A keen follower of the Kenyan game is always a nostalgic person, there are several moments that live with you for life they define the attitude and perception of the league. Take the one regarding managerial changes according to Salim Ali. The day is 21st August 2012, Sofapaka coach Salim Ali had just been shown the door and he thought it wise to give the media a piece of his mind. “We are hired to be fired…” was his reaction when asked about his feelings towards the sacking. I was taken aback, “who even says that?”, I thought to myself.
It was more of an emotional reaction than a reasonable one considering that Salim Ali had never been fired from a managerial job before. He’s held three more others, all of which he resigned. As Harambee Stars assistant Coach he wrote a letter to Zico Otieno to allow him step down from his position to concentrate on club duties with Mathare United. He left Mathare in 2011 for Sofapaka and thereafter found himself at Ulinzi Stars – where again handed in his resignation letter this week.
There are coaches who would have readily accepted 5 points from the opening 5 games – Bandari and KCB belong to this cadre – as they find themselves in worse situations compared to that of Ulinzi Stars. But this has been Ulinzi’s worst start to a season only equalling the 2012 albeit scoring 6 goals more at this stage of the season compared to the one goal they have now. Remember that by the start of matchday 5 of KPL 2012, Ulinzi Stars had already parted ways with coach Nyangweso.
At the start of this week, all indications from the military side were that they were happy with Salim’s work. “We have transformed the way we play, our playing style is totally different and Ulinzi is now able to play ground ball” Salim Ali said at the beginning of the 2014 season, something pundits agree with – a sharp contrast to the earlier days when the soldiers were well known for their physical and aerial approach to the game.
Well, apart from being known for just that- it’s amazing to note that they scored a whole load of goals too. As you shall see in the table below, Salim Ali might not have made the perfect impact in most departments but suddenly the League woke up to the realization that Ulinzi Stars were more tighter at the back compared to previous years.
The same trend can be plotted for Mathare United in 2011 when he was head coach. While he struggled and might have never had the calibre of players he had at Ulinzi, he more than ever tried to create a balance; conceding 35 but scoring 32 in the process.
The typical Ali sides don’t score lots of goals and do not leak many either. His game plan suits teams that are struggling at the back and may need tight defensive approach to fight for points. The argument therefore at this moment would be, with such an ability to set up a team to defend so well, Ulinzi should have done much better in the 2013 season. Bearing in mind, Ulinzi has had in the 2011 and 2012 seasons Waruru and Amwoka in the range of 12 goals and a supporting cast of Mike Barasa and James Mulinge at 5 goals respectively.
In the 2013 season, Ulinzi’s top scorers Amwoka and Kevin Amwayi had a total of 8 goals between them, a drop of around 8 or 9 goals the two top scorers of Ulinzi would have been having in any other season if the trend is anything to go by.
To be fair to Salim Ali, he took over a club in transition and the fact that apart from Elvis Nandwa (maybe), Salim was not able to bring in any player who was really bring the ‘X Factor’ feeling to the club. To put this into perspective; 200 minutes of top flight debut football shared between Ali Mawazo, Ali Abulala and Job Muhati is yet to produce a goal, let alone an assist. The only goal so far has been from Captain Stephen Ocholla who now takes over as assistant coach in the new arrangement. While Salim Ali might not have had it easy finding the perfect balance, his employers have in equal measure not made it easy for him. Away from the fact that managing a military outfit as an outsider has its challenges, the rules in there are a little different, and hopefully old boy Francis Onyiso has what it takes to bring back the glory days.
I am a great supporter of Salim Ali and I can only hope other coaches have learnt from this experience. His appointment to head Ulinzi on Christmas day 2012 was a welcome festive season gift but Salim Ali now finds himself among the growing list of jobless managers looking for a new house to run. His record during the 450 days at Ulinzi stands at; 38 matches, 11 wins, 17 draws and 10 losses in all competitions (excluding military competitions) – an abysmal return for a coach who boasts of massive experience in the Kenyan topflight.
Allow me now leave you with two graphs explaining Salim Ali’s 2 seasons as Ulinzi Coach. (All of them exclude Cup matches).