By Kenyatta Otieno
Aside from entertaining, football teaches us many other things. Now you know why some politicians in Kenya have been christened “Messi” and “Captain” in the past. Politicians have also love using football imagery in their speeches. Some have told a losing side to change their coach or captain if they expect to win the next elections.
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Every good football team or player knows what to do when they have the ball. Exceptional teams and players know what to do when they don’t have the ball. Playing football without the ball is the hallmark of football talent.
This portrays that the players know how to put off the opponents attacks while preparing how they will attack the opponent to score a goal once they get the ball. It is a delicate balance that can lead to scoring an easy goal or conceding one if not well executed.
Conceding a single goal in football often is the difference between losing and winning.
Since independence, the Luo have been on the opposition benches formally and informally. For very many reasons, the Luo have found themselves on the receiving end of government crackdowns as well. Neglect came in when there was no reason to clamp them down. This has led to the average Luo to grow up wired that the system will never give in to his need without use of force. It is a vicious cycle the police and their commanders have never taken note of. The use of excess force in Luo areas of Kibera and Kisumu continues to breed hatred and courage they deploy excess resources for.
The Luo have been in government – though partially or from the veranda – during the 2003-2012 Kibaki administration. Around this time, Luo Nyanza received a boost in infrastructure among other developments. In as much as this was the case all over the country, in previous times it wouldn’t have been news if Luo Nyanza missed out. In the midst of such a windfall, the Luo brigade still managed to shoot down the 2005 proposed constitution but supported the one that was proposed in 2010.
The Constitution 2010 brought devolution, which has been as well received in Luo Nyanza as in any other region. It is common to hear people say that Raila gave us devolution for us “to eat”. So since 2013, the Luo have also been eating, however small. These gains are good examples of goals scored when the Luo had the ball. Things have not been rosy when they have lost possession, especially in 2013. That is where something needs to be done. In a football match, you can never achieve 100% possession, however mediocre your opponent.
Clubs like FC Barcelona have perfected the art of playing without the ball. The moment they lose possession; their goal is always to get it back in seconds. If you watch them clearly, unlike many teams, they never fall back to their half of the field. They will prefer to pin down opponents in their own half of the pitch until they make a mistake and concede the ball. Once Barca has the ball, they can then go about their quick passing mode of play, called “tiki taka”.
The other option is “parking the bus” which was made popular by Jose Mourinho in his first stint at Chelsea in England. According to Mourinho, when you have the ball, you have a high chance of making a mistake thus exposing yourself to the opponent. Mourinho’s teams prefer to let the opponent keep possession while they keep almost all their players behind the ball. They then seek to exploit the opponent’s mistake especially on first breaks and score. Once they have scored, teams find it difficult to score against Chelsea.
The Italians have a lock down kind of play called “catenaccio”, which means “door bolt” in Italian. It is a defence centred mode of play that is built on nullifying the opponent’s attacks. It involves a player marking by the four defenders and a sweeper who picks out loose balls or players. The attacking side involves Italian sides scoring goals with few touches to the ball.
Where do we go from here?
In August 1967, Dr Martin Luther King gave one of his longest speeches at the 11th Annual Convention of Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In this speech titled “Where do we go from here?” King Jr. outlined the gains the Civil Rights movement had made and how much ground they still had to cover. After his death, this speech became the evaluation tool for the gains the black Americans were making in the USA.
One thing clear from it is that Civil Rights was not only about voting, sit ins, boycotts, marches, picketing, spending nights in police cells or giving arousing speeches. The push was about economic opportunities for blacks, their education, and housing and health services. On the economic front he said; “we must create full employment, or we must create incomes. Politics is not an end in itself; it is a tool for social transformation.
It is crucial for the Luo to learn what to do when out of power now that it appears this is where we have been forced to learn how to work best. The biggest challenge is our belief as Kenyans that the centre still holds “more cake” even after sending some of it to the counties. This is the genesis of several MPs opting to work for the governing party while claiming to be working with the government for the sake of development.
There is a school of thought that the Kalenjin felt more aggrieved than the Luo by the election fraud of 2007 general election because they knew what it was like to be in power after spending five years out of power. They learned their lessons out of power, which informed William Ruto’s URP positioning in the Jubilee Coalition. It is evident that in 2013 URP got more than ODM got in a near similar arrangement in the grand coalition in 2008.
There is a lot that can be achieved from the opposition side in our winner-take-all system of government. All it needs is a higher level of organisation. What one can achieve without the ball is a good indicator of what he will do with the ball at his feet. We can put our efforts in the County Governments. This means first electing the right people and less of rampant eating.
The resources that have been devolved are few compared to what was retained at the national level. This has made political leaders to keep their hands in the counties but retain their focus on the national government. To Luo Nyanza, this is all it has for now. They have to play effectively at the grassroots level as they wait for promotion to the top flight. To have a picture of what someone will do in times of abundance, watch how he behaves when he has nothing to spare. We must design a formation of play that suits our strengths and works well to cover our weaknesses.
American basketball legend Michael Jordan, in his book, For the Love of the Game, talks about good competitors and winners. At his peak in the nineties, his team Chicago Bulls overcame their perennial opponents Detroit Pistons. Their other fierce opponents were the Shaquille O’Neill-led Orlando Magic. According to Jordan, Orlando were very good competitors but poor winners. It is not enough being good political players; the Luo must go back to the drawing board and get a winning mentality. The best tactic is to let the opponents struggle for their goals while you score easy goals. That is only possible when you master your runs and positioning off the ball.
The writer is a practicing hydro-geologist