NAIROBI, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- The allure of playing professional football has inspired a change of attitude among Kenyan players. In recent years, many would look to move to top European leagues, but for the current crop of youngsters, breaking into the Chinese Super League (CSL) is fast becoming the preferred option.
Former Kenya national team coach Robert Matano said many players are aware of the keen interest agents with links to CSL clubs have shown in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL).
He singled out Michael Olunga, who recently transferred from China's Guizhou Zhicheng to Kashiwa Reysol in Japan's J-League, and flying winger Ayub Timbe, who has played in China for the last two years.
"China is the new destination," Matano told Xinhua in Nairobi on Wednesday.
"Many players are happy to play in China not because of the lucrative contracts, but because the standards are rising and they want to be part of history."
Regional tournaments like the Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) Senior Challenge Cup or Club Cup are followed by agents seeking to pick up the next Timbe, in the hope that a new star will carve their niche in the CSL.
CECAFA Secretary General Nicholas Musonye said players must strive to be at their best and should not fear going to explore the CSL.
"It is a top league with top talent. China hosts many highly ranked players, and Kenya and the surrounding region needs to have more players making the cut to join the Chinese clubs," he said.
Indeed, the turn of focus to China started with the Asian giant's program to upgrade stadia in Africa, which began in the 1980s.
Today, China's presence is felt across the continent with modern, state-of-the-art venues built with Chinese assistance, and various Chinese engineering companies are dotted around Africa.
Musonye says it will be important for African and Chinese officials to negotiate and come up with a serious China-Africa football tournament to be played every four years.
"That way we can all develop football in China and Africa. But for now, let as many players move out to China and establish themselves in the league," said Musonye.
The CSL is now shaping how much clubs spend on players, and though the Chinese national team was missing from the 2018 World Cup, nine players from the CSL represented their countries in Russia, with many of them coming from Nigeria and Senegal.
Back home in Africa, many players are seeking to make the cut to represent their countries at next year's African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
Though the tournament may not feature many China-based players, China has made its mark by providing much of the continent's footballing infrastructure, which it is hoped will help improve the level of the sport in Africa.
Cameroon is constructing two new venues designed by a Chinese company, in addition to the construction of the Limbe and Bafoussam stadiums, which will be used to host the tournament.
Meanwhile, in Cote d'Ivoire, China is also financing the construction of a 60,000-seat stadium, as that country prepares to host the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
And one Chinese-built project that stands tall in Kenya is the 60,000 capacity Kasarani stadium, which was constructed in 1987 to host the All-Africa Games.
The venue remains the epitome of sporting excellence in Kenya, and houses a variety of sporting disciplines.