The Football Kenya Federation Arbitration Tribunal ruling on the case of former coach Ivan Minnaert opened the lid, and laid bare what has been an awful and failed season for one of Kenya’s most followed club - AFC Leopards. Ingwe, got off to the 2016 season on a flier, despite enduring a massive player exodus in the January transfer window.
Solid wins over Bandari and Gor Mahia set the club in the race for the league top spot, only for matters to start heading south, at jet speed velocity. While the club somewhat managed some famous wins on the pitch, all was not well. The goose was slowly but surely simmering. First, a John Ohaga-led tribunal had forced a marriage between two warring sides, led by Dan Mule and Mathews Opwora respectively. The two camps would later form the Interim Management Committee(IMC).
The infighting grew slowly. Soon, the club hired tactician Ivan Minnaert from Rayon Sports. Ivan announced his arrival with a bang, seeing off Bandari FC at Nyayo, before handing Gor Mahia a maiden loss in almost a year. A loss that led to the eventual departure of then Gor Mahia coach Frank Nuttal.
Interestingly, Ivan’s contract was not dated.
In their submission to the FKF Tribunal a month ago, the club claimed that Ivan lacked appropriate coaching papers, hence was not qualified to lead the club. The tribunal itself, found the claims strange, as the club had previously not made any attempts to check if the coach was qualified or not, almost 7 months into the job.
In their submission to the Tribunal, the club praised the team’s Technical Director Jan Koops, who they noted, in contradiction that despite lacking any coaching certificates or badges had overseen a great run of 23 matches unbeaten while at the helm of the club.
Interestingly, it’s just during the Tribunal hearing that the club openly came out to announce that Jan Koops was the club’s technical director. A role that the gaffer had assumed ceremoniously, according to various trusted sources.
In previous press interviews, Ivan Minnaert had displayed a sour relationship between himself and Koops, at one point referring to him as , ‘Unqualified.’
The club further sensationally claimed that Ivan’s appointment was bulldozed by one member of the IMC, Asava Kadima.
The club would continue to claim during the hearing, through a witness, the then Team Manager Joseph Milimu, that Ivan Minnaert did not start his work on the date claimed by the tactician. Milimu’s assertions were meant to justify the club’s assertions that Minnaert was hired at a separate date, from the one claimed by the Belgian.
Infact, contrary to what the fans and the media believed, the club claimed through Milimu that although Ivan had sat on the bench and assumed the role of head coach in the matches against Bandari and Gor Mahia, he was not responsible for the results posted. Milimu claimed that Ivan Minnaert was simply just sitting on the bench, and since he did not know the player’s names, he could not be responsible for the wins over Gor Mahia and Bandari.
Kenyanstar has learnt that despite Milimu’s claims, the club had submitted Ivan’s name to both Supersport and KPL.
AFC Leopards would soon start struggling, and the fans slowly but surely started losing faith in the team, which was largely composed of inexperienced players then. Noting that Leopard's league chances were going up in flames, Ivan went to the press, and called on the fans to be patient, as ‘winning the league was not realistic.’ He however, would soon be scoffed by Mathews Opwora in an email, where the co-chairman insisted that the club’s ambitions were to win the 2016 title.
In June, pressure was mounting on Ivan Minnaert. An email dated 18th April from Maurice Osundwa had warned the Belgian in part that , ‘….If you keep losing, then be assured that heads will start rolling..’
The club’s supremo met as the June transfer window approached, and settled on signing 10 new players to beef up the team. The management resolved that should the coach fail to win in the club’s next three assignments, he should resign. This in itself, prove to be a threat, and clearly showed that the club had no intent of following due process in sacking the coach.
A number of key players targeted by the coach, amongst them Ismaila Diarra, Emmanuel Imanishimwe and Gilbert Fiamenyo all failed to get signed due to various reasons. Fiamenyo would later be signed, but failed to get clearance on time.
The failed transfers irked Ivan Minnaert, who felt that he had been sabotaged. The tactician, seeing that the club management was not willing to follow up on some transfers, took up the issue with the Football Kenya Federation.
The club later complained in its submission to the tribunal that the coach’s action at the Football Kenya Federation amounted to undermining the management’s authority. The coach, whose job description included advising management on which players to sign, complained that his authority too had been undermined. Gilbert Fiamenyo would later fail to get clearance after all, and the club had to work with those players who had been recruited and registered.
All did not look rosy, and matters headed south. Dan Mule, soon got elected as chairman, with majority of his team members also getting elected. The IMC’s life was cut short.
The results got worse by the day. Ivan was accused of amongst other things, high handedness and favouritism. In fact, in AFC’s submissions to the FKF Tribunal, Minnaert was accused of insulting players and favouring some players, a factor the club says contributed to the dismal performance.
The arrival of new players amongst them Moussa Sissoko and rookie Bruno Kiyai did not sit well with some of the players. As AFC almost fell to Mumbi Nationale in a Gotv tie, an unnamed player would even be quoted saying, “The results are headed south because of the coach’s own making. It serves him right. You cannot replace all your old clothing, with new ones all at once…”
A good number of the players in the team fell out with Ivan. Some would miss training, and attend to their girlfriends instead. The former coach claimed in his submission. The club, through Secretary General Oscar Igaida, confirmed the claims of indiscipline that had rocked the team.
One player, had reportedly phoned assistant coach Ezekiel Akwana, to confirm if they would be in the matchday squad, so as to attend training.
Minnaert on his part had gone on to accuse some players of match fixing. Interestingly, the tactician had accosted the player in training, publicly accusing him of the vice. The club would however, report later on that investigations revealed that no money exchanged hands.
A section of players openly rebelled. In several incidents, some players had refused to warm up during matches. This itself, is contrary to the Rules of Kenyan football which demand that a player must respect the coach’s instructions. The said players, went unpunished.
The dressing room too was split. Some players, reportedly being favoured by Ivan, were labelled the ‘coach’s sons.’ During the Tribunal hearings, it was noted that in one incident, the team had earned a penalty, which all other players save for one of the ‘coach’s son’s’ was allowed to take. The player, went on to miss, to the ‘delight’ of the other players.
The club on its part, accused Ivan of unfair player selection.
Minnaert’s trouble wore on. As the fans thronged the stadium and hoped to witness some great goals and wins, some players missed training, the coach clashed with management and his technical bench.
Ivan Minnaert particularly wasnt reading from the same script with team manager Joseph Milimu. The team manager was failing in his duties, including ensuring discipline in the playing unit, and submitting match reports. The club, remained mum. Milimu clashed with Ivan Minnaert.
At one point, the coach was ordered to write an apology to the team manager, on accusations of using foul language. The coach declined.
In its submissions to the FKF Tribunal, AFC leopards claimed that another reason for the poor run of form was due to the fallout within the technical bench. Ivan was accused of failing to provide leadership, and not taking advice from his assistants. The club’s claims were supported by a letter written by then assistant coach Ezekiel Akwana. The letter, which to some extent contradicted the club’s claims read in part, ‘.....It is becoming very hard to win in our team because the head coach doesn't want to accept our views or my views as an assitant coach. We are loosing(sic) because the head coach only listen to what we tell him but what supprices(sic) me is that the coach tells us, especially me that all my ideas are wrong.’
This letter, the tribunal noted, was in contradiction of the club’s claims that the coach had failed to listen to his assistant's instructions. Kenyanstar has learnt that a good number of the club’s mid-season signings were recommended to the coach by his assistants.
After eventually falling to Western Stima in a 4-goal soaking, time was up for Ivan. Leopard’s only hope in the Gotv Cup had gone up in flames. Ivan, had to go.
The club served the coach with a letter on 29th August to show cause why his contract should not be terminated. A hearing was set for 31st August. The coach appeared before the NEC with his lawyer and one club member. The club member would later be ejected from the sitting, as Ivan accused the club of an unfair hearing.
Ivan, would later be dismissed and the reigns handed to Ezekiel Akwana, and Nicholas Muyoti. The two former Ingwe players, failed to win a match, sending the club further the relegation deep ends.
After push came to shove, the duo together with goalkeeper trainer Dick Francis and team manager Martin Milimu were shown the door. Charles Bruno, Kepha Aswani Lucas Indeche, Edwin Wafula and Yusuf Juma were also suspended on claims on indiscipline.
A new technical bench led by Stewart Hall took over, as the club sought to rebuld, following a disastrous show in 2016.
With Hall incharge, the fans can only hope of better days. 2016 is certain a season they would love to forget; Undisciplined players, power struggles at the top, infighting in the technical bench and a lot of fans, who clinged on hope, expecting miracles, that never saw the light of day.