How good is Kimanzi: An insight into the February Coach of the month

Mathare United coach Francis Kimanzi poses with the SJAK/Fidelity Insurance February Coach award at the Goan Institute Grounds on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.

The look on his face spoke volumes about the joy that his latest personal award brought to him. As Fidelity Insurance Marketing Manager Nicholas Malesi called out his name, Francis Kimanzi moved to the stage with a spring in his step. He seamlessly produced a wide smile as he shook Malesi’s hand and received his personalized trophy and a cheque of Ksh 75,000.

A deafening round of applause followed from his players who just like Kimanzi were in awe. It was their performance that earned Kimanzi the award ahead of Gor Mahia’s Dylan Kerr. Three wins (against Vihiga United, Nzoia Sugar and Sofapaka) and a draw on the road against Ulinzi Stars meant Mathare United was unbeaten in February.

With Gor Mahia having posted similar results, it was a close call between Kerr and Kimanzi but the panel from the Sports Journalists of Kenya (SJAK) broke the tie with Kimanzi getting 10 votes and Kerr 6.

Perhaps the award came as a surprise to Kimanzi given the tight competition but for one man who has been with Kimanzi as a player, captain, coach and instructor it wasn’t.

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“Winning this award was based on decisions he made last year. When other coaches of teams that were in the relegation zone last year were being fired, I met with Kim and the players. I reassured him that his faith in them and my faith in him remained and that he was going to be our coach this year and next year,” said Mathare United chairman Bob Munro.

To put it into perspective, Kimanzi’s Mathare United spent the better part of the second leg last year at bottom place. Their fate was still unknown and after settling for a barren draw with Sofapaka in Round 31 chances of surviving were slim. It was down to the last three matches and Thika United, Western Stima and Mathare United had everything to fight for.  

“If I gain one point and Thika United gets three then that’s a two point difference. It means we have to work harder in our next match but there is nothing to panic about,” offered Kimanzi in his post-match address on November 1.

His assessment of the next three matches against Nzoia Sugar, Muhoroni Youth and Posta Rangers was simple:

“Every game since the season started has been very important because you always want to be in a better position. Sometimes things go wrong but that doesn’t mean that we are panicking. If we keep on playing like we are doing I know we will get some more points,” he said in mitigation.

Seven points from those three matches took their tally to 39 points and the Slum Boys finished 13th on the log, only one point above the relegation zone. Remarkably three months later, Kimanzi has taken the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) by a storm shooting to the top of the league standings with majority of the players he struggled with in the past campaign.

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“I took a brave risk to work with young and inexperienced players but who were very talented. We had to get a foundation that would be genuinely sound. We knew it was going to be tough because along the way you could see some false confidence creeping in. They wanted to do well but building a team is a process that takes time,” observed the KNVB trained tactician.

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Looking back at the near perfect start to the campaign that earned him the February accolade, Kimanzi admits that his charges have performed beyond his expectations.

“Honestly they have surprised us this year because we had given them a three year grace period to mature completely. We expected some improvement this year because we finished the 2017 season on a high.

“This group has shown resilience and their confidence is growing with every passing match. We only made a few additions this year and the mentality has really changed. They are happier and they are having fun on the pitch,” pointed out Kimanzi.

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Clifford Alwanga’s resurgence underlines Kimanzi’s reputation as a top tactician. Having joined the team in January, Alwanga has four goals to his credit in 10 matches twice what he achieved in Tusker last season.  

“Kimanzi is a top coach. He knows how to organize his trainings to get the best from his players. We had a very good preseason training and personally that has helped me to rediscover my form,” offered Alwanga who scored a brace in the season opener against Vihiga United.

Cliff Nyakeya, currently the club’s leading scorer with 5 goals, also spoke glowingly of Kimanzi describing him as a good man manager.

“He totally deserves the award because we have really improved from a relegation bound team to league leaders. Last season he kept me on the sidelines for eight matches due to missing training and that punishment really made me change my mentality towards football.

“Nowadays I am always on time for training and it is such simple things that have made me perform very well this year. He has a good relationship with players and his tough approach makes us very committed,” said the youngster.

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Currently four points clear of defending champions Gor Mahia who have three games in hand, Mathare United are proving to be more than pace setters. Kimanzi believes that it is no idle boast that the current team can emulate his 2008 title winning squad.

“According to us they are still learning but I don’t see anything wrong when you are learning and still win something. If you put yourself in the platform as one of the forces in the league then you are targeting anything that is achievable.

“We have a team that we believe can face any challenge. We don’t even rule out the possibility of winning the league,” a confident Kimanzi said in his closing remarks.

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In retrospect, the 2018 team has amassed four more points than the 2008 team in the first ten matches of the season. That performance has already delivered one award to the team and Kimanzi can only hope for better tidings moving forward.  

“It is the first award of the season for the team and I am happy about it. We all hope we can push and get more. We just need to focus on what we have been doing in the last ten matches, approaching matches with a lot of passion and the urge to win,” asserted the 2008 KPL Coach of the Year.