Harambee Stars: Is Francis Kimanzi the right man for the job?

Goal Kenya.
Goal analyses the third return of the new Harambee Stars coach, and asks what fans should expect

Football Kenya Federation closed Sebastien Migne's chapter as Harambee Stars head coach earlier this week, and quickly turned to Francis Kimanzi as his successor.

The new man, who was the assistant to Migne during the Frenchman’s one year-stay in Kenya, is not new to Kenyan football circles nor the national team.

The former Mathare United coach is making a third appearance as the coach of the national team, having been sacked twice before - after the 2008 Cecafa Cup in January 2009 due to disputes between him and Kenyan football chiefs, and in June 2012, when the country failed to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

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During his first stint, the 42-year-old Kimanzi managed to lead the side to the final of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in 2008 where Kenya narrowly lost to hosts Uganda in Kampala.

Francis Kimanzi takes over Harambee Stars.

During the same year, Kimanzi also enjoyed a decent run in the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualification matches, leading Kenya to 68th in the Fifa rankings, the Stars' best position to date.

Kimanzi's second stint at the hot seat in 2011/12 wasn't as successful, and he was sacked after a few months at the helm after Kenya were bundled out of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers by Togo and started poorly in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

The exit of Migne, who arrived on May 2018 to replace Belgian Paul Put, came as little susprise after the Frenchman’s display with Kenya at the 2019 Afcon in Egypt and the subsequent African Nations Championship elimination by Tanzania.

Despite guiding Kenya to the Afcon after 15 years, performances were not convincing, with Kenya struggling defensively against Tanzania, Senegal and Algeria.

Back home, Migne had promised to wipe out the Afcon sins with a good showing in the Chan competition. Kenya were pitted against Tanzania in a two-legged affair, and despite managing a 0-0 draw in the first leg away, they couldn't finish the job at home as they were dumped out on penalties.

It was the last straw for coach, Migne who was later shown the exit door.

Sebastien Migne of Kenya and Harambee Stars.

However, what prompted the quick decision by the FKF not to try a foreign coach again but to give the mantle to Kimanzi, who holds a Uefa ‘A’ licence?

FKF President Nick Mwendwa believes foreign coaches always demand too much money, and it proves to be a problem when the two parties want to part ways.

“Foreign coaches sometimes come up with tough demands which are not easy to meet and I think it is high time we tried out our local coaches, for a short-term solution,” Mwendwa told Goal before unveiling Kimanzi.

“We are looking at getting a quick solution and engaging foreign coaches now will take our time," he added. "I think we will settle for our coaches here to drive the team forward but when the time comes, we can go foreign again.

“Like Sebastien [Migne] when he came on board, he asked to come along with his backroom staff which was a bit expensive for us.

"If you don’t provide the same, the coach will not sign a contract, or he will take up the job but when he fails, he will use it as a scapegoat.”

Kimanzi’s experience of handling the team also caught the eye of the FKF.

“[Kimanzi] has been here before, and remember he was the assistant to Migne," Mwendwa continued. "So it was easy for us to pick a successor."

Francis Kimanzi and Sebastien Migne of Harambee Stars.

But was Kimanzi the right choice for Kenya?

John Baraza, Kimanzi's former player at Sofapaka, says sacking Migne and passing the reign to Kimanzi is a decision worth welcoming. For Baraza, the former Mathare United coach has all of the credentials needed to guide the Stars at the big stage.

“Kimanzi is a man who can handle the team as he has both experience and enough qualifications," Baraza told Goal. "I am gauging Kimanzi from the point of once being his player and I have also watched his teams play.

“There is an element of a big man with big technical knowledge of the game which, with time and patience, can push Harambee Stars to another level.”

However, Baraza insists Kimanzi will fail terribly if he is not accorded the proper support as enjoyed by his predecessor.

“FKF has decided it is him to guide our team, let them assure him of support like they always accord foreign coaches," explained Baraza. "It is this support only which Kimanzi needs and I hope everyone will see the performance."Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi and Sebastien Migne.

Kimanzi's former captain and defender James Situma also echoes Baraza's sentiments.

“He is among the top coaches in the country, he knows the league inside out and is very much suitable for the job," Situma told Goal. “A local coach is rarely given the support of foreign ones, so he must be given full support and it will be up to him to perform.

"He has coached me at Tusker and Mathare United and also in the national team," he added. "He can deliver for sure."

The exclusion of Jesse Were and Allan Wanga drove a wedge between fans and Migne before, during and after the 2019 Afcon, but former striker Boniface Ambani believes Kimanzi may end up picking players based on his close understanding of them.

Kimanzi was Were's coach at Mathare United and Tusker before the forward joined Zesco United.

“He knows the local game, has coached players and has had some play against his teams," the former AFC Leopards striker told Goal. "In this regard, he can pick the most well-listed squad for sure.

Jesse Were of Harambee Stars Kenya.

“It still goes back to the management [team selection], and a coach will always pick players they feel will implement their philosophies on the pitch. All players are good but at a given moment the coach will go for those he thinks are tactically and physically fit.”

Migne always deployed a defensive and cautious approach to games but Situma and Baraza agree Kenya will start witnessing a whole new game from Kimanzi and his team.

“Yes, we have been playing a defensive-minded game whether away or at home," Baraza admitted. "We have to accept we were heading to a very wrong direction. I know Kimanzi is an attack-minded manager.

“I have played for him and our teams have clashed so I understand him better.

“Under [Kimanzi], defending is an option, but attacking is a must," Situma concluded. "The good thing is his style entertains and those players who understand his philosophy will, of course, enjoying working under him."

Kimanzi’s first task with the team will be an away trip to Egypt in November to face the Pharaohs in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

However, it remains to be seen whether he will maintain the same team which played under Migne, or make radical changes.