How youthful Kimani has injected the flair at Leopards’ lair
Analysis, Jacob Icia
When AFC Leopards appointed Anthony Kimani as club’s assistant coach in March 2019, very few, if any, foresaw the possibility of the 36-year-old becoming the head coach within a year at the den.
Thanks to the ever revolving door of coaches at Leopards, Kimani would take over from Andre Casa Mbungo towards the end of 2019 after the Rwandese’ patience ran out with his broke employers.
Kimani was not elevated at the best time. Cash crisis was causing the departures of dependable players and a lot of uncertainty among the junior ones. Important to note is that, during this transition period, then club captain Soter Kayumba left the club. He had gone three months without pay.
Then followed Bungo himself, before arguably Leopards’ most influential midfielder then, Whyvonne Isuza was roped in by Wazito FC who enjoy a stronger financial muscle than other Kenyan Premier League (KPL) outfits.
As if that was not enough, John Mark-Makwatta, a man whose signature was a massive boost to Leopards in mending their scoring troubles, would follow suit after half a season, joining Zambia’s powerhouse Zesco United.
Notwithstanding, Kimani has amazingly stabilised his youthful team he has to a point that the Leopards family is more reassured with him, restoring the lost glory is just a question of time.
Interestingly, as Leopards appointing authorities pinpointed at his appointment, the former Harambee Stars captain leadership skills are worth noting in influencing the key drive – self believe as he has put time and again.
“What we (Leopards) have been lacking against lately Gor Mahia is the mental strength. In the many defeats before the derby we have matched their technical and tactical abilities but self-believe has been the main difference.
“As at now, things are different. You can see the players a believing they can do it, and that is the main thing for me,” said the 2015 Leopards skipper, just before the Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Gor Mahia.
And even after the loss, the 2012 Harambee Stars captain in the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup was unequivocal he was proud of his charges display.
“To be honest I’m very proud of my players for what they have displayed in today’s (Sunday) match. They confidently fought, and they were calm. The only difference and the main undoing was failure to convert the chances we created. It happens in football though, and when your opponent makes good use of their chances then you lose it. I however feel so proud of the team’s performance as it is reflects massive growth,” offered Kimani.
Poignantly, in the reverse fixture, Ingwe suffered a 4-1 meltdown under Mbungo. Fast forward to Sunday, only two players who started in last year’s clash for Leopards were in the starting 11, another indicator of the enormous changes under Kimani, and the high player turnover at the outfit.
Club Chairman Dan Shikanda has in the meantime hailed Kimani’s work, saying the team and the fans are now believe anything is possible.
“You can see a lot of difference. Even when you lose, you lose like a hero. Before, you would sense loss on the faces of players even before they kick the ball. It is a lot work especially with quite a young team, a spirit that we must keep on building upon,” Shikanda told Citizen Digital, when Leopards played Tusker at the Afraha Stadium, Nakuru in February.
Kimani, the holder of Basic/Advanced and CAF C licenses still believes there is everything to fight for despite sitting sixth on the KPL log, 14 points behind leaders Gor with 23 rounds done.
“Until you are mathematically outside the title race, you cannot stop thinking about it. We have to keep working towards finishing at the best position possible, until the end,” Kimani charged.
Only seven points though, separate Kimani’s charges with second ranked Kakamega Homeboyz on the table.
A master of cultivating camaraderie in the team, Kimani has been hailed by former teammate James Situma as the ‘right fix’ for Ingwe in the long term.
“You look at how he has helped Leopards perform, no doubt he is doing a great job there. He has been a leader all along, even at Mathare and Harambee Stars. Having played in the local scene for a long time he knows how to maneuvre around it and guide his players, and that is key especially when the team has been on financial crisis…,” Situma commented.
Being among the homegrown youthful coaches in KPL who played past the 2010 era, Kimani, just like Sofapaka’s John Baraza is emerging to be a force to reckon with.
Outstandingly though, is the fact that soft spoken Kimani is steadying a ship whose pressure is immense, from the history of the club.