Augustine “Jay Jay” Okocha, his fellow “Super Eagles” stars Daniel Amokachi and Sunday Oliseh, Arsenal legends Thierry Henry, Lauren Etame Mayer and Manchester City man-mountain Yaya Toure also came calling.
Multiple Grand Slam champion Serena Williams was also here, as was former World Cup-winning German football captain Lothar Mattaus.
As if on cue, ex-Manchester United and England central defender Rio Ferdinand will also be in Nairobi on commercial engagements shortly after Fowler departs, hopefully — on a lighter note — to also pacify jittery “Red Devils” fans, like myself.
In the 1970s, Mohammed Ali and Pele were here too.
Meanwhile, Manchester City and Manchester United managers, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, are common faces on the Kenyan coast, especially in Malindi.
But while Jose and Pep love holiday breaks on the flawless beaches of our beautiful country, away from the pressure of demanding Mancunian fans, the rest have been here to make money. And lots of it!
They come on promotional tours, endorsing global products and brands, and in the process exciting their bank balances.
Fowler, with 379 goals from 163 premiership appearance to write home about, will be in Nairobi as a guest of Barclays Bank Kenya and will feature in a number of customer engagements, including sharing business ideas with university students — under the Barclays “ReadytoWork” programme — and conducting football clinics for youngsters in the city.
Since his retirement in 2012, Fowler has kept himself busy, earning a tidy sum from corporate after-dinner talks besides being a television pundit for various global channels.
The 43-year-old former striker also writes syndicated columns for British newspapers besides running the Robbie Fowler Education and Football Academy that helps English youngsters live their footballing dreams, either through university football scholarship placements or as outright professional players.
Such engagements help these stars to transition, seamlessly, from their playing careers, examples our own top performers ought to learn from.
Barclays Bank must have spent an arm and a leg to get Fowler here this weekend as the former “Reds” striker is one of the most sought after speakers at corporate events, his services managed by various firms in England, including the Champion Speakers agency.
Champion Speakers have in their enviable portfolio of sports celebrity speakers such stars as South African golfer George Coetzee, England’s World Cup-winning rugby captain Martin Johnson, Olympic track gold medallist Kelly Holmes, heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua as well as ex-England Test cricket stars Alec Stewart and Andrew Flintoff.
On the contrary, very few of Kenya’s world-beating athletes have well thought-out, post-career engagements and it’s hardly surprising that many of them sink into depression away from the limelight in their twilight years.
Most of our world-beaters hardly give motivational talks, they don’t run talent academies and never inspire fledgling stars.
World marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge is one of few who have set the pace on and off competition, setting aside time for promotional tours and engagements that will most certainly continue way after his retirement.
Kipchoge is currently concluding a busy Asian tour powered by his shoe sponsors Nike, demand for his appearances having increased tenfold after that memorable run in Berlin that yielded a hard-to-beat world record of two hours, one minute and 39 seconds.
It would be awesome to see Kipchoge and his Kenyan peers also break into television commentary to join Britain’s women’s world record holder Paula Radcliffe, now a common figure in the commentary booths of the World Marathon Majors Series and at various track and field meetings.
It’s sad that with all the Kenyan prowess in distance running, the country is yet to produce an ex-runner television pundit in the global commentary booths that are inundated by scores of joggers and armchair analysts, some unleashing “googled” snippets on Kenyan running and seeking to be authorities.
Media work, product endorsements and academy work are some of the areas our sportsmen and women need to embrace closely to stay relevant after their careers.
It’s sad that many of our top performers shy away from the very media that can build them into global brands and help them eke out a post-career living.
Media training is most certainly one area that our federations need to take seriously in their annual calendar of events as such exposure could help unlock our stars’ potential outside competition.