NAIROBI, Kenya, April 8- If all goes according to plan, then the term ‘Ingwelona’ could soon take pride and place in Kenyan football lingo as AFC Leopards start life under their new Belgian coach, Luc Eymael.
The man brought to steady the storm at Leopards’ Den is promising to ensure the team churns out the mesmerising brand of football associated with La Liga leaders FC Barcelona and a collection of honours to match.
“I like the way Barcelona play, keeping the ball on the ground, moving it fast with a lot of skill and punishing the opponent. This is how I want to see Leopards playing in the long term and winning trophies,” Luc Eymael (pronounced ‘Eeh-maa’) outlined as his chief mission at his new club.
The Belgian who was among the final short-listed candidates for the Harambee Stars job only to see Frenchman, Henri Michel and compatriot Adel Amrouche given the nod is also on the task to prove what the national team will be missing.
“I talked to the federation and told them of my vision but they first hire Michel and when he resigned, the chairman came back but they settled for Adel.
“These things happen in football but when Leopards came, I listened to them and what they wanted to achieve and I resisted offers from other clubs in the continent to come here since I share the same vision,” he added.
The 54-year old coach holds a UEFA A Pro Licence from the Federal School of Trainers in Belgium and has previously coached Congolese side Vita Club, Missiles FC from Gabon and recently Algerian side MC Oran.
“Platinum Stars and Mamelodi Sundowns are some of the clubs who were interested but I came here because Leopards are a big club in Kenya with many fans. At Vita, I used to see as many as 90,000 come for the game and that is the challenge I like, where I have to make many fans happy,” the charismatic Belgian said.
On Saturday, he got a first hand feeling of what it means to be an Ingwe coach after hundreds of Leopard’s faithful braved torrential downpour to watch their side take on league leaders KCB at Mumias Sports Complex.
The match ended in a 0-0 stalemate against the backdrop of dubious officiating but after recording a win in five prior to their 3-0 midweek win over Kakamega Homeboyz, the point was appreciated.
“I saw the boys play with a lot of spirit and they gave their all. Even though we missed chances through Noah Wafula, Allan Wanga and Paul Were, the team will only improve from here,” Eymael said of the deadlock.
“The fans are fantastic, I understand some travelled all the way from Nairobi and this is the passion we need to take this club. I told the players there are the same group that came within three points of winning the title last season.
“So, nothing has changed much except the mentality and this is what I want to work on. I’m a winner and did not take any job not to win so my aim is to win a trophy, I will not say which one, at the end of the season,” the Belgian who replaced temporally man Tom Olaba who was relieved of his duties on Monday, underscored.
“We had a problem with communicating with the former coach but since he came here, our new coach has given us the motivation to believe with ourselves and I can only see us going forward and challenging other teams.
“We are pleased he is an experienced coach who will take us places in future and my first impression of him is he is the coach we needed,” Martin Imbalambala, the Ingwe captain said of the new boss after the 0-0 draw.
Walter Onyino, the Leopards vice-chairman, revealed talks with the Belgian set-off in December last year and he was among their shortlist but they instead, settled Portuguese national Vitor Trinidad Salvado.
“Harambee Stars were interested and we decided on Vitor but when we contacted the Portuguese federation for a back ground check, we discovered some of the details in his CV were not true.
“We got back in touch again with Luc and we were in the process of gradually appointing him but when results did not go our way, we had to fast-track the process that is why we moved so fast in one week,” Onyino said.
“We have brought him to win us the title we lost last year. As management, we will not put him under pressure but within a month, we desire to see changes and the team performing better. He is suited for the long term vision we have on the club,” the vice-chair explained.
According to him, Eymael’s biggest task will be to lay the structures that will see Leopards become a consistent side in the league without heavy reliance on the administrative office holders.
“Some of the roles at the club will be re-defined, others introduced and others done away with but I want to assure everyone involved in the club that their jobs are safe,” he added.
“By failing to be hired by Harambee Stars is a gain for us but also the country will gain from him if our players are considered good enough for the national team since we want to have as many of them as possible selected. The whole country will benefit from his services,” the administrator stated.
In addition to chasing honours, Eymael also has the duty to steer Ingwe past their traditional rivals Gor Mahia who have Croat Zradvko Logarusic in charge.
“I know how important it is for Leopards to beat Gor but they also have a European coach who has made them strong. However, to be a winner, you must perform well game after game and that is the first thing I want to give Leopards, consistency.
“My wish is to see them compete on the continental level, the Champions League or Confederations Cup. At the moment, Kenyan clubs are not doing well in Africa but I believe there is talent and technical ability,” the coach who won the Congolese title with Vita expressed.
Four points in their last two outings have lifted Ingwe to sixth on the Tusker Premier League log on nine points as belief runs through a side that were threatening to implode under Olaba.
“We have not fired Olaba formally since we are yet to give him a dismissal letter. We have invited him to give us his side of the story and our contract with him was as an assistant coach.
“We decided to act when we saw the team was in danger of falling off and we needed to do something,” Onyino said of the decision to relieve the former Harambee Stars coach of his role.