Why Harambee Starlets stars are attracting European clubs
Raw talent is what has attracted scouts to Kenyan women footballers, resulting in four deals to Europe this month alone with more expected to be completed before the end of February.
Harambee Starlets’ impressive run in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers, where they were eliminated 3-2 on aggregate by Zambia in the penultimate round, as well as the team’s performance in Cecafa championship went a long way in exposing the untapped talents that Kenyan women football has.
Anyone who has watched the women’s national team in the recent past left with nothing but praises for the players.
The biggest question then has been why most of these talented players were not getting to the paid ranks of women’s football.
However, in the last three weeks, the narrative has changed with four Harambee Starlets’ players completing professional deals by joining top flight and second division clubs across the globe.
Top tier side
First up was Starlets’ impressive shot-stopper Anette Kundu and defender Ruth Ingosi, both who were playing for Football Kenya Federation Women’s Premier League side Eldoret Falcons.
Moving to Cyprus capital Nicosia, they landed deals with top tier side Lakatamia FC.
Even before the dust could settle, news of Thika Queens and Starlets’ forward Mwanahalima ‘Dogo’ Adam heading for trials with Djurgårdens IF in the Swedish top division got fans more excited.
At the same time, there was a tussle for experienced midfielder, who played for Gaspo Youth last season, Corazone Aquino’s signature between Spanish second division sides Osasuna and Portugal’s Atletico before she settled for the latter.
As if in tune, Vihiga Queens’ forward Cynthia Shilwatso also signed a three-year deal with Spanish top-flight side Logrono.
The youngster had been invited for a three-month trial with Swedish side Hammarby, in 2018, but failed to secure a permanent deal.
Four have already signed their deals with Mwanahalima the only exception. She will undergo a two-week trial before an agreement can be reached.
Sources privy to the ongoing have intimated that by the end of February, three more players will have joined the paid ranks.
According to the source who sought anonymity, the current wave of professional deals is thanks to former Kenya international Musa Otieno and Starlets’ head coach David Ouma.
The two are said to have used their extensive contacts to invite reputable scouts to Kenya as Starlets took on Ghana in the Olympics qualifiers as well as during the Cecafa championship held in Tanzania.
The players too did not disappoint as they beat highly ranked Ghana and Malawi en route to the final round before losing to Zambia. They followed it up with a 2-0 win over Tanzania to lift their maiden Cecafa Senior Women’s Challenge Cup. “Our run in the recent international matches drew interest and these deals are as a result. As a coach, this is what I count as success for the national team. Any accolades that came with that impressive run are just the icing on the cake. Kenyan players are finally breaking the barriers in signing professional deals with top flight leagues. This means competition for national team places will intensify,” said Ouma.
“This has come as a result of consistency in the part of the players as well as in team performances. It only goes to show there is raw talent that needs more exposure to increase the number of female players landing such deals,” added Ouma, who wants the local league professionalized to attract more scouts.
The four join Kenyan internationals Esse Akida who signed for Ironi Ramat HaSharon in 2018, Mary Kinuthia and Christine Nafula currently plying their trade in with Sweden’s IF Dalhem, a club coached by Ex-Kenyan international Robert Mambo.
WPL top scorer Terry Engesha played for IF Dalhem in 2019 for three months but returned to rejoin Vihiga Queens.