NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 25 – On paper, Tusker FC has one of the most balanced and potent squads in the Kenyan Premier League with several stars returning to the side to blend in with a crop of young players signed up by head coach Robert Matano.
Midfielder Hashim Sempala returns to the side after four months at Gor Mahia, Humphrey Mieno returns after spells with Gor and Ethiopia’s St. George while defender Eugene Asike also makes a permanent return after missing most of last season.
Tusker have also signed experienced winger George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo from Gor.
However, Matano says that names alone will not be enough for them to challenge for the KPL title.
“Names do not play football. They can have the biggest names, but what matters is what you do on the pitch. That is my challenge to them. They have to prove that they deserve to play and they have to play to protect their names. Only those who deserve will earn a chance in my team whether you are a big name or small name,” Matano told Capital Sports.
Mieno hasn’t started the season yet as he has just recovered from injury while the rest have had a feel of Tusker’s season already with three matches down.
Tusker have four points after their draw against Mathare United and victory over Zoo Kericho helped them rub away the opening day blues of a 5-2 spanking at the hands of defending champions Gor Mahia.
“We had a bad start to the season but it was because of circumstances that were beyond us. We had so many injuries for that game and we had to patch up the squad. But we have managed to recover and the players now know that the league is not easy and have picked up very well,” the tactician noted.
This season, Matano says he wants to help Tusker regain its respect in the league, only falling short of declaring his thirst for a third Premier League title as coach, a second with Tusker and the brewers’ 12th overall.
Tusker is the only side to break the Gor Mahia dominance since 2013 having lifted the crown in 2016 after edging out Gor who were docked points due to crowd trouble. This season, Matano hopes he can bring the glory days back to Ruaraka.
“The Lion has his own respect as a coach in this country, Tusker has its own respect as one of the big clubs in this country. We have to get that respect back and the only way to do so is by winning our games and being in the top,” the tactician, nicknamed ‘The Lion’ because of his tough coaching regimen said.
“We need to be consistent in our results and play good football,” he added.
The brewers aim to keep their winning barrels rolling and their next sojourn takes them to Machakos where they face Sofapaka, a side that started the season slow but has picked up as well.
Being his former side, Matano expects a tough duel but says the come-from-behind victory over Zoo will inspire them to face Batoto ba Mungu.
“This will be a battle of former champions with a lot of mutual respect with each other. I know it will not be an easy game because Sofapaka have a strong team after recruiting well,” Matano underscored.
“However, we have so much confidence after last weekend’s win. There is so much that three points can do in lifting the morale of the players and the technical bench. There is renewed energy and belief whenever a team wins and we will ride on this,” stated Matano.
The two sides have already met this season, facing off each other in a pre-season friendly match at Ruaraka, a game that ended 2-0 in favor of the brewers.