It is July 2010 and the AFC Leopards fans are on head coach Chris Makoha's neck; they want nothing but his head on the plate and the club's politburo bows to the pressure and sends the coach packing. His replacement is one Robert Matano, who in five months had been jobless since his sacking at Sofapaka whom he had led to the league title in the previous year.
Seven years down the line and Matano is back at the den. Unlike in his last appointment at AFC Leopards, Matano comes in from an active role with National Super League (NSL) side Bidco United. In a span of six months he has coached two teams in the nation’s second league tier without instant success as many had thought. Defeat has always not resonated well with him and, after years on the touchline, it is not getting any easier with his appointment as the new AFC Leopards head coach.
This is a big club; rich in history, humongous fan base and a giant in the regional scene in the yesteryears. There will always be funds to be splashed and pedigree to coax from experienced players who have clearly lost their way, but all will not seem quite so hopeless with 'the Lion’ now in charge.
Bar his stint in the NSL, in the context of his recent KPL seasons, Matano’s appointment at the den feels like too much of a comedown. After all, it is little over nine months ago since his Ulinzi Stars side finished second in the league and came out runners up in the GOtv Shield add that to his previous experiences in the KPL and winning the title with Sofapaka and Tusker and you feel his arrival at the den, in their current situation, is a step down. Now, as he returns to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) following his short stint in the NSL to oversee a team that has struggled the entire season, he will truly, and definitely, feel the weight.
The AFC Leopards owners saw the firefighter in Matano and took reassurance from his spells in his previous clubs in the KPL but they must be aware of the squad he is inheriting. Theirs is a squad that is bloated, a reflection of periods of frenzied buying since the Sportpesa money started flowing in. The team's more consistent performers over the past few seasons, such as Bernard Mangoli have slipped away superseded by players who are yet to justify themselves. The ‘one week signing of Dorian Marin’ summed up the haphazard nature of the club’s transfer policy. That sense of chaos off the pitch has haunted the team on the pitch.
There is an imbalance to the squad, a lack of quality at centre-half and too many journeymen in the twilight of their careers who have done nothing in their previous teams, judging by performance; they epitomize a lack of appetite to challenge teams.
Perhaps Matano, if he can forget what has been happening at the den lately by instilling his own policy, can succeed in inspiring the players at his disposal and mold them into a team. There is quality there, if it wishes to show itself, though the task proved far too much for Stewart Hall.
Maybe the new man in charge can inspire the kind of revival that marked his spell at Sofapaka just as he has done in his first game in charge against Bandari, and this club can force its way safely into mid-table because lifting the title might be a distant dream as things stand.