The National Super League (NSL), Kenya’s second-tier football league, was once considered the development arena and the stomping ground where young footballers seeking to ply their trade in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) would sharpen their skills.
Participating teams registered mixed results when the league kicked off last weekend, with all the home teams apart from Northern Wanderers recording victories.
The weekend saw former KPL sides Vihiga United, Nairobi City Stars and Ushuru FC all record comfortable wins, and the league seems to be rapidly changing.
While for years, the league has been dominated by youngsters, most of them fresh from secondary schools and, to some extent local colleges, keen observers will not fail to note that over the past two seasons, the average age of the teams taking part in the league has slightly gone up.
With stiff competition in the battle for promotion to the KPL, more and more coaches are unwilling to take chances with young players. Instead, they are pinning their hopes on more experienced players to carry them to the top-flight league.
Wilson Aol, head coach of NSL side Migori Youth acknowledges this fact, saying that the ever-increasing competitive nature of NSL means that nurturing talent is increasingly becoming the last thing in the minds of coaches.
“Unlike what most people think, the NSL is a very difficult league to take part in. It is very competitive,” Aol opines, adding that with more and more players coming into the NSL from the KPL, teams have no option but to also look for more mature players to be able to compete.
This is the same position shared by Maurice Ogur, former Kisumu Posta defender who featured both in the NSL and in the KPL. Ogur is of the opinion that the physical nature of the NSL at the moment means that no team can dare go into it with a purely youthful side.
“From my experience, NSL is even more physical than the KPL. It is not a competition where one can make an impact with kids,” he says, adding that coaches who had fielded younger teams early in the season had to quickly change their strategies.
Unfortunately, youth have found opportunities to nurture their talents hard to come by in the NSL, forcing them to drop down to the Division One and Division Two leagues which, unfortunately, are not popular and so do not give them the exposure they need.
According to Aol, lack of live television coverage for games in the third and fourth-tier leagues is bad. It means that apart from the KPL and to an extent the NSL, nobody really follows what happens in the lower leagues.
This means talented players down there may never be discovered at all, or are discovered when it is already late. Local football authorities must have these concerns in mind, and to learn from best practices elsewhere if Kenya’s club football is to grow.