NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 26- Robert Matano came in to AFC Leopards in June 2017, finding the Ingwe ship sinking towards relegation, but what he termed as ‘first aid’ saw the club crawl up to finish eighth and lift the GOtv Shield title.
Coming in to 2018, the experienced tactician who has already won two Kenyan Premier League titles with two different clubs has warned that he could well be in line for a third, saying he has a stronger squad compared to last year.
“Last season had its challenges because we didn’t have players who could play and win many matches; we had players who could win one match and that was it. This season we have a better team with variation. We can change players in each game with consistent results,” the tactician said.
AFC has changed almost half of the team from 2017 with Matano shipping in 15 new players, biggest hit being the attack which only has Vincent Oburu as the survivor from last year.
The tactician says he has been impressed with the input brought in by the new youngsters so far in pre-season training and has no doubt they will translate into results for the coming season.
“I did not lose many players; I released many. The only player I can say I lost was Kizito (Keziron). We have brought in a team capable of bringing results,” a confident Matano said.
Biggest on Matano’s ambition for the new season is making a mark in the CAF Confederations Cup where they start their campaign at home against Madagascar’s FOSA Juniors on February 10, possibly in Kakamega.
If they make it past that first hurdle, they move on to the second round where they play the winner between Comoros’ Ngazi Sport and Mauritian side AS Port Louis.
If they win the second hurdle, they will progress to the decisive knock-out phase where they will be tied with a team dropped down from the CAF Champions League and a win here will see them seal a group stage place.
Matano believes it is possible; but only if the players and technical bench members are ‘motivated’.
Ingwe is grappling with sponsorship issues after their shirt partners SportPes pulled out citing difficulty in sustaining the five-year partnership following the implementation of the 35 percent tax law on betting firms by the government.
“If there is motivation, I am confident we will reach far. I believe in myself, I believe in my players but there has to be motivation. Motivation is about finance and it helps the players to focus. That’s what we need,” the experienced tactician further stated.
The coach has now called on the government to step in and help the club finance its Confederations Cup campaign, arguing they will be representing Kenya.
AFC officials have remained optimistic they will land sponsors in time for the new season with chairman Dan Mule disclosing they are engaging several potential partners already.
Meanwhile, AFC begin their season at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru on Sunday where they take on league champions Gor Mahia in the season-opening KPL Super Cup.
Though without incentive of prize money, Matano says the match will be a crucial one as they seek to reflect on their pre-season progress and identify grey areas that need to be sharpened ahead of the new season.
“This game is coming at a very good time because it will help us gauge ourselves against a tough opponent. Gor is a good team and the challenge they will give us is that they have not changed much of their starting 11. We have a new team which is still work in progress,” Matano noted.
AFC has never won the KPL Super Cup and Matano is confident of breaking that duck.
After the Super Cup, Ingwe will shift their attention to the season’s first match, an away trip down to Machakos where they take on Posta Rangers on February 4. They play FOSA Juniors six days later.
AFC Leopards 2018 at a glance:
Head Coach: Robert Matano
Assistant coach: Tom Juma
Captain: Duncan Otieno
New players: Ezekiel Onyango, Jairus Adira (goalkeepers), Yusuf Mainge, Isaac Oduro, Moses Mburu (Defenders), Brian Arasa, Baker Lukooya, Collins Okoth, Henry Uche, Joseph Kuria (midfielders), Jeffrey Owiti, Prince Arkoh, Ezekiel Otuoma, Eric Bekoe, Ezekiel Odera (strikers).