One of the most learned coaches in the Kenya Premier League according to football academic credentials is now a worried man and the big question trending among faithful is, should Bob Munro fire Francis Kimanzi?
The Mathare United FC head coach finds himself in a tight position, coaching a team that has only 17 points from 19 matches played, two above bottom placed Gilbert Selebwa’s Muhoroni Youth who have 15 points after honouring a fixture of 17 matches so far.
At the close of the 2016 season, the 2008 champions were to lose nine important first-team players, but Francis Kimanzi also known as ‘Kim’ remained a calm man as he embarked on a recruiting mission with 17 new faces being drafted in.
They were mainly unexperienced young lads from the academies of Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA).
Kim and his technical bench organised trials at their training grounds in Nairobi’s Gowan Institute, but only players who were of ages 23 and below were allowed to showcase their potentials.
This however left many supporters of the club not so motivated. “We have no problem with young players. We all know that Mathare United is known for developing young players, but to effectively compete in the league you need experienced players.
Look what he did upon his arrival? Our captain Edgar ‘fighter’ Ochieng left. With these kids forming the bulk of the team, relegation is a reality,” said a dejected die-hard fan from Huruma who only identified himself as ‘Moha’.
With the beginning of the 2017 season, an exodus of the back-bone of Mathare United FC players led by award-winning midfielder Eric ‘mapake’ Johanna started heading for the exit doors as he boarded a plane to Vasalunds IF in Sweden. Lanky right back Robinson Kamura and the bearded attacking midfielder Whyvvone Isuza preferred dancing to the isikuti drums after they won matches and therefore left for AFC Leopards.
First choice goalkeeper Robert Mboya and midfielder Duke Abuya headed to partner club Kariobangi Sharks along Thika Highway.
Also shot stopper Peter Odhiambo had followed his neighbour from Makongeni estate in Nairobi’s Eastlands, Boniface Oluoch to Gor mahia FC and top striker Obadiah Ndege left for Nakumatt FC on Mombasa road.
Young star Eric Mata left for Ushuru FC. Kenya’s skipper Victor Mugubi’s brother who turned out as a right back also left. He, Thomas Wanyama also known as ‘Heskey’ is said to have decided to take a break from the hustles of football. The outfit commonly known as ‘the slum boys’ in Kenyan football circles have also seen critics point blameful fingers towards the MYSA administration for under-paying their players and a reason why they can’t maintain top players.
“How do you pay a top tier player 20,000 Kenya shillings and still expect top football performance?” a MYSA under 18 boys team coach from Dandora asked.
‘Josh’ was his only identification by name due to security reasons also added that despite the organisation’s low pay rates to their star players, head coach ‘Kim’ is a paranoid dictator who works with only a chosen few and doesn’t take criticism lightly in his circles. However head coach Kimanzi was still optimistic way back in February this year when he calmly spoke to journalists.
“We have not signed Messi, or Neymar, or any player of their caliber, so we are not thinking out loud with any outrageous ambitions.
My job is to help rebuild the team because we lost a quite number of players and we have welcomed a few others,” said the former Tusker and Sofapaka coach.
Mathare United fc has shown immense success in youth development over the years spanning for more than a decade. They won the KPL under 20 tournament and successfully defended it in December 2016 with tactician Yussuf Chipo in charge of the raw talent when his side toyed around Boniface Ambani’s AFC Leopards and finally won it on post-match penalty shoot outs after a 1-1 tie.
However, despite all these success from grassroots level that saw their cabinet doors open to the 2008 KPL title, an avid footballer thinker and observer will clearly argue that while developing a team for the future, you need a muscle of experience to offer guidance in all available departments.
Pundits will also argue that, this won’t be a problem for a renowned coach who also had his playing career at the same club between1994 and 2002. He also served as a captain of Mathare United fc before his retirement to coaching, hence he is well aware of what needs to be done and at what time due to his leadership skills, but unfortunately his charges are lying 17th place on a log of 18 teams that are currently playing the KPL fixtures.
Kimanzi knows it’s not possible to immediately replace the departed star players, but the fact remains that a coach of his status and calibre should be leading while others follow. It shall also be remembered that Kimanzi was appointed full-time manager of Harambee stars on 11th December 2008, having held the post as a caretaker manager since May 2008.
He was sacked from the post of national team head coach after the 2008 CECAFA Cup in January 2009 due to disputes between him and the then Sam Nyamweya led Football Kenya Federation. After a one-year spell coaching Elly Kalekwa’s Sofapaka fc, he was reappointed as head coach of Harambee stars in November 2011.
In June 2012 he was sacked as manager of Kenya alongside his entire coaching staff after the country failed to qualify for the 2013 African Nations Cup. Before the beginning of the 2014 season, heaven again smiled upon his face as giants Tusker fc sacked highly rated Robert Matano.
Tusker fc replaced Matano with Kim who beat foreigners, former AFC leopards’ talisman- Dutchman Jan Koops and former Gor Mahia magician-Zdravko Logarusic from Croatia to the big job.
It might seem unlikely that the Bob Munro led organization (Mathare United) will fire its former captain, but Kimanzi knows that his reputation as a leader is in jeopardy if things don’t change soon. Mathare United will face an unpredictable Robert Matano’s Afc Leopards in his next fixture on Tuesday 15th August in Nairobi.
A must win 90 minutes tantalizing experience for both sides. If Kim has to have hopes of getting out of the relegation zone and salvage his pride as ‘the one and only’ then he must win. Afc leopards lying 13th on the log with 20 points also have to win in order to restore faith to the Ingwe faithfuls.
If Matano also has to live up to his reputation as ‘simba’, Ingwe has to win. None of the teams will take a draw for an answer, but all eyes will be on Kimanzi.