NAIROBI, Kenya, June 22 – Self-discipline, commitment, hard work, passion, coupled with a no-nonsense attitude are unique attributes that have stood Tusker FC tactician Robert Matano through the test of time, well into enviable success in his coaching career.
But the man christened ‘The Lion’ for his insatiable appetite for success is interestingly a laid-back and hilarious man back at his Eastleigh home in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, where he lives with his third wife and kids.
For Matano, family ties supersede all facets of life. He is a man who has managed to sustain an enlarged unit with ease and comfort. He has three wives, and together, they have been blessed to raise five bundles of joy.
His first wife Mary has two children (Brian and Linda), second wife Rosemary has one Kid (Maureen), and the third wife Carol, with whom he lives with at his Eastleigh home has two children. That’s Matano the family man.
The tactician admits that family values have been strong in his desire to do better every day, looking to set a good example not only for his better halves, but also his children and this is his driving force.
For him, family comes first, and from the same family as well, the burning love and desire for football also often fizzles.
For example, his third wife Carol is an ardent supporter of AFC Leopards and has on sundry occasions been spoilt for choice in a match against her husband’s team, Tusker FC.
“Ingwe fans will always understand when we play Tusker. In such instances I always say to them -may the best team win. As much as I have a bias for Ingwe, I also have a soft spot for the team my husband coaches,” Walusanga, mother of two daughters; Cynthia and Sharon, revealed to Capital Sport.
“One day in the stadium I overheard a fan allege that Matano is a superstitious ‘juju man’. After the match, I approached the fan and asked him to dispel rumours he could not substantiate. I have known my husband as a very rational tactician on the bench though sometimes temperamental when things don’t work as he instructs. I sometimes try to persuade him to just explain the point to a player without throwing tantrums,” Walusanga, who drinks and eats football, adds.
– Matano’s eventful social lifestyle –
A roaring lion in the line of duty, Matano, whose coaching portfolio includes giants AFC Leopards, City Stars and Ulinzi Stars, culls out a softer-than-a-puppy version when off the pitch and in social circles.
“When I’m not coaching, I like dancing to some smooth rhumba tunes. I have always loved dancing since I was a boy as it is also part of physical fitness,” a jolly Matano narrates, as he settles down for our interview.
“Regardless of the match outcome, after a game, I always go to the club to listen to music. When you lose a match, music is the only thing to soothe your miseries. When I win, rhumba is still music to my ears,” says the jolly Matano.
As well, having a good time with his wives and kids remains top of his priority even in the midst of a crazy and sometimes consuming coaching career.
Taking small walks in the streets of Eastleigh with his wife tops his hobbies as he looks to breathe some different air from the home environment. He also love to go on some kickabout with his children.
“When I’m not playing football with my kids, I’m either jogging or helping my wife in our family shop,” Matano, the astute and dedicated family man says.
And you will see clearly the effects putting family first has had on his career.
Matano has several feats to savour as he is the only coach in the new Kenyan Premier League (KPL) era to have won the coveted league title twice with different clubs. He first won it with Sofapaka in their league debut in 2009, then lifted it with Tusker FC in 2012.
Matano also won the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Shield with AFC Leopards in 2017, quenching Ingwe’s thirst after a three-year trophy drought.
As if to prove his uncanny knack on the bench, he also got his mitts on the Fidelity Insurance /SJAK Coach of the Month Award for September/October in 2018.
Just like most, his usual routine has changed with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was quite a challenge with the lockdown in Eastleigh. But with time, we adapted to the situation. On the sporting side, we were up to scratch with our rhythm at Tusker and ready to move on steadily. But when Gor were declared champions – with no hopes of resumption for the league- we had nothing to do, but to accept and move on,” Matano states.
He adds; “However, if that is the criteria used, then they should give us the CAF Confederation Cup slot for the simple reason that at halfway stage Gor were top on 35 points and we were second on 34,” Matano, a former AFC Leopards player and coach explained.
-Most memorable season-
His most memorable season as a coach was when he won the league with Sofapaka in 2009.
“I got my nickname (lion) from Sofapaka because Club Chairman Elly Kalekwa believed I was a fearless predator with the heart of a lion. I did a lot for Sofapaka as a coach, not only on the bench but put formidable structures in place.”
“We won the Nationwide League in 2008 after three failed attempts and went on to lay our hands on the coveted KPL title the following year and ultimately making a debut in the CAF Champions League competition,” Matano underscored.
He added; “So Kalekwa nicknamed me lion in appreciation of my go-getting knack.”
Matano amiably referred to as Ma 5 (loosely translated as number five in English), by contemporary players, has vivid memories of the 2012 season when he helped Tusker recapture the KPL title against all odds.
“When I came to Tusker in 2012, they had already lost hopes of defending their title. So, I did my best to restore hopes of a crestfallen outfit and they were back on with zest and vigor to emerge the champion on the last day of the league at Hope Centre. Sweet victory I must admit,” with a grin smile on his face, Matano recounts.
-Beating Gor to a title as player
The Lion’s most memorable list of achievements as a player include helping his first love, AFC Leopards win the East and Central Africa Club Championship (CECAFA) for keeps in February 1984, a feat he has always cherished and remembered with nostalgia.
“It was one heck of a cracker considering Gor’s imperious form and their penchant to demolish teams on their Nairobi pool –so they treated us as underdogs not knowing that it’s not over until it’s over.
“In Mombasa, we won narrowly in all preliminary and knockout stages then beat Gor 2-1 which incidentally was our tournament’s highest score in the memorable final. Nyayo Stadium had a fresh turf having only hosted one Senior Challenge match in which JJ Masiga notched home Harambee Star’s solitary goal against Zimbabwe.
“In the preliminaries, we played Simba and Young Africans (Yanga) whom we beat 1-0. We also beat KCC of Uganda who fielded Ugandan legends Moses Nsereko and Godfrey Katerega.
For a coach who has had jolly days in his work, there have never lacked moments that he felt awful and a dark cloud hang around his head. Just like it was at Sofaaka where he enjoyed his best moments as a coach, it was at the same club where he almost hit rock bottom.
“I steered Sofapaka from nothing to something. When nothing seemed to go our way, I brought in new players who went on to ride on the crest of the waves. Sadly, they didn’t appreciate my efforts and refused to renew my contract after we disagreed with Prezda (Club president Elly Kalekwa). I didn’t take his sentiments kindly and we had to part ways, unfortunately.” He narrates.
Most recently, it is with Ingwe that he encountered another low.
“In 2018, Ingwe kicked me out of the job after helping them win the GOtv Shield. But all the troubles are now water under the bridge.”
As one of the leaders in Kenya’s coaching circles, Matano is not afraid to post his opinion on the running of the game in the country, especially with the current leadership squabbles that have been taken to the corridors of justice at the Sports Disputes Tribunal.
Matano wants to see sanity prevail in the sport. He wants Football Kenya Federation and KPL officials to burry the hatchet for the sake of our boys and girls and indeed the betterment of the sport’s future.
“I honestly can explain what’s going on at the moment. I don’t know where we are headed. Nothing is moving at the present with coronavirus issues and court cases.”
The tactician also wants County Governments to be more proactive in as far as maintenance of sporting facilities is concerned.
“Football is all about what you invest. Teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid are successful because they have hefty budgets to buy players. We must invest in infrastructure. I believe County Government of Nairobi can do better on this issue. Stadiums like Woodley are a pale shadow of their former self.
“They must be given a facelift. We now have Camp Toyoyo Stadium. Ziwani grounds and Majimbo in Kaloleni can also be improved and this is the only way we will encourage young people to play and appreciate public facilities.”
-KEFOCA should be active-
Meanwhile, Matano candidly admits he is livid with the dire straits that most coaches have had to contend with after retirement.
Former Harambee Stars Coach Marshal Mulwa is the latest coach to be highlighted, struggling to make ends meet and living in a shack in Kitengela.
“Marshal Mulwa is a legend. It is not his fault that he had found himself in such a deplorable situation. Just because things didn’t work out his way, should not be a reason he should languish in obscurity. When KEFOCA was formed in the 70s’, the underlying objective was to look into the welfare of coaches as well as helping them grow their careers. Sadly, they went to sleep. For example, we should have a strong Sacco where members can borrow money when in distress.”
Looking back to his formative years, the Lion wants players to save for posterity.
“My football story is such a sad one. My mum died when I was six years and Dad followed when I was 10 years. I have struggled and this is something I hate talking about. I schooled in many towns across the country and at the mercy of friends. I went to bed on a hungry belly several times. When I played for Hakati FC we used to live with Austin Oduor in Huruma. He is still my best friend.
“On match days we were foes, but very close friends after the shrill of the 90-minute whistle. We would walk home together and that’s what football leaders should live for. It’s our sport and we must protect it.”
-Brewers plans for new season-
While he awaits for the COVID-19 situation to be dealt with and football gets back to the pitch, Matano has his ambitions intact with Tusker FC whom he had hoped to hoist back to Premier League title glory on his second return.
Asked what’s in store for the Brewers, Coach Matano stated: “I can’t talk about plans now because we don’t know when we will be back to normalcy. We have the same outfit, same management and right mind-set. We have our eyes firmly set on good results. We will pick it up from where we left. I was born a winner and I work extra hard to achieve goals.”