When you think of the greatest head coaches and managers the world has ever seen, you think of names like Pep Guardiola, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, and Carlo Ancelloti, just to mention but a few.
However, none of them have ever taken a disjointed, financially unstable team full of inexperienced players from the lower division to guide them to a spot in the top flight. This is on top of clinching the league title the same year they are promoted to top-flight football.
Claudio Ranieri the former Leicester City manager, came close to clinching the above status, during the 2015/16 season, after guiding Leicester in their remarkable title win. He, on the other hand, had a stable club, financially not bad, and was not a promoted side.
This brings us nicely to the one and only Robert Matano who achieved all this. Kenyans term him the ‘god’ of Kenyan coaching. Nicknames like; The Special One, and The Lion have been invented to paint how brilliant of a football manager he is.
So, just how good is Robert Matano?
The managerial position is one of the most crucial positions in a sport and heck! I have tried the position myself and it was pretty tough. The constant barking of orders, and tactical tweaks throughout a match, make the players happy and others unhappy through announcing the team sheets.
Born on April 6, 1964, Matano would become an orphan at just the age of ten. His Mother died while he was at the age of six and his Dad while at the age of ten. Imagine losing your parents at such a tender age. Might have been tough for the young Matano.
“After my parents passed on, I had to adopt survival measures. I had to be tough, strong mentally, and honest to live. I had to live with other families and this led me to do most of the work at their households. If you cheat you won’t eat at that home. This motivated me to work hard for my kids to experience an opposite life to mine. That was where my journey started.” Matano once said in a Podcast with Chiko Lawi.
He would not become a football manager from the word go. He started as a professional football player where he had stints at clubs like; Abeingo, Nakuru Youth Olympic, Hakati FC, and Kenatco FC (then AFC Leopards).
“During my spells at the clubs in my ten years as a football player, I learned three key pillars towards a successful team- Train hard, Play with zeal, and win at all cost. That’s what motivated me to instill the pillars in my coaching philosophy.”
“Even when we were down two or three goals, we have not lost the match we are winners before the final whistle is blown. We lose when the game is over. Play for our fans, we have to keep winning to please them every time. This was the culture I found at AFC Leopards when I was a player and I adapted along those lines.” He added
He would shift focus to coaching in 1986 at Pumwani Sportif. Little did he know, that was the start of what would be an illustrious career.
He had stints with many clubs afterward like; Kenya Pipeline, Shamako Babes, Bayer East Africa, Safari Park, Timsales, Kimbo FC, and Re-Union.
In the 2008 KPL season, Matano would do one of the most unprecedented and remarkable feats in football history. He made Sofapaka who they are.
He steered the club, known little by many, as financially unstable, with poor management to secure the top flight status with raw and inexperienced talents.
The following season, he would eclipse his previous season’s success by clinching the 2009 KPL trophy. The team went unbeaten- the invincible, which is not always talked about.
“During the 2009 KPL season, we won our first two matches against Ulinzi Stars and Tusker. I knew in my heart that we were going to win the maiden trophy. I told my players to have consistency and self believe. I made James Situma and John Baraza who they went out to be in their careers. “Matano told Carol Radull.
After the incredible fairytale with Sofapaka, Matano would seek pastures new at AFC Leopards in 2010-11.
In 2012, he was later appointed as Tusker FC’s head coach on a short-term contract. His task was salvaging Tusker from the abyss of relegation. Something which he was able to achieve. This led the management to appoint him on a long-term deal the following season (2012). They won the title the following season. This was beginning to look like his specialty- Making underperforming teams perform better and become serial winners.
“I went to Tusker when Tusker was struggling, I made them and win KPL in 2012.” He told KBC
He would go on to manage other clubs like Ulinzi Stars, and AFC Leopards- where he won the FKF Cup.
In 2018, he would come back to Tusker for his second spell at the club. Which so far has turned out to be his best so far in his illustrious career.
He won back-to-back FKF-PL titles with Tusker ending the decade of dominance from Gor Mahia. The 2020-21, and 2021-22 season.
By achieving this feat, he became the only manager in FKF-PL history to win three league titles.
With the FKF-PL title just one game away to close its curtains, Matano is on the verge of winning his third successive league title with Tusker. They are also in the Shield Cup finals against Kakamega Homeboyz. He might end up winning a domestic double as well.
It is without a doubt, that because of Robert Matano, Sofapaka, and Tusker FC gained their current prestige and fame.
Well, while many modern fans will say that Pep Guardiola and his likes are one of the best managers to ever grace the sport, which I agree, Robert Matano is the greatest and most important manager in history with how he has transformed sorry state clubs to serial winners.