Kenyans, as former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph once said are a peculiar people. This peculiarity has also been captured by management guru Sunny Bindra in his tweets and weekly column. In football, this peculiarity comes out as a negation in a game that is facing various challenges on and off the pitch.
As a follower of Kenyan football with a lens that only gets blurred by the hustles and bustles of Nairobi life, I have been asking myself if we have master tacticians in KPL. After watching many matches, I can confidently say that there are more coaches or technicians in KPL club dugouts than tacticians.
What is the difference between a technician and tactician? At a normal view glance of the words, you can easily pick the nominal difference. The former is more into the bolt and nuts of a team while the latter is concerned with the conceptualization and execution of matches in the stipulated ninety minutes.
I get this from our obsession with a four man backline and two wingers in the midfield. The moment I look at KPL clubs formations on the pitch, more often than not I see a 4-4-2 formation. Tactical enthusiasts will tell you that the world moved from 4-4-2 the moment terrorism became an international threat. I mean it has been a while since clubs moved away from the typical 4-4-2 that was popular in the nineties.
I was impressed by Stanley Okumbi when he opted to field a 3-5-2 formation in the second half Kenya vs. Guinea Bissau AFCON qualifier in late March. Though it was a second thought or last resort, it proved my long held assertion that Okumbi is one of the few tacticians managing football clubs in Kenya. The last time I saw consistent use of this formation in KPL was when Francis Kimanzi was in charge of Sofapaka, but he was sacked for poor performance. This shows why Okumbi’s appointment as the national team coach was met with serious opposition; Kenyan fans do not appreciate football artists and philosophers.
At most local clubs, there is a Team Manager, a Coach with his one or two assistant and a goal keeping coach as the norm. Beyond that, you may see trainers in some clubs like Sofapaka and Gor Mahia. In most cases it is the coach who runs the team, so we can assume that he is the tactician and those working under him are technicians.
Let us say the coach has realized some of his players lack speed. He must then outline a speed work regime for the specific players which will be implemented by his assistants. This regime may include gym sessions, swimming and other trainings sessions that are not typically football oriented. With our level of exposure, one gets the drift why our football is caught up in the proverbial Mt. Sinai wilderness. Most of our coaches lack the knowledge of high level performance in football, those who may have the knowledge like Francis Kimanzi definitely lack facilities to implement the same. A tactician is as good as the staff around him and resources at his disposal.
Why did Kimanzi fail at Sofapaka? Our players are not raised in football tactics, so Kimanzi’s fight to instill total football at Sofapaka led to a changing room fall out. The kind of players we have grew up with the typical 4-4-2 formation that is mostly played in our street and estate football. This is what vindicates the coaches, may be the personnel at their disposal lack the skills necessary for formation tinkering.
We are blessed with defensive minded players as a country. This shows that formations like 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2 among others can be easily absorbed as most of our midfielders are defensive midfielders. Most of these formations are improvements of 4-4-2 where one defender is replaced by a defensive or central midfielder in the 3-5-2 systemit works well when the aim is to stifle the opponent out of the midfield. The other systems are always determined by available players and the opponent’s type of play.
Tactical prowess is known to cut through financial strength and other advantages endowed clubs may have over their average peers in football. You need to look at Atletico Madrid and Leicester City in La Liga and English Premier League respectively to see this. This is also the reason why middle table La Liga clubs rule to Europa League above ‘bigger clubs’ from other leagues. If we grow in this aspect, our clubs will stand up to big boys of West and North Africa.
Tactical revolution in KPL, will only happen if FKF calls out the tacticians out of our big pool of football technicians. The other constraint is club administrators and here even Nick Mwendwa himself is a culprit from his days at Kariobangi Sharks. Club officials in Kenya most of them with only limitedknowledge of football and a job-description less team manager,flex their power plays by micro-managing coaches. They sign a coach then sign an assistant for him and sometimes even players. In the modern world, a coach is allowed to move in with his vital team of confidants and is guaranteed considerable powers around the playing unit.
Next time Harambee Stars fails to perform, then terms like ‘elite coaches’ come up, before you vent by throwing words around, think and look again. The problems of Kenyan football are entrenched beyond the recently promoted Kariobangi Sharks coach.