Mathare United will be unfazed by their johnny-come-lately tag coupled with fitness levels when they launch their 2020/21 Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Premier League campaign this weekend.
That was the message delivered by the team’s Head Coach Salim Ali ahead of the ‘Slum Boys’ season opening match against former champions Sofapaka on Saturday.
“We may have come in late and people who may be doubting our fitness levels could be in for a rude shock.
Initially, our major worry was on fitness levels but I have worked on that and the players are happy to be back in the groove,” said Ali whose team last laid its hands on the title over two decades ago.
Mathare and Zoo Kericho are the only teams that have yet to taste action in the top flight league after being suspended by Football Kenya Federation (FKF) over failure to agree over a Sh 80 million broadcast rights deal from sponsors StarTimes before they appealed to the Sports Disputes Tribunal and were subsequently re-admitted to the top flight league.
Ali said his charges are driven to succeed but nevertheless pointed out that there is need to look at the league in a bigger picture and devise a game plan, adding that he won’t set targets since it is too early in the season.
“I won’t set targets as it is too early to do that but what I can say is that my players understand what it means by playing for a team of Mathare’s calibre and work extremely hard to attain the desired results.
But so far so good from what I have observed in training,’’ he told People Sport.
Ali, however, conceded that he has in his squad a blend of youth and experience capable of helping the team achieve its objectives as it lays groundwork for the season that kicked off on November 21, 2020 with draft fixtures.
“We have great, young talent but obviously, experience also counts and that’s why there are seasoned players dotting the squad. A good placing will be a big milestone for the club and nothing will be as good as a forceful start against Sofapaka,” said Ali.
During the last transfer window, Ali largely went for unheralded players with the only being signings being former Harambee Stars central defender David “Ochieng” and Danson Kago who was plucked from Posta Rangers.
Ochieng’, who was a free agent since leaving Saudi side Al Alnsar, was drafted in as a replacement for Andrew Juma who left for league defending champions 2008 league champions Gor Mahia in a two-year deal.
Other notable signings by the 2008 champions include striker Eugene Wethuli from National Super League (NSL) side Nairobi Simba, Cersidy Okeyo from Sofapaka, and defender Moses Mburu from AFC Leopards.
On the flip side, Mathare downloaded several players in a bid to restructure the playing unit and among those who left was Roy Okal who has joined 2009 champions Sofapaka, veteran midfielder Kevin Kimani who was lured by Wazito and Andrew Juma who decamped to Gor Mahia, among others.
During the annulled 2019/20 season that ended prematurely due to COVID-19 pandemic, Mathare were placed in the 8th position with 33 points from the 22 matches played.
The team had won eight games, drawn nine, and lost five and was behind Western Stima, AFC Leopards, KCB, Ulinzi Stars, Tusker, Kakamega Homeboyz and Gor Mahia in the pecking order.