At the beginning of the 2014 season, Mathare United made a number of stellar signings to boost their ranks, including the likes of the highly experienced Noah Abich and Joseph Njuguna, who had both just won the Kenyan Premier League title with Gor Mahia.
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In assessing the team’s transfer window, head Coach Stanley Okumbi made his thoughts on the club’s business known and gave a slight glimpse into his new players.
Mathare had flirted with relegation the previous year and were keen not to end up in the same situation and Okumbi had banked on experience to help his side on the way.
“We have brought in some very good experienced players who will boost us. Let us also not forget the youngsters who are coming in like Erick Johanna and Harrison Mwenda. Johanna was our best player in the KPL U-19 competition,” Okumbi said.
Johanna provides glimpse into the future
Mathare have always prided themselves on their youth set-up and, after an inspiring win over AFC Leopards in April 2014, Okumbi continued his praise for the young players.
“I want to lay my trust on the youth set up as the future of Mathare United. These lads are easy to work with. I'm quite sure they will not be in a rush to move out of the club and will be here for three to four years,” Okumbi said after a man-of-the-match performance by Johanna.
“They are all good and I want to groom them. They will be the future of Mathare United,” he added.
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After a breakout 2014, Johanna arrived in 2015 knowing he would be entrusted with taking care of business in Mathare’s midfield.
Okumbi, who had been impressed with the youngster’s performances in the previous season, handed him the playmaker role and urged him to be positive as often as he could.
Johanna blossomed in the role.
Seven goals in the KPL followed, and numerous man-of-the-match displays too. His runs from midfield were a joy to watch, and his goals were technically brilliant.
Mathare have always been described as the Arsenal of the Kenyan Premier League, thanks to their possession-based game and easy-on-the-eye football. Johanna slotted perfectly into the role.
“We trust our young players to do well and Johanna is a prime example of such a player,” Okumbi continued.
For Johanna though, the highlight of 2015 was his call up to the national team Harambee Stars, with Stars coach Bobby Williamson a huge fan.
The Stars are not badly off in midfield, with captain Victor Wanyama and Johanna Omollo in the ranks. With the likes of Collins Okoth, Ali Hassan Abondo, Teddy Akumu and Humphrey Mieno having had prior experience, it was an indicator of Johanna’s talent that he was on several occasions chosen to play ahead of such names.
“Johanna is an exciting player. He is very good going forward but also has a high work rate that I’m a big fan of. He is a player I intend to have in the side often,” Stars coach Bobby Williamson stated.
Johanna traveled with the Stars for key World Cup qualifying matches and despite not playing much; he would gain from the experience. He eventually featured prominently for the Stars in the Cecafa championships in Ethiopia, where he continued his learning curve.
“I’m learning from the experience of playing with such good players and I am proud to be here,” he said of his year with the Harambee Stars.
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Player of the year
Following a stellar 2015 season, Johanna was nominated for the Midfielder of the Year award in the end of year KPL awards and despite most backing Gor Mahia’s Khalid Aucho to pick up the gong, he prevailed in controversial fashion.
Most pundits felt that he did not deserve the award as Aucho had been instrumental in helping Gor win the KPL unbeaten but, despite the ill feeling, Johanna felt that the award was an indicator of how far he has come as a player.
“I am happy to win this award as it shows that I have improved as a player to be nominated. I hope to continue growing and doing better in 2016,” he said of the award.
If his growth trajectory is anything to go by, then Eric Johanna will once again be in the headlines come 2016.