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Baraza still going strong at 38 years

Very few Kenyan football players ever get to prolong their playing careers beyond the 30 year age bracket, but one rare gem has not only managed to by far surpass that mark but at almost 40 years is showing no signs of tiring.

Sofapaka’s ever green striker John ‘Barry’ Baraza, who turned 38 years on Wednesday is perhaps like the proverbial wine, that only gets better with age.

Unlike most of his peers and contemporaries who have either long quit the game or are living under squalid conditions, good old Barry epitomizes discipline, hard work and humility.

Baraza’s long successful journey in the game closely mirrors the careers of renowned world class players such as Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann and the legendary Paulo Maldini of AC Milan who played actively well into their 40s.

At 36 years, Italian and Juventus midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo seems to be walking in the same path.

Locally, few comparisons come to mind. Harambee Stars assistant coach Musa Otieno who captained the team for close to a decade and Ushuru midfielder Charles Okwemba who at 34, is still kicking the ball, are some of the players known for their longevity on the pitch.

In an interview Daily Nation Sport on Wednesday, Baraza said that it gives him great joy to have served his country with distinction.

“What keeps me going is self-motivation and a strong belief in my abilities. You don’t have to listen so much to what the fans and critics say, but rather work hard to silence them. I am very passionate and committed to the team,” Baraza said.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

“The fact that I’m a senior player at Sofapaka, also means that I have to lead by example. Many young players look up to me and I have to guide them.”

The four-time Golden Boot winner (2002, 2009, 2010, and 2012) had once been tipped to retire from competitive football when Sofapaka made him player-coach in 2013, but he has since remained in the thick of things banging in goals at will.

Amazingly, at his ‘advanced’ age Baraza is still Sofapaka’s most potent goal poacher and has already scored six league goals this term, making him the club’s joint top scorer alongside Burundian Fiston Abdoul.

His statistics easily put younger strikers to shame. Now skippering the team, after the departure of his close friend James Situma and Duncan Ochieng, Baraza says that wearing the arm band comes with greater responsibility.

“Being the captain changes you a lot, but I believe it is my character that made the coaches choose me to lead the team,” said the father of three who launched his playing career with Oserian in 2000 under coach Twahir Muhiddin.

Fifteen years down the line, Baraza’s impressive resume includes stints with eight clubs among them Rayon Sports (Rwanda), Police of Malaysia, Yanga of Tanzania and IF Sylvia in Sweden.

He has also significantly contributed to the national course, earning 55 caps for Harambee Stars.

FOOTBALL FOLKLORE

Back in 2002, he helped the national team clinch the Cecafa Senior Change Cup, he came off the bench alongside then teenage prodigy Dennis Oliech to both claim second half goals that gave coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee’s team victory over the hosts Tanzania.

The deeply religious Baraza is also well remembered for the solitary goal he scored away in Cape Verde Islands in 2003 in an African Cup of Nations qualifier with the national team ultimately sealing a berth at the 2004 finals in Tunisia.

At the 2004 continental showpiece, that last time Kenya featured in the tournament, Baraza, Oliech and Emmanuel Ake entered the country’s football folklore by scoring a goal each as Kenya beat Burkina Faso 3-0 to record their first and so far only victory in the competition.

Situma, with whom he forged a strong bond during their Sofapaka days, talks highly of the striker.

“He (Baraza) has given me a lot of strength, we talk a lot, and he is my mentor. He has impeccable discipline and loves his job. He rarely misses training sessions, unless there is something extra-ordinary that is pressing him,” says Situma.

“He takes his job seriously and is also an astute leader. I rely on him for guidance and counsel,” adds the versatile defender who skippered Sofapaka for two seasons before moving to AFC Leopards and then Tusker.

On his future plans, Baraza says he will consider coaching when he finally hangs his boots.

“Getting my badges is a priority, but at the moment I want to give diligent service to my club.”

Baraza Factfile

Name: John ‘Barry’ Baraza

Age: 38

Club: Sofapaka

Position: Striker

Jersey Number: 12

National caps: 55

Honours:

3 League titles (Kenya)

2 League titles (Tanzania)

2 Domestic Cups

4 Golden Boot awards