One of the region’s finest tacticians. A well traveled coach who has won titles. In his own words, when his principles are threatened, he leaves. He indeed he has parted ways with many suitors.
At a time when Leopards was flirting with relegation, and all hope was lost, he made a surprise move to join the Den. Probably surprising himself. His wife too, was astonished, and almost divorced him. However, he took up what he says is his toughest challenge ever. This season has looked promising but he says his main mission is not to win the title.
His words speak more about the man that is Stewart Hall. Kenyanstar sat down with the Ingwe tactician and here is his story, his analysis of Leopards and the derby.
Kenyanstar: When you first came to AFC Leopards, what did you see and what did you say to the management then?
Stewart Hall: AFC have had financial issues, everybody knows that. I think most clubs In Kenyan football have financial issues and it’s one of the biggest issues holding back Kenyan football. So they originally wanted me to start in January when we agreed the contract but then I suggested to the management that I come in early for the last couple of games last season…not with an objective of winning the games or changing anything but with an objective of doing proper audit of the club. It was to have a look at the training staff, work with the players in training so that I could have a look at their attitude, character and also their ability, have a look at their training facilities, have a look at the setup of the club and produce a report of the club which we could act on and move forward. In that time, I also started looking for new signings.
So I came in and I knew that I needed new players because the league table never lies…if you are 13th in the league it’s because you are not good enough, it’s not because you were unlucky. My personal objective was to look for new players so what I was doing is I was taking training sessions in the morning to assess my own squad and then in the afternoon I was meeting players that I would like to talk to and players that I knew from my experience in East Africa. I was watching DVDs as well in the evenings and they got me a lot of SuperSport DVDs where I was watching KPL games for that season looking at players. That’s where I first picked up Isuza…I watched several DVDs of Mathare and I was also going out to watch games. There was a lot of Division one games going on at Camp Toyoyo, I was watching KPL games and I also went to watch under twenty teams to see if there were any players in our under twenty team. I think I would say that is the hardest I have ever worked at a football club for a short period of time. Those three or four weeks before Christmas, I think I probably put in more hours, did more study and more work than anywhere else in the world I have ever worked.
KS: What is the biggest transformation at Leopards since you came in?
SH: In that audit I did, I talked to a lot of people, I even talked to supporters…supporters would stop me in the streets and I would talk to them. I listen to everyone…some people talk absolute utter rubbish but it comes out at the back side but some people actually talk sense. I talked to everybody about what they thought the problems were not only last season but over the last seven or eight years because everyone knows that it’s a long time since AFC were actually competitive as a club. Talking to everybody, the thing that kept on coming up was the discipline within the players was very very poor…another thing that kept coming up was that the fitness levels were poor and they were losing games in the last fifteen or twenty minutes. So those two things became a priority for me: improve the discipline and improve the fitness… so I drew a list of objectives and then I started working. The first things I worked on were the attitudes and the discipline of the players…
I also worked on the fitness levels of the players and that’s why I brought Mike the fitness coach and started getting together my own technical bench. So even the players who stayed from last season have changed their attitude; nobody is ever late for training and nobody ever misses training, we have very strict rules concerning time keeping and missing training. For the friendly games if anyone was late for training I left them. We keep strict records of every minute a player trains and plays so that we can keep very good records. There were a lot of issues with camping, with girls, with sex orgies and all sorts of stories about AFC. I think we have changed all that.
KS: How would you describe the situation when you took over Azam FC to when you took over AFC Leopards?
SH: The biggest difference is money and facilities. In Azam I had everything…I could spend 50000 dollars on a player and no problem. I could give a player 25000 signing fees and no problem. Here I have had to sign a whole squad for less than that…that’s the reason why you get the TcheTches, Pascals and you get real quality players. So it’s a completely different challenge. One of the reasons why I came here is that I wanted to work without money, where you work more on your instincts, knowledge and your ability to coach players. Here you fix problems by working on the small pitch but at Azam you could fix problems by signing another player. I have worked before without money but I have aso worked in clubs where I have money…so I wanted to prove to myself again and that’s the reason why I came here.
I didn’t come here for the money, everybody knows that…my contract here is not even 40% of my salary at Azam…my allowances and bonuses at Azam were more than my salary here. My wife thinks that I’m absolutely crazy, the fact that I came here nearly got me divorced. I saw AFC as a massive challenge: working without money, working at a club where there are always big problems, and working at a club where there is always one disaster after another because that is what AFC has been in the last years.
KS: How would you describe yourself as a coach?
SH: My advice to young coaches is that there are three different path ways you can take in coaching; you can be a coach for young players and say that I want to focus on players under the age of nineteen to twenty one and I want to develop young quality players. For that you have to have a different kind of temperament and you need to have different qualifications. You can then be a coach for senior players and say that I want to coach a senior or national team…that requires a completely different skillset. You can also say that I want to be a coach of coaches…I want to be an instructor so you have three different career paths that you can go. I have the highest qualifications in every career path; I have advanced youth awards for coaching young players, I have academy Director’s license which you have to have in England to coach an Academy, I have UEFA pro license to coach senior players and I also have my youth UEFA coach of coaches awards, the highest awards which means I coach coaches. I produced million-dollar players at Birmingham City and not one or two of them…I took Gareth Southgate on his A license coaching award, I was his coach instructor. I also took Roy Keane so when you’ve worked at all those levels, that helps you as a coach because you draw on all those things. If I am working with Vincent Oburu, I draw on my ability and experience to work with young players because he is eighteen and doesn’t want me to treat him like Paul Kiongera.
KS: As a coach, you don’t get theatrical on the touch line and you are always silent…Is it your nature?
SH: Because you are thinking about the game…you don’t need to jump around and dance around on the touchline, when you are doing that you are missing something else that needs to be done.
KS:You came to a club that hasn't done well over the years for many reasons. How important is progression to a team and what will it take to move AFC Leopards forward?
SH: In one of the interviews you did with me after the game, you talked about pressure because we lost… you said we probably started too well and people then get expectations. Like our own chairman, he said after three games that we are going to win the league unbeaten… I mean I have no control of what people say, but I am a great believer in keeping the pressure off your players so that they can perform to the maximum. The pressure has to come to me, not the players because when the players get under pressure, things shut down and they stop expressing and enjoying themselves. People have to realize that we are going to lose games…we are building the team, it’s a new executive committee, it’s a new set of players so it’s going to take time and people have to be a little bit patient.
KS: Money or time?
SH: If you have money you’ll do it quicker, if you don’t have money it will take longer.
KS: Have you dreamt success this season? If so, what would it be like…
SH: Well, I will tell you what I have in my contract…my objective on my contract with AFC Leopards is to be in and around the top three so that’s 100% improvement on last season of being in the bottom three. Some of the fans will say that is not good enough for a club like AFC Leopards but I think that with the age of the squad because the squad is very young and with the fact that we have signed very many players, next season Leopards will be stronger than this season. But we all realize this season because of the expectations of the fans so we still have to have a good season. My objective is to be top three in the league and to have a good run in the cups.
KS: Expectations - Do you feel the club has had too much expectations. If so, how are you managing that?
SH: Well there is… I mean you never know with fans, the fans have been very good with me, very supportive, they can see things happening and I think what the fans want to see is players fighting for the club… they want to see players fight for the badge and even when we lost to Sofapaka, the game was 94 minutes but even in the 94th minute we were still pressuring, trying to score and we still showed good desire and hunger so the fans want to see that. The fans don’t want to see players giving up; the fans don’t want to see players who are happy with losing. One good thing about this team at the minute is their fighting spirit and I think the fans appreciate that… yes we want to win but if you can’t win, you have to show everybody that you really tried and gave everything you’ve got.
KS: You were at Azam, where there weren't too many fans as is the case for Simba & Yanga. You also worked briefly at Sofapaka where there were not too many fans as Leopards. How important are fans to a team’s success?
SH: Very important. I saw that at Birmingham City when we were in the Premier League and we had 30000 people every game…you could not get any ticket because every game was sold out so there was pressure there and there were expectations. I think it is important to have fans than not to have fans even though they bring pressure and different problems. It is better to have fans because sometimes with Leopards as I have seen, the fans are capable of lifting the players… sometimes people say that the fans can be the 12th man and that is very true. I think AFC fans especially that first game we were playing against Nakumatt when everybody wanted to see this new AFC team, I thought the fans were fantastic and the players thought so too.
KS: Who is the best player(s) you have worked with, and why do they stand out?
SH: The best player I have worked with Christophe Dugarry. He was French and won a World cup winners medal with France when they beat Brazil in Paris…he came to Birmingham after that, was there for one and a half years and he absolutely transformed the club. The club was going to be relegated because we were in the bottom three in the Premier League….he came and scored like thirteen goals in the second half of the season and is without doubt the best player I have ever worked with.
KS: The modern manager has so much to contend with - social media, lifestyles etc. How have you managed this at Leopards?
SH: I don’t read. I have a rule, don’t get suicidal when you lose and don’t be too happy when you win. One of my great things is I study philosophy…there is a saying in Philosophy that don’t make promises when you are happy and don’t make threats when you are angry, so I transfer that into football and say don’t get too disappointed when you lose and don’t be too happy and get carried away when you win because both of those things will stop you from seeing the real facts. If you get really unhappy, you miss the real facts of the game because you are in a cloud and if you get carried away when you win, again you don’t see the problems. You have to be focused all the time so don’t read social media… I talk to fans but I am not really listening, it gets in one ear and comes out the other…I’m probably thinking what I am going to have for my dinner. I know that sounds harsh but you have to separate yourself from everything otherwise you don’t think clearly.
Another thing, don’t talk about the game immediately after…after the game, I only talk about the game with media because it is your job to interview me and it’s my job to answer the questions to the best of my ability. I don’t talk to players or committee members after the game because you’re in an emotional state and you will say something that you might regret. If you have lost, you can hurt people and if you have won, you can make false promises. The players will tell you… we have our team debrief one or two days after the game… we never do it immediately after the game because the emotional state you are in is not right.
KS: Egos, big egos is an issue in many dressing rooms. How have you managed this at AFC Leopards?
SH: No…we don’t have it because you’ve got to be strong and make sure there is no. I signed fourteen players that I thought were right…people might not believe this because they know AFC Leopards and know what has happened in the past where the committee signed players or the CEO or the General Manager…that has not happened here, I signed all the players. What I do is that I come up with a list of players and then find out who is available, how much they are going to cost me in terms of salary and signing bonus and then the third thing I do which is really important is to check on their personality. Talk to somebody who has worked with him and knows him to find out as much background as you can…that way, you don’t get many bad characters and ego in your dressing room. Don’t sign a payer just because you think he can do what you want him to do in the dressing room…find out what he is going to do in the dressing room, in camp or on the team bus.
KS: KPL is quite a lucrative league in terms of money, exposure etc. Compared to the likes of the UG League. However, in terms of talent, it's not up there. Why?
SH: Well, I think it is the other way round. I am not an expert in Ugandan or Rwandan football although I’ve been there but I think out of the East African countries, Kenya has the most talent. That might surprise you but I think Kenya has the most talent. Kenya has more players playing outside than any other country. Tanzania only has Samatta and Uganda has a couple so they are maybe second to Kenya. Look at how many Kenyan players are playing in Europe, they are everywhere: Bulgaria, Slovakia, Sweden, Norway and even in the MLS. I don’t think any other country has that coverage so I think there is more talent in Kenya than in any other East African country. When I watched the KPL under 20 tournament at Christmas, we signed players from that tournament and I was really excited with the talent in that competition. I could have signed five or six players that I liked but obviously you can’t take too many so we signed three and they are in my first team and they are on the bench every week even though they are seventeen and eighteen years…that is how excited I am. I think Kenya is a hotbed of talent.
The second part of the question you asked about what is holding it back….administration and lack of finance. What goes on between FKF and KPL is absolute nonsense…it’s like a Disney film, it’s a comedy…it’s nonsense and it’s holding back football. There is a big saying that when the elephants rumble, it’s often the grass that suffers and I think that is the problem. When FKF and KPL rumble, it’s the game and the actual football that suffers… I don’t think the players are supported enough in terms of financial, medical, coaching, facilities and the administration of the game... I don’t think the players are supported well enough.
KS: Your analysis of the team so far?
SH: We need to score more goals… against Sofapaka we created six chances to score one. We dominate possession, even in Sofapaka you saw the game…we absolutely dominated possession. We’re not scoring a lot of goals and that’s the problem. We should be scoring a goal every three chances created.
KS: Youth or experience?
SH: Both. I like youth…youth give you vibrancy, enthusiasm and hunger. All these players who earn 25000 to 30000 shillings, they want a new contract…they all want to earn 40000- 50000 shillings. You can work that off as a coach by pushing them harder and demanding more. But you also need a bit experience. My experience is Mangoli, my captain and Kiongera, my vice-captain. They are my experience and they are only 25 and 26, but I always consult them in everything because I feel it is important that you get the support of the players and the players agree with. If I have an idea and there is two ways of doing something, I’ll discuss it with the two captains and then we decide which way we’re going to go.
KS: Goalkeeping - Ian Otieno hasn't been as solid in goal. Not more than 3 clean sheets. Is he good enough?
SH: Ian has done well. Goalkeepers take longer to mature and he is a young player. The keepers we have are still immature and are learning. We also had an issue with the goalkeeping coaches at the start of the season. That has affected the keepers. In pre-season the keepers made many mistakes, since we didn't have a proper keeper trainer. We had Iddi who left for Simba, where he had a better offer, and brought in another coach who lasted for a week. Then we brought in another coach who we have now. He is doing a fantastic job and the performance has improved. Ian is also in the national team and that shows he is doing okay. All in all I don't think he is a bad keeper.
KS:Paul Kiongera has won you matches this season. You also have crumbled without him. Is he your main player this season?
SH: Everyone knows our squad is one striker short. We have lots of young players - The suspended Vincent Oburu, Ingotsi - It’s been a little physical for him. That leaves us with only two strikers - Gilbert Fiamenyo and Kiongera. If I could sign one player tomorrow it would be a striker. Everyone knows I wanted Masoud Juma, but Kariobangi Sharks beat us to his signature. I would have loved one more experienced striker. I think Kiongera is influential in terms of his character. He is also very good with the young players. Him and Mangoli look after matters for me on the pitch.
KS: To win a KPL title, you need someone to give you 15+ goals. Is Gilbert Fiamenyo a man to win you the KPL this season?
SH: Gilbert is playing with an injury from his old club. We need to look into it. In an ideal situation, he should be playing fewer football. Like he played 3 games in less than 8 days. He should have played two of those. Due to injuries, we have been forced to play him, but I don't want to. Sometimes he frustrates me, he doesn't score goals. He needs to work harder. He is a little too selfish with the ball. But he is a very strong, talented striker. 4 goals in 8 games by any standard is good for any striker. That’s a goal every two games.
KS: You currently have used your young players sparingly despite starting off the season with the hope that they could help you work out things. Have you changed your mind on young players, like Marcellus Ingotsi?
SH: No. The training at the moment is key for them than the match. They need to fill up a little bit. They have the ability to play KPL, but lack strength to play. If you put them up against the likes of Ulinzi, they just can't make it. If I leave them in the team, that kills their confidence. The supporters and press will have a go at them. What we do with them now is we put them on the bench. They have fitness and conditioning programs too. They will come back and will be a major part of the future AFC Leopards.
KS: Injuries - How much have they slowed you down this season?
SH: We had a small squad, and injuries slowed us down. Add that to the banning of Oburu and Ndungu Samuel situation. Its cost us.
KS: Take us into your training sessions. What’s the routine?
SH: We do lots of tactical work on team shape. We do lots of tactical work on individual players. Players should have a picture in their mind, when I get the ball in a certain position, what happens next? That picture comes from previous experience and coaching. Most of our training is done in 11 against 11, where we start the game in different scenarios. If we lose the ball there, what is your job, what happens? We also do lots of tactical work on how our opponent will play.
KS: You have really focused on strength and conditioning. Why so and how is it working for you?
SH: The fitness coach Mike has done a fantastic job. The players are in great shape. Some players have individual fitness programs too. Some will work on agility, some pace, the young boys on strength etc. When I came and got all figures from the EPL, which is largely the most intense league. Players run between 11 to 12 kilometers in a game. In Kenya, they don't run even 8km. Why? In KPL why do players run less kilometers? Yet Kenya has fantastic athletes, but footballers don't run. Why?
KS: Looks like 3-5-2 is your preferred formation. Is it working for you? Have players adapted?
SH: It is the preferred one currently globally, but in Kenya, all clubs play 4-3-3. Why? Because they follow the KNVB coaching systems. That's what is preached here. One holding player, two wingers. So that is what everybody plays. But the federations needs to be very careful with that, because you are actually developing one direction coaches and players.
Gor Mahia played 3-5-2 with Nuttal, even in the Kagame Cup finals sometime back. Gor actually have over the last 3 or 4 seasons have had a little tradition of 3-5-2. Most of the teams here in KPL play that. Posta Rangers in our last match played 4-4-2 with one of the strikers dropping into midfield especially when they lose position. So 4-4-2 becomes 4-5-1. That is the reason they don't give goals away. They don't give goals away because they play in a very negative fashion. The rest of the teams play 4-3-3; One holding player, two offensive, two wingers and that is how they play. That’s dangerous.
Sometimes for us we play 3-4-3; One holding player and two offensive or two holding players and one offensive, or four across midfield. Two wingbacks, and two holding like Chelsea play.
We have different formations of 3-5-2. You know the word pragmatic? You have to have a pragmatic approach to football. That is why Pep Guardiola will struggle to make it in England. You cannot play one system all the time, because it doesn't solve what the other team and game will throw at you sometimes. On Guardiola, if you got the best players in the world, which he had at Barca, with fantastic pitch and in a league you dominate, you can play in one way. If you are in a more competitive league, you can't play in one way. Because you can't beat Stoke City away, or Manchester United away. Jose Mourinho beat Chelsea, why? He changed his system totally and man marked Hazard because he(Mourinho) doesn't have a philosophy, a preferred system.
In Kenya it's the same. How can you go to Thika and play football? The pitch is awful. I have said I can't keep goats there. How can you go and say, “My philosophy is 3-4-3, we will play on the floor..You will lose.”
KS:Which player(s) not from Leopards do you admire most and would sign if given chance?
SH: I told my Executive Committee if we sign young players, I promise you we will sell players and it will ease the financial issues. The quickest way to get money is sell players. I asked for young players to grow them, and polish them, then sell them. I think there are players in this team we can sell. Duncan Otieno is good enough to play in Europe as a holding midfielder. Robinson Kamura is good enough to play in Europe. And there are others.
I admire some players. The winger at Ulinzi, Samuel Onyango. He is good enough for Europe. I think Kenneth Muguna will be good enough for Europe when he develops, he still need sto add in something more. The goalkeeper at Posta, Patrick Matasi is very good in the air. Last weekend we put lots of crosses in their box, but he comes and catches most of them. He has a big physical presence and they like that in Europe. If you aren't 6ft4 you cant play in Europe. In Europe they also want keepers who can kick it. Matasi can kick it miles away. He can play in Europe without a doubt.
KS: You haven't overseen many derbies in your career? Gor Mahia coming up. What does it mean to you?
SH: No. It’s a game, but it’s not anywhere near Simba- Yanga, and am sorry to say that. It’s not anywhere near Azam -Yanga. Azam - Simba. You won't get 60,000 fans. When you play in Tanzania, the people there support their football more than Kenya. I mean paying money to get into the stadium. You can go to Songea, MajiMaji and there 10,000 people, and that is in the middle of nowhere. You won't get 10,000 people in Nakuru.
When Azam plays Simba, there will be 5,000 fans, and 30,000 Simba fans and 10,000 Yanga fans and will join with Azam fans for the day. I have been in bigger derbies, Azam vs Birmingham, where you have to queue for a month to get a ticket. The one on Sunday is just a game of football.
KS: How’s the mood around camp ahead of the derby?
SH: I think what you have to make sure in derbies is you play the game and not the event because if you play the event, emotions will take over… you have to play the game and say that is their team and this is our team, how are we going to beat them... what is going to happen here? . Don’t worry about the crowd, don’t worry about the Executive Committee, and don’t worry about the media expectations. Play the game and not the event… the event will get you carried away and if you carried away by the event you lose the game so just play the game.
KS: Gor Mahia not in the best form really compared to previous seasons and they look vulnerable. What’s your analysis of their season so far?
SH: They play a very similar system to us but they play it differently. I noticed that they have been changing the midfield a lot and from when they started the season, they have changed the strikers…their preferred front two at the start of the season was Timothy Otieno and Jacques Tuyisenge with Meddie Kagere on the bench. But then Kagere came off the bench in one of the games and scored the winner, and since then he has stayed on the team. They have also changed the midfield around a bit…they have got probably five midfielders and they can pick any three from those five because they have the biggest squad, they have more money than us and they pay more salary than us so they should be. They tend to keep the three full backs and the two wing backs very consistent so when we sit down and try to second guess what their team might be, you know the goalkeeper, you know the back three and you know the wingbacks. But I think you’ll be guessing three midfielders from five and the striker you’ll be guessing two from three so you pretty much know what to expect.
KS: From your analysis of the Gor team, what do you think are their strongest and weakest points?
SH: I think their defense is their strength and if they get beaten is only 1-0 so defensively they are quite compact and I think they have a lot of confidence In their goalkeeper. If they score a goal, I think they are quite confident they can win 1-0…but they are probably like us, they don’t score a lot of goals.
KS: AFC vs Gor, who has a better team?
SH: They have bigger names, more established players because they have more money and a bigger budget but man for man, I don’t think there is a lot of difference. The players know each other so well that they tend to cancel each other out, and that is why these big games for the fans don’t turn out as good as you think they would be.
KS: If you were to beat Gor Mahia, what do you think will work for you?
SH: Hmm..not sure really.
KS: What makes the difference in a derby? Preparation, form or tactics?
SH: It’s everything but I think in big games you have an additional factor, that is you have nerves and anxiety. You have people who get carried away and play the event, not the game. This week will be key in getting the pressure off the players.
KS: Does this match have a direct impact on the title race?
SH: No…it’s too early. I think so far what I have seen, I like the Kenyan Premier League every year there is five or six teams who can win the league and that is healthy for Kenya’s football because it makes it harder to corrupt it. Like in Tanzania, Yanga and Simba corrupt everything and they are the league is always won between the two. If you look now, Ulinzi, Tusker, Gor Mahia, Leopards, Posta Rangers will be top six and then you will get one team who will surprise everybody, and at the moment it is Sofapaka.
KS: How well do you know Ze Maria as a coach?
SH: I don't. I can second guess how his team plays. I have heard him speak, but I don't think that's an issue. You need to know the system and players. It can't be me against him.
KS: So far as coach of Leopards, any mistakes you have made? Or anything you could have done better?
SH: Sign another striker, but I didn't have the money. If I could turn anything back now, tactically and attitude we have been good. Looking back, its been good. The team will be better.
KS: I understand that you were to present a list of your transfer wishes to the Executive committee this week… Ha that happened?
SH: No…it’s too early. May is very busy and you are still finding out about your players…you might get a bad injury where somebody is ruled out for three or four months so that changes your thinking.
KS: Any remarks ahead of the match and also for the season to the fans?
SH: All the fans want us to win the game so we have to our very best for them. Having said that, we have to make sure that it doesn’t turn into an event so that everybody is thinking rationally, logically and you give your best performance so that is important. We know we have a responsibility to the fans but we have to manage that in a way that it doesn’t spoil the game. At the moment the fans are happy because every player is giving his everything for AFC Leopard so we have to continue that. For the rest of the season, we have standard of hard work. All players give 100% and we want to keep that.
KS: You have been very modest…you’ve not told me if you are winning this match or not…
SH: Kelele mingi sana…let the team do the talking and I just do my job. If we win, we will not get carried away; you will not hear us saying that we are going to win the league and if we lose you won’t see any panic…that’s what you have to do, you have to stay rational.
KS: Thanks coach for your time! All the best ahead on Sunday and in the league!