In a time in which the change-over of African national team coaches seems to be getting shorter, Bobby Williamson is the exception to the rule.
In the four years before Williamson took over as Uganda coach in 2008, the Cranes were managed by four coaches. His appointment brought an end to the coaching merry-go-round as he stayed with the Ugandan team for four and a half years. His stint with the Cranes came to an end in April 2013 and just two months later he took over Kenyan club Gor Mahia, whom he led to a first championship in 18 years. When Kenya’s coach Adel Amrouche was sacked in August 2014 following a 1-0 aggregate defeat against Lesotho in a CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, they turned to Williamson and offered him the job.
The former striker, whose clubs included Rangers and West Bromwich Albion, is now hoping that his stint with the Harambee Stars can be as successful and as long as it was with Uganda. “I think one of the reasons why I was successful with Uganda, is that I used a lot of local coaches. They know the players and it would be crazy not to work with them. I have tried to adopt a similar approach with Kenya. My assistant in Kenya is Musa Otieno, who has played at the highest level in Kenya and in South Africa. He really knows the game and has helped me a lot.”
Williamson comfortably took the east African country into the second round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying competition, beating Mauritius 5-2 on aggregate. In the second round – from which the 20 winners of the two-legged ties advance to the group phase – the Harambee Stars won the first leg at home 1-0 against Cape Verde Islands and are looking to defend that slim lead on Tuesday. The islanders are currently positioned at 32 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which is 93 places better than their opponents and not surprisingly Williamson sees his team as the underdogs. “Of course we are the underdogs. Cape Verde have played at the last two finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, losing just once in both tournaments. Kenya have qualified only once since 1994 and that was 11 years ago. So we have a mountain to climb if we want to make the group stages, but of course we are not without a chance.”
A blend of youth and experience
Despite conventional wisdom, Kenya made a mockery of the rankings in the first leg, securing the victory over the Blue Sharks courtesy of Michael Olunga’s ninth-minute goal. The 19-year-old is one of several talented youngsters that Williamson has called up for national team duty. “There is a crop of young players that can take Kenya further. They have to be given the exposure and I am glad that they have shown they can live up to the task. I have been working closely with the youngsters. World Cup qualification might be too early for them, but I want to develop the side,” he said. “But of course our fans want us to qualify now, and we all want to be there.”
Williamson has managed to build a formidable team comprising of youngsters like Olunga and experienced campaigners like Victor Wanyama, who is a regular for his side Southampton in the Premier League. “Wanyama and the other experienced players love playing for Kenya. They love coming home and they are fully motivated to do well.”
The Glasgow native is optimistic about Africa’s role in world football. “What is needed is continuity. That is very important. I was given the time in Uganda, but only because we won the CECAFA tournament and there was improvement. At the World Cup, Africa has been unlucky. I think some of the teams have been very unfortunate. If one looks, for instance, at how Ghana performed in 2010. They came so close to a place in the semi-finals. One penalty kick was all they needed.
“There are a number of factors that are preventing Africa from reaching its full potential, administrative issues is one of them. I think if those issues are sorted, then you will see an African country going close to winning. There is nothing to stop them in terms of ability.”