He fed us mentally, he made us stronger, Stars players hail Put
Is Belgian Paul Put injecting the midas touch at Harambee Stars?
The widely travelled 61-year old with a knack of inspiring his charges took the reins at the Stars dugout barely a month ago and has already won a major title with the perennially under-achieving Stars, after guiding them to a sixth Cecafa Senior Challenge title on Sunday.
The Stars kept their cool amidst the pressure to prevail 3-2 a in nerve racking penalty shoots after a 2-2 draw in extra time, to claim the regional trophy for the first time since 2013.
With the Stars win, and the manner in which it was executed, an aura of belief and optimism is sweeping across the players and the long suffering fans who hold that the dark past could finally be a thing of the past.
Put took charge of the team barely a week to the tournament but instilled the confidence which saw the team finish the competition unbeaten; conceding only two goals in the tournament, against Zanzibar in the final.
And as the jubilant fans bask in the glory, Citizen Digital has learnt that Put, in his short stint, has impressed his playing unity with his winner mentality rubbing onto his charges.
In an interview with Citizen Digital after the Cecafa heroics, utility defender Joackins Atudo said the coach was ‘working wonders’ in instilling self-belief in the team.
“He has a special way of telling a player they can do better, that they have the potential, and also getting the best out of them.
“That way, everyone was confident about their place in the team. Despite being so new to us, we were able to understand each other especially for the purpose of this tournament,” Atudo, an ever-green denominator in the Kenyan game, and who previously plied his trade with Tanzania moneybags, Azam FC, said.
He went on : “We have a feeling if all stakeholders join hands in support on what he has began now, we can go far; including making it to the 2019 African Cup of Nations finals despite the bad start in the qualifiers.”
Kenya, in the same group ‘F’ with four-time champions Ghana, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone, lost the opening match of the qualifiers to the latter away in Free Town, when they were still under the tutelage of Stanley Okumbi, now Put’s assistant.
Kariobangi Sharks winger, Ovella Ochieng, whose enormous talent was richly manifested in the 15-day tournament, hailed the Belgian tactician for feeding him with the ‘confidence diet’ in the run-up and during the tourney, noting that it was the catalyst for his explosive performance.
Ochieng, who was once heavily criticised by fans for his unconvincing displays, during Okumbi’s tenure, reckons that Put has a lot to offer Kenya.
“He fed us mentally. He made us stronger. And it worked. If you have self-doubt you cannot give your best,”Ochieng said, adding that, “Personally, I’m happy for being part of this team at a winning moment.”
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Kenyan shot-stopper Patrick Matasi, underscored that Put is already making the difference.
“It is very fulfilling when you feel everyone is doing his part. The coach has the biggest responsibility because he carries the team vision.
“Handling the team and every single player appropriately with all the existing dynamics calls for a strong mind, which the coach and the entire technical bench exhibited,” Matasi said.
Stars win is a big score for Put, as Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president Nick Mwendwa had tasked him with the responsibility of lifting the gong when he unveiled him to the Sports Ministry.
The Cecafa heroics aside, Put’s enormous duty lies in ensuring Kenya plays in the 2019 Afcon finals, for the first time since the 2004 showpiece held in Tunisia.