By Mohamed Fajah Barrie BBC Sport Africa, Sierra Leone
Kei Kamara deserves respect for his international career and what he has achieved for football in Sierra Leone, according to former national team captain Mohamed Kallon.
Veteran striker Kamara, 37, announced his retirement from Leone Stars duty last week, having scored seven goals in 38 appearances for the West African country.
“We should be proud of what he has done for Sierra Leone in the last 15 years,” Kallon, a former team-mate of Kamara, told BBC Sport Africa.
“He has given 110% whenever he was on the pitch defending his country. Surely he’s one of best players Sierra Leone have ever produced because of his contributions to Sierra Leone football generally.”
Both Kamara’s first and last international appearances were defeats by Equatorial Guinea, with his debut coming in June 2008 and his final outing at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon.
His highest and lowest points for the Leone Stars have come in the past 12 months. Last June he scored the goal against Benin which saw the side qualify for the Nations Cup for the first time since 1996.
That elation was in stark contrast to the moment he missed an 85th-minute penalty in what proved to be his final game in January, a group match against the Equatoguineans.
Sierra Leone were trailing 1-0 and had Kamara scored, it would almost likely have secured the draw which would have seen them advance to the last 16 of the tournament. The incident led to police having to protect his house in Freetown from angry fans.
Kallon believes Kamara, who plays for Major League Soccer side CF Montreal, should be hailed for what he has done for his country.
“He’s the most recognised Leone Stars player of the last 10 years,” ex-Inter Milan and Monaco forward Kallon, 42, added.
“With the kind of pedigree, fame and influence he showed around the national team makes him one of the most important players that have played for Sierra Leone.
“There’ll always be one Kei Kamara! The national team and the country as a whole will miss him.”
‘I would do it all again’
Kamara said he was finally quitting Sierra Leone duty to focus on his club career.
“Fifteen years ago I decided to wear the green, white and blue,” the striker said in a statement.
“I never knew what the journey would bring me, but I would do it all over again if I had the chance.
“I’m finally hanging up my international jersey to focus on my club career. Now when those international breaks come, I will spend the time with my family, but I’ll always miss the games at the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown.
“Thank you Sierra Leone for letting your son dream – a dream that’s not only mine, but also one of many Sierra Leone people home and abroad. I’ll continue to serve you in any way that I can.”
Goalkeeper Ibrahim Sesay, who at just 17 was the youngest member of Sierra Leone’s squad at the Nations Cup in Cameroon, also praised Kamara.
“Playing with Kei at the national team was a dream come true,” the youngster told BBC Sport Africa.
“I learnt a lot from him the short time we spent together both in the dressing room and on the pitch.
“He was an inspiration to many of us and we appreciate him a lot. We’ll miss him. Thank you Kei for your service to Sierra Leone and I wish you good luck.”
‘Outspoken’ Kamara was ‘not a troublemaker’
Meanwhile, Kallon says Kamara should not be seen as a troublemaker in the national squad despite several clashes with the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA).
During his 15 years of service with the Leone Stars, Kamara was suspended three times by different administrations for disciplinary reasons.
The former Norwich and Middlesbrough player also put his international career on hold twice because of disagreements with the SLFA and his unhappiness with the side’s progress.
“Every footballer comes with a package. Kei isn’t a troublemaker, he’s just one of those outspoken players,” Kallon said.
“Look at his contributions towards Sierra Leone – he did more good than harm. If you (football administrators) are not doing the wrong thing there’s no way players can raise issues.
“Why has Kei never been considered a troublemaker at any of the clubs he has played for? Why has he never been suspended by the clubs he has played for disciplinary reasons?
“These were some of the things we were all fighting for, so if things aren’t right players will talk.”