Philemon Otieno has come an awful long way in the last four years to become a regular with the Harambee Stars; once upon a time, the versatile star didn't even appear like he was cut out for international football.
Four years ago, he was a midfielder turning out for Ushuru FC, but when he quit the Taxmen to sign a long-term deal with Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia, it was the turning point of his love affair with the national team.
Though he was at fault when Kenya played against Senegal, where he conceded a penalty and was later sent off for a clumsy foul, many Kenyans believed with more refined guidance, Otieno could be a great asset for the national team once again in the future.
However, whether Otieno's footballing future, let alone his international career, is now in doubt after the Football Kenya Federation and his club Gor Mahia entered into a war of words after the player was seriously injured, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, allegedly while training with the Harambee Stars, ahead of their two-legged Chan qualifier against Tanzania.
While Gor Mahia insist Otieno was injured while training with the national team, the FKF have maintained the player arrived in camp already injured.
“We treated [Philemon Otieno] when he reported to camp for the Tanzania match because he came with the injury and it was the reason he missed the first leg away,” Mwendwa told Goal. “He was put under the doctor’s watch who kept treating him, and it was the coach who said he was fit to play in the return leg.
“As a federation, we are not running away from responsibilities but we are putting things the way they are supposed to be.”
However, Gor Mahia CEO Omondi Aduda does not agree with the FKF boss.
“The rules are very clear on what the federation is supposed to do,” Aduda told Goal. "[Otieno] got injured while playing for the national team so he should be treated by the federation, not Gor Mahia.
“I even wrote to [FKF] and requested they foot the bill for the player to go for the operation and repair the knee. In any case, the national team should have insurance covers for the players, not Otieno alone.”
The two statements from the people who are employed to help players are now threatening to end the career of the international, who was key for Gor Mahia as they retained the league title last season and also reached the quarter-finals of the Caf Confederation Cup.
Several football stakeholders in the country have weighed in on the matter, with Kenya Football Welfare Association chairman James Situma stating the stand-off demonstrates how poorly players are regarded, especially when they are out injured.
“[Otieno] called and explained to us he is injured, but the FKF will take care of his treatment,” Situma told Goal. “It was a good thing and we were happy with the federation for taking the initiative to help the player.
“This new twist has caught us unaware; we did not see it coming. The stand-off has proven our players are not valued especially when they are injured and are not playing.
“As Kefwa, we will intervene and help the player. We are ready to pay the needed money for treatment and help [Otieno] get back on the pitch since he is our member.”
Former international keeper Mike Kisaghi, who quit football after a long battle with injuries, says the two parties should come to an agreement and help the player to pay the alleged Sh500,000 surgery.
“When two people fight, only one will suffer and in this case, Otieno will be in trouble,” Kisaghi told Goal. “The players need to play football, he pays rent and survives through football, so else can he do to earn a living?
"They should help him out.”
However, according to Mwendwa, they will only help the player when the federation gets funds.
“We don’t have money, to be honest, we are running the federation without money,” Mwendwa told Goal. “We will help the club to treat the player if we get money.”
Mwendwa also pointed out the federation has treated several players while on national team duty, giving the latest example of Zesco United striker Jesse Were, who got injured while in camp before the friendly against Uganda.
“Is [Philemon] the only player to have been injured while in camp with the national team, do you know how many players we have treated before?” Mwendwa asked. “We have treated so many players, even [Were] recently, we worked on him medically."
Asked on why the federation immediately moved to treat defender Brian Mandela, who was injured while the team camped in France, Mwendwa said: “For [Mandela] it was a different case, it was a long camp and the injury happened during the Afcon campaign."
Mwendwa continued: “Have you ever seen a player from Arsenal after getting injured while playing for the national team, going back to the national team for treatment?
"When a player leaves the national team then it is the work of his club to treat the player, not the national team.”
A top official in the Ministry of Sports refused to comment on the matter, saying the player involved had not raised any complaint with them.
“I can only speak on something which I have heard of but as at now, no player or official as reached out to me or anyone in the ministry complaining over injury issues,” the official, who did not want to be named, told Goal.
All said and done what next for ‘Mbish’?
Aduda insists the federation must honour their part and treat the player.
“We should stop the blame game now and see to it that [Philemon] gets the best treatment and returns to action,” Aduda told Goal. “We might keep on making noise but at the end of the day, it is the player who will suffer.”
On his part, Mwendwa said: “We will help the player when we get money. We have not ignored [Philemon].
“We all know how good the player is and he solely depends on football to earn a living. I request him to be patient as we source for money to sort him out.”
With the two parties now at loggerheads, the future looks bleak for Otieno, with the impasse likely to make it ever harder for him to return to doing what he does best - playing football.