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Matendejere, 71, credits self for developing soccer stars

Gor Mahia captain Harun Shakava, Gabriel Andika currently AFC Leopards goalkeeper, Ahmed Ali Bhai of Kakamega Homeboyz, Dennis Nandwa of Bidco United, Cresten Mwanza formerly with Leopards and Derick Anami of Zoo FC have all passed through his hands.

Even at 71, he is still not tired and continues the task of nurturing the next generation of Kenyan football stars. Welcome to the world of Omar Matendejere, a football instructor like no other who has dedicated his life to identifying and developing talent.

After his retirement as a clerk from the Kenya Railways in 1991, Matendejere wanted something to keep him busy but before he could come up with a plan, he came a cross a large number of street children in Kakamega and he was instantly touched by their plight.

“I started to monitor and interact with these youngsters who used to play with balls made from plastic bags and sisal strings in the evening and I managed to build a strong rapport with them which helped me understand them better,” says Matendejere on his first encounter with the street children.

It was after this that Kakamega Youth Olympic Centre was born with the aim of not only offering a home but also train the children into better footballers.

“We recruited 15 players aged between seven and 16 and commenced the process of establishing a talent centre in Bukhungu which was eventually registered by the government after three months and as per now, it is home to over 300 players who train during school holidays and weekends,” he added.

It is after this that some of the top names in Kenyan football—including those named earlier—were nurtured while the number of street urchins in Kakamega reduced and Matendejere is happy to have his son and former Leopards and Western Stima midfielder Ramadhan Balala, Kakamega Homeboyz team manager Boniface Imbenzi, who is also the chairman of the centre, as well as coaches Fred Serenge and Anthony Okumu by his side.

“It was tough at the start as I faced a myriad of challenges getting footballs, training kits and a training venue but we soldiered on. I also sought the services of religious leaders who could come in to speak to the players which saw majority of them go back to school and also some reuniting with their families with remaining few joining orphanages in Kakamega,” he said.

With its success, the centre caught the eye of the county government which started offering support by supplying training kits while Football Kenya Federation has expressed intention of scouting for players for the national Under 17 team at the facility.

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