As the national side welcomes a new coach, will the incoming regime bring a different philosophy from the previous era?
Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee again? It’s surely a question that reverberated in the minds of the majority of Kenyan supporters when Nick Mwendwa – just days after defending the FKF presidency in an election that was marred by allegations and counter-allegations – announced the return of the 52-year old tactician in place of Francis Kimanzi.
As the FKF maintained the entry of Mulee and the exit of Kimanzi was purely necessitated by a restructuring policy, the million-dollar question was whether the former Tusker coach has something remaining to offer the Harambee Stars.
Mulee has been out of active coaching for a decade, and so questions were bound to arise about his aptitude for the job.
It’s also fascinating to imagine what kind of playing style the coach will introduce as he chases the targets set for him by his employers.
Of course, Mulee is one of the managers who has done a good job with the national team, as he led them to the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 2004.
The achievement, ending a 14-year wait, placed him on the same level as Johnathan Niva, Dani Alves, Gerry Saurer, and recently Sebastien Migne.
However, critics would be quick to point out that Mulee inherited a fairly robust and smooth-running squad from the veteran coach Reinhard Fabisch.
Fabisch had modelled his team along with some mentionable Kenyan players like Duncan Ochieng, Francis Onyiso, Musa Otieno, Issa Kassim, Japheth Waweru, John ‘Mo’ Muiruri, John Baraza, Phillip Opiyo, and Adam Shaban.
These are the players who carried the Kenyan flag in Tunis under Mulee in yet another attempt that ended in the group stages.
Mulee has been appointed with the main objective being to help the second Cecafa record holders return to the Afcon again.
As Kimanzi picked up the two draws, it was evident that he stuck with his kind of attacking football.
Will Mulee, a known lover of the 4-4-2 style, stick with the formation or will he tinker the team depending on who the opponent is?
Kimanzi had Johanna ‘Tosh’ Omollo, Lawrence Juma and Kenneth Muguna enforcing his midfield ideals, and the trio did well to seamlessly connect the defensive and the striking departments. Juma – then playing for Gor Mahia -, Muguna and Omollo have been retained by Mulee in the provisional squad, suggesting the Premier League-winning coach is planning to have a style that is not far from Kimanzi’s.
Tom Juma – who played under Mulee in the 2004 Afcon – has refused to predict Mulee’s approach before he’s overseen at least one match.
“For now, it would be difficult to point out what kind of plan and playing style he is going to adopt,” the AFC Leopards Operations Manager told Goal. “One, he has been out for a very long time and two, I do not know whether he is going to use the same formula he loved using before.
“Again, one cannot totally change from what he used to be. What I know is that he is a good coach.”
The retired midfielder believes no coach can outright claim his style of football is purely attacking or defensive because it is the specific game circumstances that dictate which style is appropriate at that time.
“In football, one cannot stick and say for example that my style is solely an attacking football or a defensive football. Both phases are integral and implemented interchangeably,” he added. “There is no way one is going to play attacking football alone because such style begins with a good defensive approach.
“You have to defend with all you have got and attack with all you have got. That is what I know.”
For his part, three-time KPL winner James Situma said he expects Mulee not to deviate from Kimanzi’s style in a big way.
“He is more or less similar to Kimanzi, he is a good coach who would want players to freely express themselves and so I do think the players are going to find it rather easy to understand him,” the former Harambee Star told Goal. “Of course he is going to come with one or two things that are new which would force the players to adjust, but that again will not take a lot of time as this is just but a continuation of the Kimanzi reign.
“He has been watching games for sure and what I know is he is not going to implement wholesale changes on the squad – tactics-wise that is,” Situma added. “The players called up have the chance to impress during training and if one excels then they would surely be given opportunities.”
However, as the ‘Mulee assessment’ by pundits picks speed, it would be prudent to look back at his coaching journey which – like any other career – has had ups and downs.
After retiring as Tusker goalkeeper at the end of the 20th century, Mulee debuted as the club’s coach and won the KPL title as he dethroned AFC Leopards. The first year as a coach saw him win the title from Ingwe, a local force that had reigned supreme in three decades in the local competition.
The Eastlands’ coach led the Brewers to the Cecafa Club Cup titles in two straight occasions: 2000 and 2001, and remains the last Kenyan coach to win the Cecafa trophy when he successfully led the Brewers in 2008.
Kenya’s all-time scorer with 34 goals, Dennis Oliech, made his national debut under Mulee 18 years ago, while Allan Wanga – the 2007 KPL top scorer and the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup winner with Harambee Stars in 2013 – was nurtured by the coach.
All said, the ball is in Mulee’s court, and how he will convince the country that he still has the mojo to lead the national team is a question that will be settled only by delivering better results than his predecessors.