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We’ll Follow The Beast To Hull And Back

As one of the best African footballers around at the moment, Victor Wanyama is a hero for hungry young Kenyan players.

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Tottenham Hotspur fans call him ‘The Beast’. In Swahili, Wanyama means animals; to the Luhya tribe to which he belongs, the appellation is more impressively specific – he is ‘the one born when an animal was slaughtered in celebration’. Spurs fans have indeed had much to be thankful for since the Kenyan midfielder’s arrival from Southampton in June 2016.

So far this season, Victor Wanyama has started all of Tottenham’s Premier League fixtures, and is arguably their most dependable asset. A silent enforcer who allows the club’s most creative players to pivot and rotate around him, Wanyama also has a dusting of the artist’s flair so beloved at White Hart Lane. His passing choices are deceptively simple and considered, and he recently demonstrated a hidden depth of slick versatility in Spurs’ January draw at the Etihad, dropping back to center-half when required against a predatory Manchester City side that were ready to profit had he been less assured in his understanding of football’s fluid geometry.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 19: Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on March 19, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)

Wanyama’s destiny as his country’s most valuable football export was forged in the dusty streets of Nairobi, Kenya’s electric, bustling, intoxicating capital. He attended St Peter’s Claver Primary, in the infamous Landhies Road area in the old center of the city, where matatu drivers, market traders and teeth and skin-whitening peddlers jostle for custom in a chaotic miasma of klaxons and exhaust fumes. His class teacher, Penina Ogony, remembers him as quiet and respectful.

“He didn’t have much to say,” she laughs. “But he was a good boy, and he did well in his final exams. And he was huge for his age, as big as his teacher at the time.”

A few hundred yards up the road nestles Wanyama’s old secondary school, cowering behind the ubiquitous Nairobi construction sites with their laborers’ bellows and Hadean clang of metal on hot metal. Kamukunji is a nursery for the best football talent in the city; gifted young players from the school train a few blocks away at a local estate at dawn before class, with the most promising earmarked early by local Kenyan Premier League teams and allowed by the school to link up with their clubs during class time, provided academic targets are met.

A framed photograph of Wanyama from 2015 – he is addressing beaming Kamukunji students in the school courtyard – is the proud centerpiece on a table of jostling football trophies in the office of the school’s current principal, Patrick Gakung’u.

“Wanyama was very consistent,” he says. “He was able to successfully blend football and classes. That’s difficult, and it’s something we encourage here. And these young players prefer this school because we have that element.”

It’s a delicate balance that can be hard to sustain. The thin line dividing full-blooded enthusiasm and reckless indiscipline is easily crossed, as Kamukunji discovered in 2016 when their goalkeeper’s violent overreaction to a refereeing decision resulted in a two-year ban from all secondary school competitions. Gakung’u is appealing the ban, and argues that a cadre of talented and disciplined youngsters should not have to endure an injurious collective penance. He assembles the players in the school courtyard for a team photograph; they smile shyly in the sunshine as their coach, ‘Leopard’ Ngari, reminisces about a young, unassuming, “very hardworking” Wanyama.

“Although he was talented, he was very humble; you never saw him say no to others,” he says. “When he came back to address the students, he repeated one thing: you have to be focused. We are very proud of him.”

Gakung’u gently encourages current team captain Tom Atieno and attacking midfielder Fiston Nchungu to break from the group for a moment to talk about their aspirations.

“Victor inspired me to play like him,” says Nchungu. “To be disciplined. To play in England, because there is so much competition there.”

His captain favors Arsenal; what odds on these two young men facing off in a future North London derby?

The road to professional success to date has been a narrow and precarious one for a young Kenyan player; relatively few have made it the hallowed ground of a club in a top league overseas. Only eight of the current national team squad currently play outside Africa, and the UK’s strict and unsentimental points system for evaluating a non-EU national’s eligibility for a work permit is punishing on countries with a low FIFA ranking. That climate is evolving fast, however. Kenya has climbed almost 30 places, to 87th, in two years thanks to the appointment of former Glasgow Rangers striker Bobby Williamson as manager in 2014, and the dynamic new approach of the youthful current head coach Stanley Okumbi. In late February, local betting giants SportPesa, sponsors of the Kenyan Premier League and English top-flight club Hull City, sent a squad of 18 of the best young Kenyan players in the country to the UK for a training camp and friendly match against the Premier League side. Wanyama is unlikely to remain the sole Kenyan in the Premier League for long (and many Kenyan fans argue that Liverpool striker Divock Origi, a Belgian international with a Kenyan father, is also flying their flag in the world’s toughest league).

Wanyama’s recent success is even more remarkable, given the scarcity of such opportunities in Kenya a decade ago. His break came when he was scouted by former AFC Leopards coach Edward Manoah while playing in a high school tournament for Kamukunji (Wanyama’s disciplinarian father Noah had been a successful and adored left winger at the club, and ties between the Leopards and the Wanyamas endure).

“He was a striker then, tall for his age,” says Manoah.  “He was strong in the air and could hold the ball up well. He came on in the second half on his Leopards debut – and scored the winner.”

Wanyama’s development was rapid. He earned his first cap for Kenya at 15 years old, and quickly emulated the progress of his older brother McDonald Mariga, another of the Kamukunji ‘golden boys’. Mariga’s talent had been spotted by Swedish lower division side Enköpings SK, and he took quickly to European football, moving to Helsingborgs IF before joining Serie A club Parma, and later Inter Milan, where he became the first Kenyan player to appear in the Champions League.

After short stints at Nairobi City Stars and JMJ Academy, Wanyama at last followed his brother to Helsingborgs. A robust three-year stint at Belgian side Beerschot caught the attention of Celtic, where he became the first Kenyan to score in the Champions League in an emotional win against Barcelona. Mauricio Pochettino, then manager of Southampton, brought him to St Mary’s in 2013, recognizing the qualities of diligence, athleticism and humility that are the hallmarks of the Argentine’s team ethic; the move to Pochettino’s Tottenham in 2016 seems, in retrospect, an inevitability.

It’s January 2017, and a hot, bright morning at Marist University in the leafy Nairobi suburb of Karen, about half an hour outside the city. The AFC Leopards first-team squad is playing a gritty, breathless seven-a-side game on a difficult dusty surface as new head coach Stewart Hall, a seasoned former Birmingham City academy director, observes from the touchline. On an adjacent pitch, the Leopards youth team runs through passing drills as the club’s CEO, Ronald Namai, outlines a positive but realistic future for the next would-be Kenyan superstars.

“This year we have actually promoted four of the youth team, so we are focused on bringing young players through to the senior squad,” he says. “We have constant feedback from schools; if we identify a promising player, we will pay their school fees and they will train with us over the holidays. What we insist is during school days, you must be in school. Otherwise we are not going to allow you to train. You see we have promoted 17 year-old. But when you are 28, 29, you are on your way out. So what are you going to do after that? You need an education.”

For Namai, there is still room in his grounded realism for the promise of some modest success; one of the three Leopards players in the squad traveling to Hull, he insists, will be a Premier League player by 2018.

Hall jogs over while the first team takes a break. He points out Ibrahim Mao, one of the four recent graduates from the youth team. A slender, evasive winger with an intelligent first touch, Mao jumps a tackle and hits a fierce shot hard and early while we watch.

“There’s some real talent in Kenya,” says Hall. “I’m saying to all my players, now listen, there’s a Kenyan playing in England, but also Belgium, Russia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark. There’s a Kenyan in the MLS in the States. And because of this, the scouts are moving out here and taking kids from here younger and younger.”

He says that fostering the right attitude in these players, a Wanyama-like focus, is now a priority.

“Before, it’s been a case of wanting to be the best in the village, not the best in the country. That’s been a problem.”

His exhausted squad breaks for lunch. There’ll be a second session in the afternoon to hone fitness; the announcement of the league’s opening fixtures is believed to be just days away.

“I’ve said to this lot, if you don’t want to be a serious footballer, I don’t want you at the club. And I’ll chase you away,” he says. “We’ve put in a recruitment strategy that says we want to be the youngest team in the league. And now there’s a hunger here. Everybody here should want to be Wanyama.”

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Roger Federer Tops World’s Highest-Paid Athletes: Tennis Ace Scores First No. 1 Payday With $106 Million

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Roger Federer has landed the top spot on the annual Forbes list of the highest-paid athletes for the first time this year with $106.3 million in pre-tax earnings. The Swiss ace is the first tennis player to take the No. 1 rank since the list debuted in 1990.

Federer’s haul includes $6.3 million in prize money and $100 million from endorsements and appearance fees, lifting him from the No. 5 spot he held in 2019 and beating his previous high of second place in 2013.

“His brand is pristine,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, “which is why those that can afford to align with him clamor to do so.”

Federer’s endorsement portfolio is unmatched among active athletes, with 13 brands including Barilla, Moet & Chandon and Rimowa paying between $3 million and $30 million to associate themselves with the 20-time Grand Slam champ. The 38-year-old and golfer Tiger Woods are the only two active athletes to have hit $100 million in a single year from sponsorships alone.

Federer’s on-court résumé is the stuff of legend, with the men’s records for most Slam titles and most weeks ranked No. 1 (310). The consistency is staggering. He ranked in the top three for 750 straight weeks—almost 15 years—and qualified for 18 out of 19 Slam finals between 2005 and 2010.

Call it the Jordan playbook, the blueprint for global domination chronicled in ESPN’s ten-part documentary on the basketball great, The Last Dance: command a sport with a global audience for years; appeal to both men and women; stay out of trouble; add in a dose of swagger and a dash of charisma. It made Michael Jordan the richest athlete on the planet and the first billionaire athlete. Even in retirement, he continues to collect endorsement checks rivaling those of Federer and Woods thanks to his massive cut of Nike Jordan Brand sneaker sales.

The three breathe a rarefied air, reserved for the most elite competitors. Jordan had the No. 1 spot on the Forbes list six times during his 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls, eventually giving up the mantle to Woods after he retired from the Bulls in 1998. (Formula One’s Michael Schumacher held the crown for two years between Woods and Jordan.) Woods went on to collect more than $100 million annually off the course at his peak, landing at the top of Forbes’ highest-paid athlete ranking a record 12 times until he broke stride, landing in hot water over an infidelity scandal while injuries contributed to a decade-long majors title drought on the links.

Federer, while seizing the top spot late in his career, is showing no signs of slowing down. His latest partnership is with Swiss startup running shoe On, whose headquarters sit close to the new home the tennis star is building on Lake Zurich. A renowned sneakerhead, Federer will endorse the brand, whose sales have been doubling annually since its 2010 launch, and also invested in the company in return for an equity stake that one source called “significant,” a partnership that could have serious upside for Federer.

Another sign of his command of the off-court side hustle: Once companies align themselves with him, they almost never leave. Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Wilson have all been on Team Fed for more than a decade. The exception? Jordan’s Nike.

Federer stunned the tennis world in 2018 when he split from the sneaker giant after 20 years and joined with apparel brand Uniqlo. The chain, part of Fast Retailing, made an offer he couldn’t turn down, promising $300 million over ten years whether he was playing tennis or not and leaving open a slot for a shoe deal like the one with On since the Japanese giant doesn’t make sneakers.

The length and terms of the deal raised eyebrows given that Federer was about to turn 37 when he signed it. At that age, almost all tennis players have long since retired—a detail that meant little to the long game the retailer is eyeing.

“We feel the greatest impact of Roger Federer is yet to come,” says Uniqlo’s head of global creative John Jay. “Of course, it will be fueled by his status as the greatest of all time, but Roger’s ability to bring positive change to the world is his future and ours.”

The company hopes Federer can hold the same kind of appeal Jordan still has long after he launched his last jump shot. Already, tennis clubs in Europe are flooded with kids wearing “RF” hats, the logo that Nike controlled for two years after the split but is back in Federer’s hands and is the foundation for future licensing deals.

It wasn’t his only shrewd move. Federer took more control of his brand when he left the IMG sports firm with longtime agent Tony Godsick to launch their own operation in 2013, dubbed TEAM8. Current clients include male tennis pros Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev, 16-year-old rising star Coco Gauff and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. TEAM8 also found success with the creation of a new annual event, the Laver Cup, which matches a team from Europe versus the rest of the world in a competition that is comparable to golf’s Ryder Cup.

Federer has other levers in the sport that even Jordan doesn’t have. He is a hot commodity for organizers of smaller tournaments that pay appearance fees for top players to show up; a men’s event without one of the Big Three—Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—is a tough sell. Federer commands the top rate of more than $1 million per stop. Then there are the exhibition tours—a mix of tennis and show business—in places that have no major event to offer. He did a five-stop swing through Latin America in November that added more than $15 million to his bank account, including a match versus Zverev in a bullfighting stadium in Mexico City that attracted 42,517 fans, a record to watch a tennis match.

Federer has used his platform and cash to focus on educating children in Africa, with his namesake foundation spending $52 million to aid 1.5 million kids. He’s teamed with Bill Gates in charity matches three times; the latest “Match for Africa” featured Gates and Federer versus Nadal and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah in South Africa, where Federer’s mother was born. The February event raised $3.7 million.

Federer is the GOAT, both on and off the court.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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Making South Africa Proud And His Inspiration Outside The Pool

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Chad le Clos; image by Gian Mattia D'Alberto LaPresse

Swimming sensation Chad le Clos had planned on returning from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with gold but with the games postponed, he’s for now focusing on family, fitness and his foundation.

For many athletes, the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 has meant stalled training regimes. South Africa’s 28-year-old Olympic gold medalist swimmer Chad le Clos, at home in the coastal town of Durban while in lockdown in South Africa, says this year, he had hoped to return from the Olympics with another gold medal.

“I planned on hopefully winning a gold medal and coming back home and celebrating with the country. I was planning on doing a lot of great things this year. It is quite sad but I am looking at the bigger picture. There are a lot of things I want to achieve inside and outside of the pool. The Olympics is the biggest goal I will ever have. And hopefully, I can make South Africa proud next year.”

Posing in front of his haul of medals at home in Durban, in a Zoom interview with FORBES AFRICA, Le Clos, who was also one of FORBES AFRICA’s 30 Under 30 list-makers in 2019, says he is waiting to get back into the pool.

“Before the lockdown in South Africa, I was away in Europe training. For the last five weeks, I have not been able to train but I was very lucky to spend time with a family friend on his farm on 36 acres of land with horses and dogs, so I was mostly training outdoors.”

The sports star, who is also recovering from two recent surgeries, says swimming is different from any other sport.

“As a runner or athlete, you can run, but as a swimmer, you need to have that feel of the water. It’s a very different fitness. I am a terrible runner, I can’t run at all. But when I am in the pool, I can be as fit as I can… So focus is important, once you lose that feel, it will take weeks to get back to that fitness.”

Le Clos, who has been swimming competitively from the age of 10 and is a 17-time Commonwealth Games medalist, speaks about the Chad le Clos Foundation and the special projects coming up in the townships also serving underprivileged communities.

How about becoming an entrepreneur at some point, we ask in this interview.

“I don’t want to close any doors. I want to dive into everything head on. Right now, my big focus is the Olympics. I am in a great mental head space. My family is the most important thing and they are safe. Once swimming has firmly shut, I will focus on the next chapter and it will be some sort of business. I have a lot of passion projects like I have said with my foundation…”

Le Clos says he has looked up to swimmer Michael Phelps his whole life (and even beat him at the age of 20 by 0.05 seconds at the 2012 Olympics in London in the men’s 200meters butterfly), but the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali is his “ultimate idol”.

“For what he stood for, the greatest boxer of all time, he was the people’s champion. I am not as outspoken as he was, but I have always seen myself too as a people’s champion, I have seen myself swimming for my family, my people and my country. Muhammad Ali is my hero and icon. And my big inspiration outside of the pool.”

During the lockdown, besides “playing a lot of poker with my family and losing”, it has also been a good time to reflect.

“I like to visualize positive things. As a kid, I always visualized success, the Olympics, the gold medal, you create that moment, and let that percolate. The more positives you put out are the positives you will get back. Focus on the positives. During this time, make yourself stronger mentally. You can come out of this stronger, and it will help you going forward.”

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Naomi Osaka Is The Highest-Paid Athlete Ever, Topping Serena Williams

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The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player racked up $37 million in earnings in the past year, more than any other female athlete in history.

Naomi Osaka was only a year old when Serena Williams won her first grand slam title in 1999. Nineteen years later, Osaka beat Williams at the U.S. Open finals to win her first grand slam. It was one of the most controversial matches in Open history involving three code violations called against Williams. Now the 22-year-old ace has beaten her legendary rival once again, this time for bragging rights as the highest-paid female athlete in the world.

Osaka earned $37.4 million the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements, $1.4 million more than Serena, setting an all-time earnings record for any female athlete in a single year; Maria Sharapova held the prior record with $29.7 million in 2015.

Osaka ranks No. 29 among the 100 highest-paid athletes, while Williams is No. 33. It’s the first time since 2016 that two women have made the ranks of the top 100 highest paid athletes, with the full 2020 list set for release next week.

“To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story,” says David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business. “Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon.”

The ascension puts an end to a decisive winning streak for Williams, who has been the world’s highest-paid female athlete each of the past four years, with annual pre-tax income ranging from $18 million to $29 million. The 23-time grand slam champion has collected almost $300 million during her career from endorsers who have swarmed the 38-year-old star.

Osaka’s rise to the head of the charts was a perfect  convergence of several factors. She first proved herself on the court, with back-to-back grand slam titles at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. That plus her heritage—a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father—helped separate her from the pack; at only 20 when she won her Open title, she had a cool factor and engaging personality.

Osaka’s roots are crucial to her endorsement stardom. She was born in Japan. When she was three, she and her family moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island and then heading to Florida; older sister, Mari, also plays on the pro circuit.

She turned pro in 2014, a month before her 16th birthday. She cracked the WTA’s top 40 in 2016 and won her first title in March 2018 at Indian Wells. In the 12 months that followed, she became the first Japanese player to win a slam, and first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Osaka maintains dual citizenship but made the wise choice to represent Japan ahead of the since-postponed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision made her an even hotter commodity for Olympic sponsors, like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissin, who signed endorsement deals with Osaka to use her around marketing for the Games, now scheduled for summer 2021. She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public before the coronavirus.

A Decade Of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

Tennis has been a winning strategy for highest-paid female athletes. Before Naomi Osaka arrived on the scene, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the top earning women of the decade, holding the top spot for five and four years, respectively.

The last top-earning female athlete, outside of Williams and Sharapova, was Serena’s sister Venus in 2003. Tennis remains the only route for women to rank among the top-paid male sports stars. Sharapova, Li Na, Serena, and now Osaka are the only females to rank among the 100 top earners in sports since 2012. The highest-paid female athlete every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990 has been a tennis player, with Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis the top earners most of the 1990s. 

Tennis players are walking billboards in the only major global sport where men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments. Prize money at the four grand slam events has been even since 2007, although men still earn more at lower level tourneys.

The demographics of the tennis fan make sponsoring top players attractive for brands. At the U.S. Open last year, attendance skewed in favor of women by a ratio of 56 to 44, a rarity at big time sporting events; 78% held at least a bachelor’s degree versus 35% for the U.S. overall; the average household income was $216,000. This is a group with significant disposable income, ready to buy apparel, sporting equipment, cars, watches and financial services.

Steering Osaka’s brand is tennis powerhouse agency IMG, which leaned on its history with breakout female tennis stars when Osaka started blowing up, having represented Maria Sharapova and Li. Stuart Duguid is her lead agent at IMG.

The apparel deal is almost always the biggest endorsement for tennis stars, and Osaka’s timing was perfect there as well, as she hit the open market just after winning two grand slams. It triggered a free agency bidding war between Nike and Adidas—her previous apparel sponsor. The Swoosh emerged on top and paid her more than $10 million last year in an agreement that runs through 2025.

Osaka secured an extremely rare but lucrative provision in her Nike contract. The sportswear giant always requires its tennis players to be clad in Nike gear from head to toe, without any other logos on their shirts or hats. This is lucrative real estate for marketers, as cameras focus closely on the player as they serve or get set to return serve.

Nike never made an exemption for Serena, Sharapova, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi or any of the other marketable tennis stars in their stable. The only exception until last year was China’s Li Na; Osaka was the second, thanks to massive leverage with Sharapova headed for retirement and Williams turning 39 this year. Her “patch” deals are with All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and ramen noodle maker Nissin Foods.

Nike plans to launch an Osaka streetwear line in Japan in the fourth quarter, featuring hoodies, leggings and shirts, as well as a new collection each season. There will not be any tennis apparel.

Osaka now has 15 endorsement partners, including global brands like Nissan Motor, Shiseido and Yonex, whose tennis racquets she has used for more than a decade; almost all are worth seven-figures annually. 

Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams to win the 2004 Wimbledon crown. IMG quickly mobilized to lock up lucrative long-term deals for the Russian, who ranked as the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years before injuries and a suspension for taking a banned substance dented her earnings.

IMG got an education on marketing a female Asian tennis star with China’s Li. She was the first grand slam singles champion from Asia, man or woman, when she captured the 2011 French Open at age 29. IMG quickly secured seven multi-million deals, pushing her off-court earnings from $2 million to $20 million. She challenged Sharapova as the sport’s top earner until her retirement in 2014.

IMG used its expertise in Japan with Kei Nishikori, who has never won a grand slam but is the most successful Japanese male player ever, resulting in an endorsement portfolio worth $30 million a year.

Sharapova, Li and Nishikori paved the way for Osaka’s marketing breakthrough. “We were fortunate to have a very sophisticated office in Tokyo that already had the experience with Kei,” IMG’s head of tennis Max Eisenbud told Forbes last year. “The relationships in that region are important.”

With plenty of endorsement cash, Osaka partnered with several brands last year, with significant equity components, including emerging sports drink BodyArmor and Hyperice, which makes recovery and movement products.

BodyArmor marketing exec Mike Fedele says Osaka was one of inspirations for its “Only You” ad campaign launched this week. “Naomi is fiercely dedicated to perfecting her game on the court and a huge part of that is what she does off the court with her training, nutrition and hydration,”he says.

“I’m really interested in seeing a young business grow and adding value to that process,” Osaka told Forbes last year. “I tasked my team with finding brands that align with my personality and my interests.”

Brands are lining up to get into the Naomi Osaka business.

Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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