NAIROBI, September 5 – “He has shown the qualities of a strong leader. He is disciplined, articulate, commands respect of the players and leads by example on the pitch.”
That is how Harambee Stars coach, Francis Kimanzi, describes his team captain, Robert Mambo Mumba, popularly known as ‘Boban’.
The coach, appointed to lead Kenya’s qualifying campaigns to the 2010 World Cup and Nations Cup knows too well that his fortunes depend on the Sweden-based midfielder’s ability to marshal the troops.
A team’s performance mirrors that of its captain and in recent times, iconic figures wearing the armband have led their sides to glory with inspired performances.
Figures like Eric Cantona (Manchester United), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Tony Adams (Arsenal), Dunga (Brazil), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy) and Stephen Gerrard (Liverpool) spring to mind.
It is in the footsteps of such players that Mambo has moulded but first, he describes why he was the choice of many to succeed Musa Otieno, the defensive stalwart who led the team for a decade.
“The players thought that I was the right person for the job since I mingle with everybody. I listen to what they have to say and liaise with the management on their behalf,” the GIF Sundsvall player says.
“We had him in mind but we let the players decide for themselves and we were pleased they made Mambo their captain,” Kimanzi adds.
JOURNEY TO THE ARMBAND
Mambo, born on October 25, 1978 in Mombasa, has made 50 appearances for the national team and scored 15 goals for Harambee Stars.
He began playing football in Makande Primary School before moving to Serani Secondary School where his leadership qualities were unearthed.
“In Form three, I was appointed the captain of our schools’ football team and the following year, I was made the overall leader for sports,” Mambo recalls.
Immediately after finishing his secondary education in 1997, Mambo joined Bandari FC and a season later, Coast Stars signed him up.
Convinced by his all round performances and goal scoring abilities from midfield, Tusker FC, the reigning Kenyan club champions, snapped him up in 1999. That was the period that he earned his first call-up to the national side, then under James Siang’a.
“I was very honoured to be playing for Harambee Stars and it was the realisation of a dream,” Mambo says.
In 2001, Mambo secured his first move abroad, turning out for KAA Gent in Belgium. In October of that year, he moved to KRC Gent-Zeehaven where he stayed until June 2002.
Mambo returned home and rejoined Coast Stars and was appointed as the assistant to Otieno in the national team.
“When he was not playing, I would lead the team. We lifted the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup that year with me as captain,” Mambo says with a smile.
In July 2003, he was back with KAA Ghent and after a season, he crossed to Sweden where he linked up with Orebro SK in July 2004.
He moved on to Norwegian outfit, Viking FK (January 2005 to May 2006) and back to Sweden with BK Hacken (July 2006 to December 2007).
Otieno ended his decade-long stay with the team in September 2006 after Kenya’s 1-2 defeat by Eritrea; it was no surprise when Mambo was named the successor.
MAMBO ON THE JOB
“Sometimes the pressure gets to you. Kenyans expect a lot from the team and you have to accept the pressure and push the boys on the pitch,” Mambo says on the task of wearing the Harambee Stars armband.
The captain, who has made 50 appearances and scored 15 goals however, hails the supporters who have found renewed vigour in the current qualifying campaign.
“They have been behind us despite losing in Namibia (1-2 reverse) and we owe our good run to them. They expected a lot after Tunisia and we did not match that hence their unhappiness.”
Mambo is enjoying being at the helm of the team nowadays for the simple reason of improved management of the team by officials.
“It has not always been rosy with the officials but now, my work is easier since the prayers’ welfare is being catered for by Kenya Premier League.”
He adds: “I rate this campaign as the best camp the team has had for a long time. No one is complaining, fans and sponsors are behind us, we have a young team that will go places.”
The skipper pays homage to coach Kimanzi saying, “He is a visionary and he is exploiting our talent well. The whole technical bench is great to work with.”
For Mambo, leading Harambee Stars to Angola or South Africa would be a crowning moment.
But he is realistic enough to realise that he acting as a transition between the past and the future.
“I am in my last leg as a player but am pleased that so many youngsters are coming through. It means that we need to invest more in youth development to guarantee success in the future.”
He articulates: “I am pleased to have served in the team for that long and I will keep on encouraging the players I work without prejudice. I want to continue doing that even past my playing days and one day, who knows, I may be in charge of the team as coach.”
MAMBO’S MOMENTS AND TASTES
“For me, playing at the 2004 Nations Cup and winning the 2002 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup are my best moments with the team. If we make Angola or South Africa, it will also be a big moment for me.”
The captain says they learnt lessons from their first round exit in the Tunisia Nations Cup that he seeks to see applied in the current charge.
“Most of all, I learnt that we need a lot of concentration at all times during the match. Mali scored us twice in the dying minutes while Senegal had three in the net in the first 20 minutes.”
Kenya lost 1-3 in the first game to Mali before being knocked out by Senegal in the second by a 0-3 score line.
“After the third goal went in, we said to ourselves, ‘tupunguze aibu’ (limit the embarrassment) and we started playing. In the last match against Burkina Faso, we just went in to have a good time and managed to make history.”
The match ended 3-1 in favour of Stars and it was the first ever victory for Kenya at the Nations’ Cup.
Mambo loves slow R&B music and the latest CD in his collection is Keysha Cole’s The Love Album. His favourite food is Chapati.
“Unlike what most people think, the Scandinavian leagues are very competitive and attract many scouts from bigger clubs. Besides, compared to here (Kenya) they pay well,” he explains why he has spent most of his career in the Nordic countries of Norway and Sweden and Belgium.
“MacDonald Mariga (FC Parma, Serie B Italy) is the best example that Scandinavian leagues can step up a career and that is why I encourage talented youngsters to try careers. I also work with scouts towards helping them.”
THE NAME ‘BOBAN’
“When I was young, my younger brother could not pronounce my last name Mumba. He used to call me Boba and that name stuck with me.”
He adds: “When I started playing in the midfield, my team mates added the ‘N’ since (Zvonimir) Boban who was famous also played in the same position.”
Boban captained the Croat national team that finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France and made 178 appearances for AC Milan between 1992 and 2001.