NAIROBI, Kenya Sept 19 – Had Kenyan football hot shots kept faith in Francis Kimanzi, the man who led Harambee Stars to the third and final qualifiers for 2010 World Cup/Africa Nations Cup, perhaps the country would have not sunk to the depths of despair it has plunged into.Especially so after the national side lost 0-1 away to Mozambique in Maputo to leave them at the basement of Group B and staring at dashed hopes of making the final 32 or 16 nations that will duel in South Africa and Angola respectively next year.
Capitalsport found Kimanzi, now engaged in chasing a second successive Kenyan Premier League (KPL) crown for titleholders, Mathare United, in a quandary after finding the refurbished artificial turf City Stadium in Nairobi he had earmarked for his club side’s evening training full of sand bags on the pitch.
Five points behind runaway leaders and newly promoted side, Robert Matano’s Sofapaka, the last seven games prior to last Saturday’s crunch match against the pacesetters represented the Mathare head coach with his most defining moment of the season.
Nevertheless, on that hot Thursday afternoon, Kimanzi, an advocate of flowing Dutch football, gathered his troops and shifted them to Goan Institute grounds, a bumpy pitch not suited to his style of play.
After a ride through Nairobi’s notorious evening traffic and a training session that lasted 30 minutes, well past 6:30pm, capitalsport got the chance finally to take on him.
“I’m not concerned with not training at City, the hard work was done on Tuesday and Wednesday, what remained was to keep the players in the flow since most of the preparations are done,” the affable coach, 33, starts.
“I did not have the opportunity to get good experienced players during the transfer window since all of them had contracts. I opted to use that time to work with those I had. Most were 60 percent but now they are 80 and my players have gained confidence that is better at this time. I am aiming at getting position one, two, three or four that will be a good thing since my involvement with Harambee Stars did not give me enough time to prepare them pre-season as I would have wanted,” he explains.
Now to Harambee Stars, the team he was bundled out unceremoniously after falling out with Football Kenya Limited (FKL) mandarins just before the final phase of qualifiers for 2010 World Cup and Nations Cup began.
“With two games to go, sacking the coach will not do,” he says at first offering his beleaguered German successor, Antoine Hey, respite with growing calls for his exit after the Maputo debacle.
“Hiring a new coach now will repeat the same mistake Hey made by starting all over again with a new team. Football is like a company and once you have cultivated a workable environment and a product to the fans like the one we had at that time, there was no need to make changes and there is no need for them now,” he states.
Kimanzi adds: “To make a workable and acceptable side to all Kenyans with what has happened so far could be impossible. A new coach would bring everything new and that might not command the respect of players.”
With Tunisia away and a home tie against the Super Eagles of Nigeria left for Kenya to salvage at least an appearance at Angola’s Nations Cup, the Mathare coach gave his views on what should be done to rescue the country’s pride in a qualifying campaign that is heading to yet another heartache for the country’s devoted fans.
“These (training) camps of one or two months will not help the team. At first, they were the only way Hey could know the players but by now, he should be fully aware of his best team and the best quality available to him.
“We are not doing good preparations for the team since we are not getting friendlies that are aimed at game ahead. For instance, we should ensure we play a friendly match connected to Tunisia ahead of the away match with them and do the same at home before Nigeria for the players to get used to the pressure,” Kimanzi urged.
The former Harambee Stars coach stressed a team can be match ready in four days with nine to 12 training sessions ahead of the game, a fact also acknowledged by world governing body FIFA.
He explains: “It is proper to expose the players to the kind of atmosphere in a big match with say Nigeria by fielding Stars against a team that plays like them.
Should they for example be drawing 0-0 on 80 minutes then they concede a goal,
they are in a position to work out how to hold for the remaining ten minutes.”
For him, comments attributed to the national head coach that Mozambique are not capable of gaining points against either Tunisia or Nigeria should not be used to drive the team forward.
“We should not depend on what our opponents for the Nations Cup do in their games. Rather, we should focus on gaining the maximum from our competition. We should not look at Mozambique’s game plan but instead focus on our own since they might pull a surprise,” he noted.
Qualification for the Nations Cup is the ideal stepping-stone for Kenya’s bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and Kimanzi regrets that a failed chance could crush the players.
“Our players believed they would atleast make Angola and most probably, they could. Now, failure to be there will be a big blow to their confidence and though they do not say it openly, they are disillusioned with what is happening,” he discloses.
“Politicising sport has not been good on the players and unless administration of the game changes, two or three generations of our players will go to waste. We had a good chance to go far but the administration of the team let the players down,” Kimanzi says.
“For me, sacking from Harambee Stars was not the worst thing since it has a lot of pressure but I learned a lot and I will continue coaching for many years to come,” he concludes.
As darkness falls, Kimanzi relays final instructions to his team’s training regimen the following day. As he departs to plot how to cut Sofapaka’s lead in the KPL, a strong scent of what might have been had he been preparing for Tunisia instead wafts through the acrid air around Nairobi’s Pangani area and most probably, an entire country aching for an appearance at a major tournament since the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia.