What you need to know:
- According to Mathare United CEO Jecton Obure, their dream start is a result of a concerted effort by the management to restore the club’s culture which saw them emerge as a third force in Kenyan football in the late 1990s and early 2000s
- Obure reckons that the current team mirrors the golden generation of 1998 and 2008 with majority of the playing unit drawn from the MYSA zones
- Odipo, a CAF Coaches instructor, was handed the reins in July 2023 and has put together a new-look bench littered with MYSA alumni namely Geoffrey Maina, Julius Mativo, Elias Otieno and James Omondi
Mathare United’s 25-year stay in Kenya’s topflight football league came to a halt last season when they were relegated after finishing second from bottom in the 18-team league.
The 17th place finish saw them garner 26 points from 34 matches and their fate was sealed despite beating Wazito 1-0 on the last day of the season. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Mathare United fans who had seen the club flirt with relegation for the past three seasons, often surviving by a whisker.
Fast forward to the 2023/24 campaign, the Slum Boys have taken the second tier, National Super League, by storm and now sit top after a bright start. Leonard Odipo’s charges have amassed 19 points from eight matches played so far having won six games, lost one and drawn one. Their latest win was on Saturday against MCF, whom they beat 1-0 at Ruaraka grounds.
According to Mathare United CEO Jecton Obure, their dream start is a result of a concerted effort by the management to restore the club’s culture which saw them emerge as a third force in Kenyan football in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Notably, Mathare United won the Moi Golden Cup in 1998 under the guidance of the late Jonathan Niva who had put together a young talented side drawn from the 16 Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) zones.
'Back to basics'
The remarkable feat by the then second tier side signaled a new dawn in Kenyan football and a decade later it was Francis Kimanzi, captain of the 1998 team, who delivered the club’s first league title in 2008 as head coach. Obure reckons that the current team mirrors the golden generation of 1998 and 2008 with majority of the playing unit drawn from the MYSA zones.
“We don’t win because we have the best players in the league. But, the truth is that part of the secret behind our success in the National Super League (NSL) is teamwork. Both players and officials work as a unit, and that is why we are wining many matches in our ambition to make a quick comeback to the Premier League,” said Obure.
“We have simply gone back to the basics, getting players from all the 16 Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) zones, with 80 percent being our graduates. The leadership has also brought back a few former players to support the team in different ways. Among them is Abdul Hack who is a member of the golden generation that won the 1998 Moi Golden Cup.
“After we were relegated last season we decided to go back to the roots and if you look at our technical bench, you will find most of the officials are former Mathare United players. We have 30 players but 80 percent are from MYSA. It’s more like going back to the roots to restore the identity of the team by bringing back the long time connection.”
'Return the favour'
Odipo, a CAF Coaches instructor, was handed the reins in July 2023 and has put together a new-look bench littered with MYSA alumni namely Geoffrey Maina, Julius Mativo, Elias Otieno and James Omondi.
Odipo’s experience in the second tier league has come in handy for Mathare United as the club plots an immediate return to the top tier. In Omondi, he not only has a vastly experienced assistant but a man who has deep knowledge of MYSA culture and Kenyan football as a whole. His other assistants Maina and Mativo as well as goalkeeper trainer Otieno have a good eye for scouting for emerging talents in MYSA zones having risen through the ranks to the senior team.
“I have grown up and passed through their system and learned a lot of life values and I’m here to return the favour. When I took over, I ordered for the revival of the feeder MYSA teams that used to supply talent to the senior team in the past. We also had to get on board players who know traditions and culture of the club,” said Odipo.
While Odipo is impressed by their bright start, he warns that finishing in the top two places in order to earn automatic promotion, is no child’s play.
“We have done well so far so good, but remember we have only played eight matches with 28 left. All the remaining matches are challenging games. Currently we are enjoying a brilliant run of form but I have warned my players not to lose focus when facing any side in the league. Some teams have been in this league for quite some time so you cannot underrate them,” offered Odipo.
In addition to the new faces from MYSA zones, Odipo has also signed experienced players like Elly Asieche, Timothy Otieno, Pascal Ogweno and Steve Njung’e to steady the ship. Asieche, who has played for KCB, Sofapaka and Kakamega Homeboyz in the top tier before, said the technical bench has given every player an equal opportunity to fight for a place in the team.
“The competition is stiff but everybody plays his part once selected. We have a very strong technical bench working together to achieve a common goal. We also have three able captains - Godfrey Ouma, Steve Njung’e and Pascal Ogweno - who believe they can accomplish great things together,” noted Asieche.
As they chase their promotion dream, Obure is optimistic that sponsors will come on board to support the club which is currently relying on goodwill of a few individuals to stay afloat. Reflecting on the past campaign, Obure concedes that financial instability contributed greatly to their relegation.
“Lack of finances hampered our ability to attract and retain top quality players, leading to a decline in the overall squad strength. It was a big challenge to keep players in a financially struggling club, that saw the team lose nine league matches consecutively,” he added matter-of-factly.
It might still be early days in the NSL but the growing expectation from their fans is that Mathare United will bounce back and return to their old glory days when they produced big talents like the Mulama brothers (Titus and Simeon), Dennis Oliech, Adam Shaban, Arnold Origi et al who ruled Kenyan football.