What you need to know:
- ‘All he has known in life is football, and the end of his playing days has now opened a new phase as he works on becoming a coach...’
Everyone who follows the beautiful game has heard of Juninho Pernambucano.
The Brazilian midfielder, considered the greatest free-kick taker of all time, was revered across the world. Not for his talent or skills or trophies, but his ability to bend the ball quite like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
He was so good that Andrea Pirlo, one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, acknowledged Juninho’s prowess in his autobiography: I Think Before I Play.
Here is what the Italian World Cup winner had to say about the Brazilian wizard: “During his time at Lyon, that man made the ball do some quite extraordinary things. He’d lay it on the ground, twist his body into a few strange shapes, take his run-up and score. He never got it wrong. Never. I checked out his stats and realised it couldn’t just be chance. I studied him intently, collecting DVDs, even old photographs of games he’d played. And eventually I understood. It wasn’t an immediate discovery; it took patience and perseverance. From the start, I could tell he struck the ball in an unusual way. I could see the ‘what’ but not the ‘how’.”
Juninho scored 77 free-kicks in his career and has been a great inspiration to a generation of footballers across the world.
Opened a new phase
In Kenya, Noah Abich is known for his dead-ball specialty. He has served the beautiful game as a player for a decade and half and now curtains have fallen on his career.
But all he has known in life is football, and the end of his playing days has now opened a new phase as he works on becoming a coach. Abich was until last season turning out for Nairobi City Stars.
The team did not renew his contract and there is talk of him being appointed as a youth coach at the club, and as they say, opportunities dance with those already on the dance floor.
The right-back, who has a Football Kenya Federation (FKF) ‘C’ Licence coaching badge, has been actively involved as a coach at Underwater Football Academy in Zimmerman, Nairobi.
“I have lived in this neighborhood for a while and whenever we came to train here kids would flock the ground and watch us in awe. It hit me that God was communicating to me. I decided to start training them and that is how the academy was founded in mid-2019,” Abich tells Nation Sport.
“We have three levels in the team, under 12, Under 16 and the senior team. It has been very fulfilling to see these kids appreciate our work and I am happy to be playing a role in keeping them busy and passing on the knowledge I have learnt over the 15 years I have played football at the top.”
“This is a touch neighbourhood and the kids can easily get swayed into crime and drug abuse. This was God’s calling and I am really happy to be doing this,” he added.
Came into the limelight
Abich came into the limelight while featuring for Thur Gem High School in the National Finals in 2002. He joined Nzoia Sugar in 2003 and that was the beginning of his rise.
He has featured for 12 different clubs at the top level and has six national team caps.
He has also donned the colours of Tusker, Bandari, Chemelil Sugar, Sofapaka, Sony Sugar, Nakuru AllStars, City Stars and Mount Kenya United.
The greatest lesson he has learnt over the decade and half as a player?
“You have to respect the game to be disciplined. That means you have to listen and do whatever your coach tells you. That is what I learnt from the onset of my career and that’s why I have managed to play at the top level for long.” Nairobi City Stars CEO Patrick Korir, who has covered Abich as a player for over a decade even before they reunited at the club, has nothing but kind words for the defender.
“He didn’t play much as we got promoted last season but he was deliberately in the team as a mentor and for the unity of the team. His vision of the game is second to none,” Korir says.
“He is reliable, dependable, a true leader and mentor. He always wants to win and the kind of winners’ mentality he carries supercedes his actual will to win. You can’t go wrong with him in your team.”
“When I came to City Stars the team was as good as relegated. Then the transfer window opened. I was told Abich was one of the players training and hoping to be signed. Without hesitation I said ‘sign him’ without even checking on his fitness.”
“I had always known him for his dead balls - penalties, free kicks and throw ins. Little wonder he arrived and top scored with eight goals (six penalties) and had as many assists in two months (April -June) to see the team survive relegation,” he adds.
But what makes Abich so lethal on dead-balls?
“It’s simply extra work. You have to master your craft and work on what makes you different from the rest. If I was comfortable with just the usual team training then I wouldn’t be any different,” he says.
“It is something the young players need to learn. To be different and play at the top level you need to work extra and be disciplined. There’s no two-way about it.”
For now his focus is on moulding the next stars at Underwater Football Academy at Zimmerman but that comes with its fair share of challenges.
“We lack basic equipment like balls, cones, kits and boots for the kids. All what we have comes from my own pocket, that of my assistant and personal friend Jockins Atudo and well-wishers.”
“We are appealing to well-wishers to help us as we strive to mould the next generation of stars.”