Leader. Inspirational. Eloquent. Those are just some of the few adjectives that describe Antony Kimani. One of the finest talents to come through the Mathare United ranks, Kimani has seen it all. His experience both at national level has earned him lots of admirers. His meteoric rise was halted by an injury and this forced him into the business world and TV punditry. After several years both in business and on the screens, Kenyanstar caught up with the well-spoken retired defender to speak about his journey.
Kenyanstar: Tell us about your football journey
Antony Kimani: I started playing a while ago at about 8 years in Korogocho, where I grew up. We formed a small team and started playing in the MYSA U-12 Zonal league in Baba Dodo. It was quite a distance but because of our passion, we would go all the way. That is where my relationship with the game and MYSA started. We slowly grew through the ranks. I was at mathare United where I won the title, and would later join AFC Leopards which was my last club. I suffered an injury in my final match and it was quite serious. When I suffered an injury, and was laid off for sometime, I did some soul- searching and asked myself a lot of questions. I settled on one thing; I have probably done my bit for the clubs I have played for and the national team and I don't feel I will come back as strong as I was. I had set my standards and I felt I wouldn't come back as strong as I was before. It was however, encouraging that after recovery, Leopards were willing to offer me two more years. That meant a lot to me. It was a good gesture not just for me, but for Kenyan football. Looking back, i would say I had a successful career. Although I never won as many titles as I would have wished, but football is about experience, friendship and making you a better person and I think I got all that.
KS: You were a skipper at 21, and lifted the KPL title. Probably one of the youngest captains then. How was this?
AK: Well, I think it's because of a couple of factors. You cannot become a skipper because of one factor alone. It was a great honour to captain one of the best sides in kenya, and at that time there were many good and experienced players. For me, that mantle with those kind of players means a lot and I had to work very hard and prove that I deserved it. I think I gave my best. As captain in my first year, we won the KPL and I also got an award for the most disciplined player. It was one of my career highlights.
KS: You became a leader very early on, and continued to become a leader through your career? Are leaders born or made?
AK: It’s hard to put a finger to it. I think it’s hard to tell. Again I can say that a lot of who become in life depends on nature and nurture. It’s a little of both; You could be nurtured or the environment around you made you become one.
KS: How important was Mathare United to you in your career development?
AK: It was very important and it was more than just football. It was a family and the entire community. Bob Munro was a father figure and did encourage and challenge us about life beyond football. He would bring people to talk to us and encourage us. The organisation also had lots of programs like Community service and HIV awareness programs. For you to get your salary at the end of the month you were supposed to have completed 60 hours of community service. So all these helped to grow us into all-round individuals. It was a great experience, and it was more than just football.
KS: You once said in September 2010 that Edgar Ochieng’ is your role model and the best defender you have see locally. Do you still hold the same thought?
AK: Yes. I have never played with a defender of his calibre. He was everything in one package- Strong, Tall, calm under pressure.. I still maintain that. He is still one of the best I have played with.
KS: In 2010, you said, “KPL has done a tremendous job and with the SuperSport deal it's exciting to see how football has grown by big margins.
However I think the coaches and technical benches should go for refresher courses to be tactically aware as the players should also put more effort in the game. The officiating should also improve as other departments improve to make it equilibrium…”
KS: So two questions; first, With the exit of Supersport, how much does the game suffer? Secondly, I interviewed two coaches recently- Hall and Ze Maria and they said that the football courses in Kenya teach our players one-directional football and there is little development really because everyone is playing the same football. You have been part of these courses. Do you agree with Hall and Ze Maria’s comments?
AK: I think Supersport’s exit was a big blow to the game, current players and upcoming players. Supersport gave us a platform for talented players to show the world what they are made of. That opened lots of opportunities for most of our players. The exit denies the current players that window of exposure to showcase their talent. It was big blow, but I hope somebody else can come and give Kenyan players that window. They deserve they best.
On the second question; I differ with what the coaches said. As I said earlier, I was in a coaching course months ago and we were taught lots of systems. Its down to the coach to decide what system they want to play, and it’s also down to the type of players you have. A few teams are playing 4-4-2 in Kenya, but not all. Going back to what i said then, coaches have done a great job. They have sought more knowledge and I think we are headed to the right direction.Credit goes to the current federation as they are doing a lot of courses and training for free. As you know, knowledge is expensive and it’s a big thing for the federation to give this for free.
KS: You suffered a very serious injury at some point in your career. Take us through this moment in your career and what does it take to come back from an injury as serious as the one you suffered?
AK: A lot of the recovery depends on the support you get from friends, family and the club. Healing is not about the physical bit, but the mental bit which is really key. If mentally you still feel weak that tends to affect the physical injury as well. Most times, the injury is totally healed but you don't believe that you can go back to the pitch and do it. Further, the quality of treatment is key.
KS: Discipline - Why do you think it’s a major issue in our game to date. Who is to blame?
AK: No One is to blame. You are the one who is on that journey. Discipline is key, not only in football, but also in other careers. Looking at the Kenyan setup, it has a lot to do with who you surround yourself with. I have seen good players join clubs, but they end up joining the wrong group of people, and here I mean basically tagging along people who don't share the same dreams as you.You might be in the same club with them, but they don't share a similar vision as you. You all might be in the same club, but for them, that is their dream club, whereas you probably had dreams to play at a bigger club. So if you don't associate yourself with people of the same vision as you, you get swayed and consumed. In football, once you can't hold your foot on the ground, you are gone. Another thing again that affects our players is they tend to get into comfort zones easily…’I was on tv...on newspapers..’ and with that most players think they are on top of the world. However, nothing is further from the truth. Once you get to the top of one hill, there is another hill to climb.
KS: Tactically, what does it take to be a good defender?
AK: Concentration. Your consecration has to be a notch higher than the strikers than everyone else on the pitch. It's a sensitive position and a second of blinking you get punished, Second, simplicity. You have to play it simple. You are playing a few yards from your goal. A little of too much anything, the ball ends up in your own net.
KS:Footballers have often been criticized locally for failing to give education much attention. How important is it for a footballer to spend time with the books, or do the fans/media demand too much of them?
AK: I think it's a justified call. We all as human beings need that guy who is watching over you, and always ready to criticize you and encourage you. We all need that constant reminder, and so most of us concentrate a little too much on the pitch not knowing it's a short career. It's even shorter when you pick an injury. At the end of the day, what happens when the career ends? Footballers should try find a balance in academics as on the pitch.
KS: There is always talk over the years, that best footballers are from some part of the country. Do you feel some of this discussions have some truth and what's your take?
AK: Everyone has an opinion. Depending on where you sit, you could have a different opinion. However, all it takes is hard work and how much you are willing to work. Not about where you are from and how hard you work.
KS: Business - You started off with a movie shop, then computer accessories then tyres and spares. Tell us about your business so far and why it's been a success story.
AK: It's key to do your homework before venturing into an business; read, talk to people and get a mentor who is in that industry. Even after that, you still will face lots of challenges and learn a lot on the way. Always have an open mind, be prepared for any eventuality and most of all try engage in an industry where your passion is. I am passionate about cars, so it was easy for me.
KS: TV punditry - What pushed you into TV and how is the journey to date?
AK: It wasn't planned at all. I must thank Carol Radull so much. She believed in me, and gave me the first opportunity to try out., She always encouraged me and always told me that it takes a long time before you get there. I am not there yet, but still learning. I am enjoying it, and it looks like I am playing football. I Have to study opponents, and put myself in the footballer's situation before I critique.
KS: What’s your take on the local game currently? Both the league and the national team?
AK: I think we are getting better as country. With the national team, we are headed in the right direction. The current federation is doing a lot in terms of friendlies and preparation. Right now, we are playing several good sides and that's the only way we can get better. If we don't give our players such exposure as in the friendlies, we will really lag behind. Also, the fact that we have stayed with one coach for quite a long time, it is a good thing. That was a major undoing for us; We would change coaches very often and things keep changing while other countries are moving forward.
KS: Do you feel you quit left a little too early? Does it pain you that you didn't achieve your maximum potential?
AK: Not at all. Looking back, the only thing I feel I didn't do, and would have loved to do was play for a club outside this country. I wanted to play in one of the best leagues and challenge myself and see what impact I would have had. I played as much as I could and for the span I could.No regrets.
KS: Are we going to see you on the touchline soon?
AK: Yes, but I am not sure at what time. In the near future, I will be there shouting instructions and imparting knowledge to young guys like someone else did to me
KS: As a player and captain, what would you want to be remembered for the most?
AK: That I was a player who gave my all for club and country. That I tried to do my best. I hope I was a joy to watch, and that I didn't disappoint and proved wrong those who didn't believe in me. It was a roller-coaster. The lowest moment was when I was captain of Harambee Stars in Uganda and scored an own goal and the highest was in 2008 when I won the KPL title. However, i gave my best.KS: Thanks Antony. All the best ahead.