By Kimathi Kamau
NAIROBI, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's national soccer team head coach Stanley Okumbi has come under fire for calling up a banned player to his provisional squad for three international friendlies.
Kariobangi Sharks FC defender Pascal Ogweno was suspended for six games after assaulting a match official in a top-flight local league clash against Posta Rangers FC on April 22.
The defender, who tore up the referee's red card after being sent off, was then sanctioned by his club of deducting his pay.
Okumbi, formerly the Sharks' head coach, called up Ogweno on Tuesday in his rejigged preliminary squad of 51 for friendlies against Mauritania, Togo and Mozambique in Morocco during the FIFA international week starting on Sept. 2.
Ogweno's presence in the squad sparked a social media row over the national team's management, accusing open bias to Sharks players when it comes to selection.
"A Kenyan Premier League (KPL) player banned for roughing up a referee and tearing into pieces the red card he had been shown has been included in the national team Harambee Stars. What club does he play for? Your guess is as good as mine," veteran sports journalist Odindo Ayieko posted on Facebook.
"Ogweno and (the Sharks striker) Masoud Juma remind me of those kids whose moms were teachers. They were loudest but you'd never see them on noisemakers' list. We suffered on their behalf," another sportswriter Ochieng Otieno added, amid many posts, some unsavoury, slamming the alleged favoritism of Sharks players in the national side.
Ogweno had his supporters in what turned out to be full-blown social media war after his call-up was announced to the media.
"During his first season in the LaLiga critics dismissed Sergio Ramos. His indiscipline makes him the most unreliable player in any squad he plays for," they said.
"They shouted from the top of their roofs anytime Luis Aragones gave him a national team call up. Today he is the cornerstone of Real Madrid. He has won them trophies and saved them from dropping points on numerous occasions. He currently has 22 red cards at the Club and over 50 goals," Ronny Ayumba wrote in his defence at the same platform.
In comparing Ogweno to the rise of the iconic Spanish giants and European champions Real, Ayumba noted the defender had been sent off twice but scored three goals in 18 domestic matches he has played.
When contacted, Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa, former boss of the Sharks, stood by the decision to include the controversial Ogweno in the squad to fight for his place in the traveling team.
"We held a long discussion at the federation when the coach indicated his decision to give the player a chance. There is a lot of discussion on social media going on about players belonging to Sharks and we are aware those behind it are targeting me, not the player or our coach," Ogweno said.
The Independent Disciplinary and Complaints Committee (IDCC), the body that deals with disciplinary issues in the Kenyan top flight, ruled to extend Ogweno's ban from the customary three to six games after the incident.