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UPWARD TRAJECTORY

Kimanzi creating his little kingdom at Wazalendo

He is slowly evolving into a brand with the characteristics of a vibrant modern tactician.

In Summary

• The father of three has been playing for Wazalendo Masters in the Super League, but this season, he is set to ruffle feathers with teams in the National League having opted to don the Wazalendo Youth jersey.

• Time is the only resource that God gave us in equal measure. We all have 24 hours to work and it all revolves around time management. 

Wazalendo coach Fidelis Kimanzi gives instructions to Brian Wasike during a past match
Wazalendo coach Fidelis Kimanzi gives instructions to Brian Wasike during a past match
Image: /COURTESY

He might not have won championship titles and cannot be mentioned in the same breath as former national team and current Strathmore University coach Meshack Senge or the iconic Blazers’ tactician Jos Openda but Fidelis Kimanzi is slowly creating a winning culture at Wazalendo.

Little was known about this man until his charges came close to challenging Butali Warriors for the title in only his second season with the senior team last year.

When listing hockey coaches in Kenya and despite not being a household name, Kimanzi cannot miss, even though he considers himself work in progress.

 

The open-minded tactician envisages an even brighter future with the team, making him stand tall in a field that has for a long time been occupied by the game’s powerhouses.

He is slowly evolving into a brand with the characteristics of a vibrant modern tactician.

After a decade of ups and downs, Kimanzi is rising to the occasion and on the path to greatness through an elaborate programme of nurturing talent. Wazalendo haveone of the youngest, brightest, ruthless and skilled players in the men’s Premier League and Kimanzi is trying to mould a new generation of hockey stars.

The father of three has been playing for Wazalendo Masters in the Super League, but this season, he is set to ruffle feathers with teams in the National League having opted to don the Wazalendo Youth jersey.

Kimanzi also plays golf and is an IT consultant majoring in Supply Chain Management and Retail Stations Automation in the oil industry. How he juggles between work, playing both hockey and golf and coaching speaks volumes on his determination.

He might as well be in frame to tutor the national team after the coronavirus pandemic if he can accept his appointment which was done way back in March, even though he feels there are things that need to be ironed out before he takes up the job.

His hockey journey started in 1988 while in Form One at Kitui High School. Kimanzi found it interesting to mix with senior boys who were in Form Five and Six at the institution. He was in the school team in his second year and captained the side in Form Three but never had much success with the team, losing twice to Tala High School at the provincial championships.

 

In 1993, Kimanzi joined Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, but instead of continuing with hockey he joined martial arts.

Moses Majiwa, the now Kenya Hockey Union deputy match and fixture secretary challenged him to follow his passion, re-igniting the hockey fire in him while in second year. In 1996 while in fourth year, he was playing for Kenya Breweries alongside Majiwa and Mike Malungu, who coaches Kakamega-based side Western Jaguars.

In 1997, Breweries was disbanded to form two teams, Parkroad and Wazalendo. Kimanzi was part of the 10-man contingent and hockey patriots that gave birth to Wazalendo. Others include Julius Odera, the late Eric Otieno, Edwin Were, Victor Machoka — who is in the USA — Clyde Mmbaha and Vincent Ongori.

He went to the United Kingdom in 2006 for a five-year stint as a player and did his Level One certificate in 2009. Between 2006 and 2007, he played for National Physical Laboratory and Sunbury hockey clubs.

The following year, he captained west London-based side, Slaugh Hockey team where he also coached the juniors. Kimanzi got a nasty accident and spent up to six months nursing an elbow dislocation.

He opted to return home in 2011 and has been with Wazalendo all the time as a player and coach. His overseas experience gave him an upper hand in matters coaching. He took over from Wycliffe Ongori in 2018.

Ongori was Wazalendo’s head coach prior to his election to serve as the KHU secretary general. Wazalendo won the annual  Easter tournament in Uganda in 2018. Twice, they have lifted the SANAA tournament, the last being in 2017.

Wazalendo are a self-supporting club with three teams in all the three different divisions of the KHU league. Wazalendo Masters play in the Super League while Wazalendo Youth ply trade in the National League. It boasts of academy players consisting of the Under Seven, Under 10 and Under 15, making these junior sides a conveyor belt for the senior teams.

However, Kimanzi has had one crucial challenge, loss of players to the other teams in the pyramid but he insists this will not change his way of doing things.

“You cannot prevent player movement between clubs. We lost Kennedy Munialo, who was a utility player, to Butali early this year but we have developed another player though not as good as Munialo. We have a pipeline to transition players from the junior to the senior sides. For the next 10-20 years, we are sorted,” said Kimanzi

His love for golf cannot be underestimated either. He was initiated into golf in 2010 in the United Kingdom. Kimanzi termed golf a special sport and had his plans for the game well crafted.

“I started playing golf in 2013. I really wanted to venture into the game after retirement from hockey but I don’t regret playing it now. I previously played football but golf is more mental than physical. It is a game of emotions which allows you to do the right thing at the right time making it special. Kenyans need to change the perception that golf is an expensive sport.”

How does Kimanzi balance the three aspects of his life? Well, he believes in utilising every available minute at his disposal at least to make a difference in all his undertakings.

“Time is the only resource that God gave us in equal measure. We all have 24 hours to work and it all revolves around time management. You cannot afford to waste time. It’s all about what you want to get but neither can you afford to sit idle and do nothing yet there’s a lot to be done,” said the former under 21 ladies coach.

“Mondays are my rest days. I also use them to strategise on how to utilise the week ahead. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings are reserved for hockey training,” he reveals.

On normal working days, he gets to his office at 8am and leaves at around 5pm. He does golf training on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (morning). If Wazalendo are out of action in a weekend, they train on Sunday morning before he takes time to bond with his family. “On training days, I can leave the office earlier. The fact that I train doesn’t mean that I have stopped working,” he observes.

“In 2012, for instance, I coached the under 21 national women's team, Wazalendo too and my last born, Fidel Kimanzi was born. Do not forget I had a job and clients to be served. This meant I had to perfectly satisfy every department without any bias, something I executed to the best of my knowledge. I think I am a magician,” Kimanzi jokes.

Kimanzi is likely to take up the national team coaching role once sporting activities resume. His stance seems to have softened after initially maintaining that he was keen to succeed with Wazalendo but his latest remarks offered an array of hope to KHU, who were left in limbo initially following Kimanzi’s reservations.

“A lot has transpired in the last three months. We are in discussion with KHU and hopefully a positive response will be heard soon. It will be an honour to coach the national team and probably the pinnacle of my career. I cannot deny or confirm but we are all looking at developing the players, motivating the players to play for the national team and how we can take the team to the next level....no ultimatums, no conditions,” he says.

“Every opportunity opens another chance. If I take the national team job then I think we have qualified coaches who can step up and take Wazalendo to the next level. When Ongori stepped aside to serve the sports national body, the opportunity fell on me. The little success we have had is because of the strategy my predecessor had set.”

Kimanzi coached the senior ladies team in 2013 and three years later, he tutored the U21 men’s team, who unfortunately, never attended Namibian tournament they were targeting.

Kimanzi said lack of self belief is the only reason why Kenyan players cannot perform internationally.

“The U21 ladies team was my first international assignment as a coach. We were competitive in South Africa but had our own weaknesses. The senior ladies were the real test in 2013."

"We lost 3-1 to South Africa but we were the only side that scored against them. Jackie Mwangi scored but we did not believe in ourselves. We lacked the psychological edge and doubted our capability. Our confidence and decision-making was also wanting. Teams don’t lose because they are not good but because they don’t believe they can win and this has been our greatest undoing for a while now.”

Wazalendo are playing good hockey and Kimanzi takes that as an achievement. He finds satisfaction when the team plays according to his script.

Last year, a second place finish put the team in the limelight though they should have done better by winning games everybody expected them to and narrow the more than 10-point gap behind defending champions Butali Warriors. These blips, he says, are learning curves and expects things to be even tougher.

“You learn more from your losses than your victories. We dropped valuable points against teams we were expected to beat. The loss to Strathmore was hard to take. Every team is competitive. They have seen what Wazalendo has done, no stars in the side but the collective effort is reaping dividends," he says.

However winning is not everything for the tactician and losing is not the end of the road for the South B-based side that normally trains at Highway Secondary School.

“I will tell you with certainty that our intention is not to win. Winning is good but developing players is our priority. We are looking at the bigger picture. If we lose and we lose fairly, we will be happy. If we win unfairly I won’t be happy. We beat Police in both legs but I was not happy because they were a weakened team, with many players out,” he continues.

“Drawing with Butali was among our best performances of last season because we played against a full-strength champion. Know that Eliud Kipchoge will be proud to win a marathon if he competed against the best.”

Danston Barasa is proof that the Wazalendo project is capable of producing proper talent. The forward is a Kenyan international. Perhaps his performance in South Africa in August last year during the Olympic qualifiers handed him the opportunity to play for Germany’s Stuttgart in September. He returned as a polished, all-rounded player. Barasa will be crucial to the team this season and his European experience will be tested. He is a testament that the work done by Kimanzi and eight other coaches in the teams is not in vain.

“There’s no joy than seeing a player realise his dream. That gives me satisfaction as a coach and further motivates me to try and help many others become better,” he points out.

Kimanzi says that, when you want to build a house, more time is required in building the foundation and the Wazalendo project has taken about seven years to be where they are.

The team, he says, was formed to help the less fortunate, those without clubs  but were passionate about the sport.

With the prospect of the team making a debut in the coveted African Cup of Club Championship scheduled for between November 29 and December 5 in Malawi, Kimanzi thinks early preparations are key if his charges are to leave a legacy in the annual event.

“It will be a massive opportunity for the boys to compete against the Ghanaian, Nigerian and the Egyptian teams, who boast of really good players. In 2007 the team got to the competition late and was forced to play friendly matches instead. Timely preparations are mandatory as we have learnt a lot from our past mistakes. Our strong steering committee has been working on this for the last three months.”

According to Kimanzi, Wazalendo are aspiring to own a field in the near future. Unavailability of a training pitch makes training tough and since most players are students, a full house training only takes place on Sunday.

“Performance go hand in hand with proper training. It is burdensome to train as a unit during weekdays as students attend classes. Therefore, we make good use of Sundays.”

Kenya could be set for an exciting period should Kimanzi take over as national team coach, seeking to awaken a giant that has been a sleeping since 1990.

Kenya were a powerhouse in the game in the 60s, 70s and 80s and event featured in the Olympic Games. However, things have nosedived in the last two decades.

Kimanzi has shown what he can do and alongside the highly experienced Malungu, his assistant, they are more than capable returning Kenya to the top. Can they?