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Joy and pain: One man’s effort for Maa soccer

Maa FC recently played a friendly match with Liberty FC, an outfit owned by former Harambee Stars coach Jacob “Ghost”Mulee

By Jonathan Teikan

Even his harshest critics will agree that Isaac Salat has changed the fortunes of Maa FC for the better, giving young men hope that their talent can take them places.

The club, which he bankrolls using his own resources, recently played a friendly match with Liberty FC, an outfit owned by former Harambee Stars coach Jacob “Ghost”Mulee at the Cambridge Grounds along Magadi Road. So impressed was “Ghost” with the performance of Salat’s boys that he offered two of them slots in his club.

This is no mean feat, seeing as Liberty FC is the parent club of Harambee Stars’ main striker Michael Olunga, who plies his trade with Kashiwa Reysol in Japan, as well as former Inter Milan midfielder Macdonald Mariga. “Ghost”, a renowned talent, must have seen something in Salat’s boys and has invited them for yet another friendly.

“The game ended 5-4 in favour of Liberty FC,” says Salat. “It is clear that our boys gave as good as they got.”

In another friendly game on January 12,Maa FC were hosted at the Narok Stadium, where they played a team that is the cream of Narok Countyand walloped them 5-2!

According to Salat, the management of Narok Stadium is considering making the grounds the home ground for Maa FC. “We are all about nurturing and developing the talent of our youth; and for sure, they are quite talented,” he adds.

In April 2019, Maa FC participated in the Kiko Cup held in Kibera and emerged eventual winners, pocketing Ksh100,000in prize money.

There are dividends that come with nurturing talent. In 2017, when Olunga moved to the Chinese league, Liberty Academy, which moulded him from the age of 12, pocketed Ksh28 million as transfer fees. In every move he makes, the parent club gets its cut.

In 2018, “Ghost”said,it is that transfer money that he reinvests into the club to keep it running. That is what Salat wants to replicate with Maa FC. “This can only happen with the right attitude and self-discipline from the players and that is what we are trying to instil,” he explains.

At the moment, all the monies for running the club come fromSalat’s pocket. This includes transport and accommodation whenever they travel out for friendlies. “Of course, there are a few well-wishers who chip in here and there and we are asking for more to come in,” says Salat, a businessman.

It hasnot been all smooth sailing for Maa FC and Salat. He told Kajiado Star that he decided to give leadership to the club due to his love for football. “While I am not such a big fan of European football, I love local football; whenever I get the opportunity, I like watching games inside the stadium.

His love for the beautiful game led him to challenge himself. “I decided that with the little money I had, why not try uplifting the standards of football in my county and in the process help the many young boys who have evident talent?” explains Salat.

He then teamed up with a few like-minded people to drive his vision forward. “We believed that if we support these boys, some of whom come from poverty-stricken villages, then they can rise to become stars and earn themselves a living.”

That is how they identified a club known as Caring Citizens International Foundation (Cacif), which was based in Kiserian. To start with, he decided to improve their fitness levels by enrolling the players in a gym, at a local hotel, which also came with sessions in the swimming pool. “I also offered to take their play kits to the drycleaner after games,” he adds.

Unknown to him, his kind gesture did not go down well with some officials at the club, who felt their influence at the club would be threatened by his active participation. So they started plotting behind his back.

Meanwhile, Salat threw his energyinto organising an official launch for the club, which was slated to take place on October 20, 2018, at the Nyayo National Stadium. The colourful event was attended by, among others, Kajiado Deputy Governor Martin Moshisho.

Notable figures during the launch included Kajiado West MP George Sunkuyia, GorMahia CEOLudovickAduda, and former County Sports Minister Alvin Kimani – now Trade minister. Also in attendance were a number of MCAs from the Kajiado County Assembly, all of whom made pledges to support the club.

Aduda, who came on behalf of Ambrose Rachier, the GorMahia chairman, promised to give three Maa FC players a chance to join Gor’s Under 23 team. Well, none of the pledges, including a cash pledge from Moshisho, werehonoured, as internal wrangling andpolitical interference took centrestage.

Salat, who in 2017 contested the Keekonyokie Ward seat, soon found himself being accused of trying to use the club to shore up his political fortunes. While he does not deny his involvement in politics, he says that his love for football and commitment to Maa FC havenothing to do with politics. “If I was doing this for politics, I would have abandoned the project long ago after I lost the Keekonyokie seat,” says Salat, who now eyes the Kajiado senatorial seat.

Salat now claims that former team manager Wilfred Awilo, who was a-no-show during the launch, begun inciting team members. “He initially incited [the team] members not to contribute money towards the launch, which he termed a scam and an orchestration by some club officials to mint money from unsuspecting well-wishers,” he says.

He adds that Awilo, a former board secretary of the Football Kenya Federation, startedcalling politicians asking them to honour the pledges behind his back. The other officials were Mark Musyoka (coach) and Kennedy Juma,the captain.

“Most leaders they approached called me, asking me whether I knew them and whether I was the one who had sent them. I replied I knew them but I had not sent them,” he explains.

After they failed to get the money, “They started claiming that I had collected and squandered the pledges.”

Salatfurther claimed that Awilo was uncomfortable with him being at the helm of the club’s leadership as it inconvenienced him from undertaking “underhand dealings”like exploiting the players, “under the guise of organising for friendlies with established clubs in Nairobi.”

At some point,Salat decided that he had had enough of his name being dragged throughthe mud and took a backseat. It is then that the players came back to their senses and kicked out the former officials. “They told me that the officials were misleading them. Apparently, the officials had allegedly incited them to demonstrate outside the deputy governor’s office to demand that he honours the pledge he had made to the club,” he adds.

When contacted for comment, Awilo said, “Salat is not a member of the Maa FC,” and promised to visit our offices soon to make his case clear.

The players have since held fresh elections, with Salat remaining as CEO. On December 21, they trooped to the Namanga River hotelfor their first anniversary since they rebranded to Maa FC United.

On January 26, they are setto play a friendly game against top-flight club Tusker FC at the Cambridge grounds.

The club is now urging the Kajiado County Government to speed up the construction of the Ngong Stadium so that they can have somewhere to call home.

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