Coach Okumbi makes his mark in Stars’ dugout
Could the homegrown 35-year-old youthful tactician Stanley Okumbi be the antidote to the perennially under-achieving Harambee Stars?
With a broad grin on his face, Okumbi watched with sheer delight as he masterminded the famous win over a highly rated star-studded Leopards that paraded among others, Everton star Yannick Bolassie on Tuesday night in Kinshasa.
The Stars exhibited rare resilience at the imposing 80,000 seater Stade de Martyrs defying the boo boys and the bookmakers’ odds to cage the Leopards 1-0 at their backyard with the hugely popular left-footed lanky striker Michael ‘Engineer’ Olunga blazing in the lone goal.
In a free-flowing move, Olunga, who has been in a rich vein of form for his Swedish club Djurgarden IF, with eight goals in as many appearances, stroke home after a strike by Paul Were came off the post.
The sweet victory, which extended Stars’ unbeaten run to six games on the bounce, evoked memories of October 12, 2002, when the team under coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee beat Cape Verde in Praia with old-war horse John ‘Barry’ Baraza’ nodding home the lone goal that gave Stars the impetus to carry on and claim the single group ticket to the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.
Fast forward, the Stars, under the mild-mannered Okumbi, a home grown coach, have yet again earned a famous victory away from home soil.
For Okumbi, it is a justification and relief of sorts. When he took over the job on February 20, his appointment was met with pessimism from some of the leading football brains in the coaching fraternity and in the media.
But the rather shy coach seems to be answering his critics and what a better way to do so than on the pitch. His boss, the 37-year old Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa, was on Wednesday modest in celebrations maintaining that the hard work continues.
“What I said (back then) and would say is that our best local football coach is Stanley Okumbi. He is a man with a good understanding of the game and he has demonstrated it in what he’s doing,” Mwendwa said.
“As a federation, I have full faith in him. I’m not saying we will not lose, but what matters is how we react to such situations. We want to continue building this and you will see more friendlies coming up even with European teams as we race for 2019 Afcon,” he added.
Stars’ win was masterminded without skipper Victor Wanyama and the exciting speedy winger Ayub Timbe – arguably the best players in Stars rank alongside Olunga and vice captain, David ‘Calabar’ Owino.
At the same time, Mulee, the man who guided Stars to the 2002 victory in Praia and the 2004 showpiece also weighed in.
“It was a brilliant performance and I think we are moving in the right direction. When you beat a highly ranked team than you, it injects a lot of confidence. It is a big statement because they won without Timbe and Wanyama. Again, the federation has brought sanity in the team and it is critical for development,” Mulee said.
By deploying out-and-out striker Jesse Were on the wing to create room for Olunga as the main striker and starting Aboud Omar at left back ahead of Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma, Okumbi, is using the build-ups for its intended purpose – identifying the team’s strengths and weaknesses as he plots for the future beginning with the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in December.