Grassroot football is the basis upon which football ideology is forged and in this era of crass commercialization of the beautiful game, football purists can still find solace there. So I took it upon myself to delve into the labyrinth that is grassroot football and reveal its inner workings; for it’s there that Kenya will find an identity to develop its football by. My first stop, Zetech University.
Like most private institutions, Zetech University has the capability to invest quite an amount of resources to football. The school maintains two teams, Zetech Nairobi and Zetech Ruiru, both under the tutelage of coaches who have made their name in Kenyan football. The former is coached by Sammy Pamzo Omollo, a man who has won the Kenya Premier League title and now does punditry work for Radio Jambo. Ruiru’s team is under Gor Mahia’s U19 coach, Morris Onyango; popularly referred to as Onyi. Moreover, the institution conducts a sports scholarship programme thus capturing a generation that would otherwise be lost.
The two teams, while under the same banner, are different in ability and culture (tactics). Zetech Ruiru serves as a quasi-feeder side to the Nairobi team. Nervertheless, they feature in the various leagues organized to serve grassroot football; Universities league, Universities and Colleges league and federation run provincial league.
While they actually hold a joint training session, at River Bank Primary School in Ngara, the two teams employ different philosophies in their approach to football. Zetech Nairobi favours proactive football accompanied by elaboration. According to their coach and core players, they have adopted a short passing game where they shift play rapidly in the final third to create scoring opportunities (a hard task to accomplish with the unstandardized playing surfaces they come across during the season). This is done by creating overloads and having good link-up and long-range passing players. This approach is expected, mostly by football moralists, since theoretically the Nairobi team is the better team in terms of personnel. Pamzo is the stricter of the coaches and favours intense sessions to help build up fitness and maintain players’ commitment to the team in terms of attending training sessions- a very important thing. He is also big on discpline and professionalism, evidently carring his KPL calibre into this team.
Conversely, Zetech Ruiru has to employ greater tactical versatility as theoretically they have an inferior team in terms of personnel. Usually, tactical versatility goes hand in hand with reactive football and it’s not any different here.So while they field, pretty much, the same systems as their sister team, approach is different. Usually people confuse a system with an approach; a system implies the arrangement of players in the field (strategy) and approach is how they intend to win the game (tactic); people also confuse strategy and tactic but I digress. The Ruiru team is not only reactive but can also be very direct. While Nairobi’s team play emphasizes ability of the team between the lines (where creative players flourish) and decoys in the channels (how overloads operate), the Ruiru team puts emphasis on vertical attacks. It’s common to see long balls forward or wing attack from this team. Their, deceptively, soft-spoken coach is very lucid on what he wants and will not desist from making early substitutions.
Despite the, commendable, effort by Zetech to spruce up these teams there is plenty of room for improvement. As I observed, the technical bench is still too thin. There is no dedicated psychological trainer or team-builder to guide the enthusiastic lads who aim to make it big in football. There is also a lack of proper scouting in checking out the opposition with the coach himself having to regularly observe his next opponent or depend largely on background knowledge which can be prone to manipulation. These may seem like luxuries but are infact a few of the vital aspects for true success in modern football. Perhaps this is where sponsors and the federation come in if they truly seek to promote football at this level; working in partnerships with already present institutions and building an identity cheaply around already existing structures.
The Zetech team (s) has largely proved to be a success, not only through its aforementioned scholarship programme but also in terms of on-pitch success. They clinched the Universities and Colleges league and are aiming ever higher to progress up the league tiers of Kenyan football.