Nobody ever gave Nairobi United FC a chance when it was formed in 2018, but former AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia striker Paul Okatwa Odhiambo has worked wonders at the club.
Odhiambo's, 37, magic touch helped the club earn promotion to the National Super League (NSL) on their first attempt, barely a year after becoming their coach. This is after the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) awarded them their abandoned promotion playoff match against Zoo at RVIST Grounds, Nakuru on August 6. United were leading 1-0 courtesy of Brian Lusamukha’s 85th minute goal when the match was called off due to crowd trouble.
And in less than six years, the Nairobi-based club seems to have established themselves as a force to reckon with if their performance is anything to go by.
Though they have been promoted to NSL, Nairobi United are determined to complete their fairytale journey by securing a slot in the FKF Premier League next season.
The club, who will make their NSL debut against Kibera Black Stars next month (September 16-17), have joined the second tier alongside FKF Division One Zone A champions Rainbow FC and Zone B winners Luanda Villa FC.
Nairobi United appear to have been on a strong trajectory since they clinched the 2018/19 Nairobi Regional League title in their first competition. This earned them a ticket to the FKF Division Two League the following season before joining the FKF Division One League where they finished ninth in the 2021/22 season with 35 points.
But it is in their second season in the third tier that the Nairobi Stima-club based club managed to qualify for NSL via playoffs.
They were forced to the playoffs on goal difference after tying on 68 points with Rainbow.
However, having been knocked out in the similar playoffs by Kona Rangers (2-1) while at Kangemi All Stars in the 2021/22 season, Odhiambo knew how to handle the situation when he replaced former Kenyan international Simon Mbugua at the club.
Odhiambo, who holds a CAF C coaching license, is assisted by former Posta Rangers striker Edwin Mwaura, former Muhoroni Youth defender Fan Ngaira, former Thika United goalkeeper Joseph Rutto and Isaac Njeri.
“Having lost the playoffs with Kangemi the previous season, I knew exactly what to do against Zoo. But the playoff is now behind us and our target now is to qualify to the Premier League on our first attempt. We have enough quality in the team, that’s why we want to continue writing history,” Odhiambo told Standard Sports.
“When I joined Nairobi United last year, the team had played almost four matches and they were in position 14th but I shared my vision and objectives to both the management and players, and we all agreed to work towards achieving it. And I’m glad we did it through the playoff after missing a direct ticket by a whisker.
“It has not been an easy journey, but hard work, teamwork and relentless support from the chairman (Samuel Maina), earned us this ticket. To be honest, this is one of the well-managed teams in the lower tiers. All the 23 players played their part and that’s why we are retaining the whole squad, and making only four additions.”
Having been considered as a journeyman during his playing careers after turning out for eleven clubs in the Premier League namely (AFC Leopards, Oserian, Posta Rangers, Kakamega Homeboyz, Gor Mahia, Western Stima, Ushuru, Muhoroni Youth, Sofapaka, Tusker and Mt. Kenya United), Okatwa feels he is experienced enough to guide the current generation of players.
“I made many mistakes during my playing days and I felt if I had gotten proper guidance, I would have been a different player. Remember, I turned out for some of the biggest clubs in the country. So, I don’t want to see these youngsters fail to realize their potential,” said Odhiambo.
Just like his coach, assistant captain Elson Wangamati believes the team has what it takes to perform well in NSL.
“Since most teams don’t know our style of play, we want to use it to our advantage. Of course NSL is a difficult league, but we are up to the task. We can’t wait to make our debut against Kibera Black Stars,” said Wangamati.
The team will resume training on Sunday before travelling to Kisii County for pre-season training.