The most popular league in Kenya is not the Kenyan Premier League. It’s the English Premier League. Most Football fanatics in this country can name the entire Chelsea starting 11 but would struggle to name even one left back playing in the Kenyan Premier League. It’s bizarre.

What’s even more alarming is that despite Kenya’s fascination with the English game, Victor Wanyama is still the only Kenyan to have ever played in the English Premier League. Shockingly, no Kenyan has ever played for Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United… the same clubs that we frantically watch on weekends and our children dream to play for. The same goes for the other big European clubs.

Tottenham midfielder and Harambee Stars captain, Victor Wanyama

So why are there few Kenyans playing in Europe?

Here’s what many players in Kenya don’t know. It is not just talent that gets you into top-flight European teams, there are other considerations.

Let’s look at a typical Kenyan player. We’ll call him Dennis.

Let’s say that Dennis is extremely talented. He’s 19 years old and has played all over Kenya, garnering attention from scouts and coaches even internationally. But Dennis is also an Arsenal Supporter, so his biggest dream is to, one day, play at the Emirates Stadium.

What’s it going to take for Dennis to play for Arsenal—is his dream realistic?

The bottom line is that for Dennis to play for Arsenal, he will need to be offered a professional contract by the club. That means Dennis will have to be offered a job. And like with any other job given to a foreigner in the UK, Dennis will need a British work permit.

And how does Dennis get a work permit?

Basically, think of any other English job. For an English company to employ a Kenyan, they have to prove to the English government that the Kenyan is, in fact, better than any English man they can find locally. For this reason, the rules are extremely strict when it comes to work permits.

When it comes to football, the English FA states that a foreign or non-EU player, like Dennis, must have played 75% of Kenya National team games in the year that he is signed by Arsenal. Simply put, Dennis, basically has to be a star with Harambee stars for at least one year for him to sign with Arsenal. And at age 19, for Dennis, that is extremely unlikely.

But let’s say that Dennis is a star. Well, there is another rule that’s The English FA has put in place. It states that to get a work permit, Dennis’s country must be ranked in the top 75 countries in FIFA’s football rankings. Can you guess where Harambee Stars is ranked at the moment? Kenya is ranked 106 in football in the world, that is behind Libya and Oman. So Dennis’ chances of playing for Arsenal are extremely slim.

But all hope is not lost.

For Arsenal to sign Dennis, the club could appeal to the English government. In doing so they would need to prove that Dennis is of truly of exceptional quality and will help promote the game of football in the country. Dennis would have to be just as good as a player like ‘Willian’; who now plays for Chelsea but went through work permit issues before he signed there.

Conclusively, the chances of Dennis playing for Arsenal are very low.

Dennis’ example is one of the many reasons why we see so few Kenyans in European leagues. Because at the end of the day, football is a job. And as those of us in business know. Countries don’t want to employ foreign labour when they have options in their own country.

But there is hope.

It’s important to note that there are countries with less strict immigration policies when it comes to football. Countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greece…. And these are the channels that many African players use to break into European leagues—the likes of Wanyama and Mariga are a testament to that. And though teams in these leagues also have restrictions on the number of foreign players per team, they’re still much easier to get into for us Kenyans.

McDonald Mariga representing Harambee Stars against neighbouring country Uganda

All in all, this should not discourage our Kenyan players. Knowledge is power, and there are many players who are naïve when it comes to understanding how the world of professional football works. Though it may be hard to play in Europe, there are many other countries that play football in this world. There are many opportunities to ‘make a life’ through football, the game is so much bigger than what we see on TV on the weekends.

This coming April, Green Sports plans to have a unique opportunity for the best players at KITO Cup 2018. Click here for all the details. In the meantime, get your team registered and you could be one of the few players that go on to play at the next level.

Official Kito Cup 2018 poster.

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