Daniel Sakari: Kenya’s Marauding Right Back

Daniel Sakari was born in Mathare North a district of the Kenyan capital Nairobi on 23 May 1999. He has an impressive academic background having attained a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, based in Nairobi.


In early 2018, while at university, Sakari trialed at Kenyan National Super League (Kenya’s second division) club Green Commandos and his performances convinced them to sign him. He did not stay long at Green Commandos as in late 2018 he made the step up to the Kenyan Premier League with Kakamega Homeboyz.


Sakari played 26 matches for Kakamega Homeboyz during his single season at the club. In summer 2019 he transferred to Kariobangi Sharks. He has since established himself as a key player for the club and has made the right-back and right wing-back position his own. 


The 21-year-old has represented Kenya at the senior international level. He made his debut for Kenya in late 2019 against Tanzania in the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup. Most recently he played against Egypt and Togo in the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers. Overall, he has made nine appearances for his country. 


Position and Role


Sakari is an adaptable player who is capable of performing to a decent standard in multiple positions. He has played as a right back, right wing back, right midfielder and right winger during his career so far. For his current club Kariobangi Sharks and the Kenyan national team he has been predominantly used as either a right back in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation or as a right wing back in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation. As such, a consideration will be made of his role as a right back and right wing back. 


In the right back role that Sakari has occupied for his club and country, the expectations appear to differ. For his country it appears that he was instructed to generally stay deeper and more in line with his centre back partners during the build-up and attacking phases rather than making lots of overlapping runs and helping support the attack in the final third.


This appeared to be done to limit the threat posed by the opposition in counter attacking situations. Whereas for his club, when used as a right back, it looks as if he is given license to get forward as much as possible and provide an additional attacking threat down the right flank. 



When utilised as a right wing back, Sakari’s role requires focus on defending and attacking. For Kenya in the right wing back role he was encouraged to stay wide and use his speed and stamina to continuously make runs along the byline with and without the ball to stretch the opposition’s defensive shape and enable crosses to be put into the box.


Defensively, he was expected to drop back in line with his centre back partners to help form a solid back five, in turn, reducing space in the attacking third for the opposition to create openings. With his club there appear to be some variations in his right wing back role. From an attacking standpoint he is not only encouraged to offer himself as a wide option through overlapping runs but also allowed to come in field and link up with his attacking teammates to outnumber opponents in central attacking areas.


The defensive expectations are slightly less rigid as he is not expected to immediately drop back to form a back five when the opposition start their attacks. Instead, he is expected to stay higher up the pitch and engage opponents in the midfield areas to try and win the ball back. If this is not possible, he is then expected to drop deeper and provide extra support on the right-hand side for his right sided centre back teammate. 


Attributes and Style of Play


Sakari is 1.74m which is a common height for a right back or a right wing back. Although it is not an unusual height for a player in these positions, he is still relatively short. His height does appear to limit his aerial ability and he seems to lack the spring needed to regularly win aerial duels. Alongside this he displays noticeable uncertainty and hesitancy when trying to win headers and does not attack the ball with purpose and conviction.


This makes him somewhat of a liability when aerial balls are launched towards his area of the pitch whether that be from a floated pass, long ball or looping cross. Consequently, he prefers to wait for the ball to drop towards the ground and try and control the ball or attempt a clearance with his foot. He therefore needs to improve his aerial prowess if he wants to become a key player at higher level. 


Sakari can improve his aerial prowess in two ways. Firstly, he needs to work on improving the height of his upward spring as this will aid his ability to win aerial dues. He can do this by having a squat-based exercise regime that will increase the strength of his legs. This will provide the extra power needed for him to jump higher, enabling him to win more aerial duels. Secondly, he needs to work on the timing of his jumps. The hesitancy could be linked to him being unsure of when to commit to the jump and attack the ball.


The split-second delay in deciding when to jump reduces the chances of winning the header. He needs to work on training ground exercises whereby crosses, long balls and floated passes are played towards him and he must compete with a teammate for the ball. Doing this repetitively every day in training will help him time his leaps better and over time he will become more confident in dueling for aerial balls. 


The most impressive aspects of Sakari’s physical profile are his speed and stamina. He is a an extremely pacey player who can sprint past most opponents quite easily over shorter and longer distances. Plus, his acceleration from a standing start or slow jog is good which means he can reach his top speed in a timely manner.



This is particularly useful when he is making underlapping or overlapping runs as he can burst past opponents who struggle to match him stride for stride, enabling him to receive the ball in space unmarked, high up the pitch. His ability to maintain his speed over longer distances is vital when a transition occurs, and he is an attacking position as it allows him to return to a sound defensive position quickly and help minimise the threat of a counter attack.


In addition, his excellent stamina is evident in his performances. He appears to find it easy to make forwards runs up the right flank with and without the ball to support attacks, make recovery runs when the ball is lost, sprint to pressure opponents and run beside opponents when they attempt to drive past him down the wing. Rarely will you see him looking out of breath or tired despite the ground he covers, especially in league matches where he contributes heavily in attacking areas for his team. 


Sakari has a slight build and is not very muscular and broad. Even though he is not carrying great muscle mass as a right back and right wing back who has great endurance, he does not need to add much muscle to his frame. Extra muscle adds extra weight, and it would be advisable to limit any future muscle growth because it would probably inhibit his stamina in turn reducing his overall effectiveness.


He is also quite rigid in his movements and tends to run and change direction in straight lines, particularly when dribbling, which indicates he lacks agility. This is another reason why he should refrain from adding much more muscle mass as doing so will impede his suppleness further, making him even more inflexible. To improve his agility, he needs to incorporate training ground drills that focus on quick and explosive forwards, backwards and lateral movements at different angles as part of his daily training regime. 


When playing as either a right back or right wing back Sakari likes to get forward. He makes numerous progressive runs into the midfield and attacking thirds to support the build up and attacking phases of play. In particular, he makes overlapping runs down the right wing and is adept at timing those runs. This enables him to receive a through ball or ball over the top in behind the opposition’s wing back without being caught offside.


However, when the ball does arrive, and he has an opportunity to deliver a cross into the box more often than not his crosses are inaccurate. He is prone to underhitting his crosses and struggles to consistently produce crosses with enough height to beat the defenders closest to the ball. He therefore needs to work on improving his crossing technique including crossing on-the-run and crossing when he has time to take a touch and produce a cross.


Again, this will require plenty of training ground work. He needs to complete regular training ground exercises whereby he runs down the wing and attempts different types of crosses for example whipped crosses and ground crosses that evade the defenders or similarly sized mannequins in the defenders’ position and arrive in good areas for his attacking teammates to exploit.


Together with this, he needs to frequently spend time on the training ground working on taking a touch and immediately producing crosses from different attacking areas on the right flank that bypass defenders or similarly sized mannequins replicating defenders and arrive in inviting areas for his attacking teammates to capitalise on. 



Sakari is quite unpredictable in attacking areas. Sometimes he looks unsure of himself when he gets into attacking positions and does not know what to do next. This ends up in him clumsily losing possession with an uncoordinated dribble, heavy touch, or a poor cross.


On other occasions, he shows some attacking invention by driving with the ball at the opposition’s wing back and cleverly using “the chop” to cut back infield unexpectedly. This enables him to create enough distance between himself and the nearest defender to play a pass into an attacker, drive infield with the ball, produce a cross from a more central position or attempt a shot at goal with his weaker left foot. 


Generally, Sakari can look clunky and rigid with his dribbling which is due to his lack of agility referred to above as well as technical deficiencies in his close control. He therefore tends to dribble in straight lines and cannot slalom past opponents. As a right back and right wing back this is not very problematic as he is not expected to dribble past opponents to create goalscoring chances.


But it is still worth him improving this area of his game to make him a more well-rounded attacking threat. To improve his dribbling skills, he needs to implement the agility-focused exercises referred to above while simultaneously working on improving his ball control and ball manipulation while traveling at speed. This can be done via repeated training ground drills that challenge him to dribble past opponents in 1v1 and 2v1 situations in tighter areas and where there is plenty of pace to run into. 


Despite Sakari’s technical flaws when dribbling he is useful in helping build up the attacks from the defence. He is good at receiving the ball from his centre-back teammate, dropping a shoulder, or feinting as the opponent moves towards him then knocking the ball on the inside or outside past his nearest opponent. This enables him to create enough space and time to play a pass into midfield or hitting a switch of play ball to the opposite flank before being closed down.


This shows he has composure on the ball in the defensive third and can beat the press and start an attack. Whilst identifying a teammate in a good position on the other flank and sending the ball to them also highlights that he has decent vision and can spot a pass. This was demonstrated on occasions during Kariobangi Sharks match versus Talanta FC in the 2019/2020 Kenyan Premier League season.



Nevertheless, his passes are sometimes underhit and easily intercepted by opponents. Accurate switch of play passes are not easy to produce and so there is no surprise they are sometimes intercepted. However, the ground passes he plays into the midfield are simple passes that he should get right 99% of the time.


The fact he does not suggests he becomes lackadaisical when passing to his midfield teammates resulting in these simple passes sometimes being underhit and intercepted. He therefore needs to ensure he is fully focused when making ground passes into his midfield teammates so that the ball reaches the intended target 99% of the time.


Sakari provides a useful attacking threat via his immense long throws. Most importantly it can be used as an effective set-piece weapon. When there is a throw-in high up the pitch, he launches these long throws straight into the box and can throw the ball at varying speeds, heights and trajectories which cause havoc in the opposition’s penalty box and sometimes creates goalscoring opportunities. His long throws can also help instigate counterattacks as he can produce a quick long throw into a dangerous position on the flank or in more central areas for his attacking teammates to exploit. 


From a defensive standpoint, Sakari has some important qualities. He is very quick which means he is rarely, if ever, beaten for pace by an opponent attempting to run past him on the inside or outside. This helps him in his 1v1 defending as he can stick close to his opponent as they try to run past him, attempt to destabilise them and block any forward passes or crosses they make.


Additionally, in 1v1 battles he does not tend to dive in recklessly and give away needles fouls instead he will wait patiently and then poke out his leg rapidly at an opportune time to knock the ball away from his opponent and concede either a throw-in or corner or better still, recover the ball. He did this well in Kenya’s recent 2022 AFCON qualifying match versus Togo (See full match).


The only flaw in his 1v1 defending, which has rarely arisen, is when an opponent is moving at speed then decelerates rapidly to change direction. This is because he struggles to stay with them due to his lack of agility. This gives his opponent enough space and time to drive away from him and produce a cross or take a shot at goal before he can adapt his position to close them down and make a tackle. If he can improve his agility, as explained above, then he will be able to defend such situations far better. 



Sakari’s defensive positioning when the ball is on the other side of the pitch is usually good and is improving all the time. You can see him making a conscious effort to ensure he places himself inside of his direct opponent but at a slight diagonal angle that allows him to maintain a line of sight of the ball but also be able to quickly glance over his shoulder to check the position of his direct opponent and adjust his position if necessary.



To continuously position yourself correctly in these circumstances requires great concentration and takes time to develop, perfect and execute during matches especially for someone like him who has played in more attacking positions during his career.


It is therefore impressive that he has been able to hone this skill and display it in high-level matches against quality opposition like Egypt in a 2022 AFCON qualifying match. Of course, his positioning is not perfect all the time and occasionally he will be caught too high up the pitch when the ball is on the other side of the field but as he gains more and more experience playing at right back these instances will continue to decrease. 


Sakari does show good defensive intensity as he is quick to press and hassle opposition wingers when they receive the ball. He is also eager to try and intercept passes to initiate a counterattack, which is probably encouraged by his manager. However, he can be overzealous in these situations and misread the speed and angle of the pass which results in him making a quick move towards the ball thinking he can intercept it but is unable to do so.


This results in him being out of position and ahead of the opposition’s winger who then receives the ball with the opportunity to drive into space that he has vacated. This notably happened on a few occasions against Egypt in a 2022 AFCON qualifying match. Luckily for him, his recovery pace enabled him to return to a good defensive position and the danger was averted.


Even though his recovery pace usually helps mask this issue if he fails to rectify it, he could become a liability if he plays at a high level. As he continues to mature and gain more experience, he should be able better judge these situations.


Over time he should know when it is better to be cautious and wait for the opponent to receive the ball then press, when to stand off and retreat towards the 18-yard box before engaging the opponent and when it is best to try and intercept the attempted pass to the opponent. 


Long-term Potential


Sakari has developed smoothly over the past three seasons and has great scope to develop further. Based on the matches reviewed, he has the potential to become a starting right back or right wing back for a club in Europe’s top 12 leagues. 


Potential Future Clubs


Sakari has established himself as the best right back in Kenya and probably one of the best players in the league. Once this season finishes, he should be ready to take the next step in his career by which time he will still only be 22 years old. Sakari could draw interest from some of Africa’s most illustrious clubs like Zamalek or TP Mazembe and will surely have interest from decent clubs in Europe.



At his age, wherever he moves to next he must be given enough game time to continue his development. So, let’s take a look at two European clubs where he should be able to establish himself as a first team starter relatively quickly:


  1. Varbergs BoIS (Varbergs)


Varbergs finished 11th in the 2020 Allsvenskan (Sweden’s top division) which was a decent finish considering their small budget. They will be hoping to build on that during the 2021 Allsvenskan season. Nevertheless, they have started the season poorly collecting only one point from three matches so far. They have recruited 11 new players to supplement their squad for this season, but despite the investment in new players, they are still lacking a proper right back/right wing back who can dominate the right flank.


Currently, their right wing back is Anton Liljenback who has been converted from centre back to occupy this position. However, if they want to have more attacking threat down the right side, they certainly need to improve upon him when the transfer window opens in June. The perfect player they could sign as an upgrade for that right wing back position would be Sakari.


His pace and enthusiasm to get forward and help support attacks as well as his hunger to defend and willingness to recover quickly if caught out of position would serve them well. His profile would give them better balance on the right flank helping them pose more of an attacking threat but also providing extra defensive solidity due to his 1v1 ability, recovery speed and ever-improving positioning.


He also has good international experience and will be 22 in the summer so is at the right age to leave his home country and move to Sweden. Finally, they could probably get him for a low fee in comparison to a similar level player playing in Sweden, Scandinavia or another part of Europe especially if they inserted a sell-on fee percentage in the transfer deal.


From Sakari’s perspective, a move to Varbergs would be the ideal step up for him. They are a smaller club in the Allsvenskan where the pressure and expectations would be low. This would make the transition from the Kenyan Premier League to the Swedish Allsvenskan more comfortable for him. In addition, there is a clear pathway for almost immediate first-team football. They are lacking a quality right wing back who possesses his attributes, so if he moved there, he should be capable of making that position his own quickly. 


Being able to adapt to life in Sweden would be crucial for Sakari succeeding there. Even though, he would probably have the pressure of starting every match on arrival, acclimatising to Sweden, besides the weather, would be easier for him than many other countries due to the proliferation of English speakers in the country. As a Kenyan he can probably speak English and being able to interact with people easily would allow him to adapt to Swedish life quicker. 


    2. Aalborg BK


Aalborg have had somewhat of an underwhelming season after failing to finish in the top six of the Danish Superliga (Denmark’s top division). They are currently top of the bottom six play-off round and will be aiming to finish in that position at the end of the season. With next season in mind, they will be aiming to finish in the top six and potentially compete for a European place.


Having reviewed Aalborg’s squad, they lack a youthful option at right wing back. They only have the experienced 30-year-old Kristoffer Pallersen as a right wing back in their current squad. For next season they need to add more depth in this position and sign a younger player who can replace Pallersen within 6-12 months as a starter. The player who would be an astute purchase to fulfill this role would be Sakari, who, like his compatriot Michael Olunga, is capable of making a sustained impact in the final third.


Player Analysis: Michael Olunga


Sakari will only be 22 years old this summer, is already a regular international for Kenya and is used to playing as a right wing back in a 3-4-3 formation, having played there for both club and country. He also has blistering speed, is a solid 1v1 defender, gets forward effectively and has plenty of scope for improvement as explained above.


He could be eased into the team over the course of next season and be ready to become first choice right wing back for the following season at which point he would still only be 23 years old. In addition, a player of his quality and experience currently playing in Europe would be significantly more expensive and with COVID-19 affecting the club’s finances, he would be a very cost-effective signing. 


Moving to Denmark and playing for Aalborg would be a very smart move for Sakari if he received an opportunity to play there. They are a stable and well-respected Danish side who have the potential to compete for European places and are unlikely to be in danger of relegation next season. This would be great for him as the stable conditions would provide him with the platform to succeed.


As they presently have a very experienced right wing back he would probably be given time to adapt to the substantial increase in quality between the Danish Superliga and the Kenyan Premier League. Whilst also being given enough playing time and a clear route for establishing himself as the starting right wing back. Like a potential move to Sweden, adjusting to life in Denmark would be vital for his success if he moved there.


This adaptation would require time and if he is not under undue pressure to perform immediately this acclimatision period would be smoother for him. Importantly most people in Denmark speak English which would help him adapt and feel more comfortable much quicker than if he could not communicate easily with his teammates, manager and the general public.


By: Daniel Ajuh

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Kariobangi Sharks FC Twitter