What next for Bidco after joining top tier?

Patience finally pays for coach Akhulia as Bidco joins the big boys

Akhulia says he joined them when they were only five years old in the league.

In Summary

•He says the side has opened talks with quite a number of players via different modes of communication who have expressed interest to join them, but insists they can only assess a player on the pitch.

•Akhulia says he draws inspiration from quite a number of coaches based on their strengths.

Bidco United head coach Anthony Akhulia (R)
Bidco United head coach Anthony Akhulia (R)
Image: /COURTESY

 Patience is a golden virtue which few people possess in life. Many have given up on their hopes and dreams after a seemingly long wait.

Had Bidco United coach Anthony Akhulia been faint-hearted, he could have easily thrown in the towel after endless years of searching for the elusive dream to propel his team to the Kenyan Premier League. Even so, his spirit did not falter.

After a huge battle lasting a decade and a half that almost drained him all his energy and destabilised him emotionally, he finally set his hands on the ultimate prize when his charges finished second in the country’s second tier football league to secure an automatic slot in the Kenyan Premier League next season.

Akhulia was born on September 3, 1984 in Lurambi, Kakamega. He is the last born in a polygamous family of eleven children, his mother being the second wife.

He attended Emurumba Primary School, where his interest in football began. “I was growing up like any other normal child and playing a ball made out of plastic bags and twine was the order of the day,” he says.

He, however, never got to realise his full potential at this level because his teachers denied him an opportunity to play for the school team, arguing he was just too tiny to compete effectively with the more endowed taller and stocky boys.

“I was in the team but I never played much because I was too small and slender. There were other players who were much bigger,” he says.

He sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams in 1996 and proceeded to join Eshisiru Secondary Day in Lurambi.

Even there, he encountered the same challenge with his tiny body still coming back to haunt him. He, nevertheless, finally made it to the school team after putting up a fine struggle during his final years, playing as a central defender.

“In school, I played as central defender, a position I enjoy playing up-to now even in the football league for ex-players where I feature for Thika Veterans.”

There is nothing much to show for his years in high school as a footballer other than basking in the glory of having been part of the team that faced off with perennial national school games giants Kakamega High School in the regional finals which they lost 3-1.

“The closest we ever came to even qualifying for nationals was when I was in Form Four when Kakamega High School beat us 3-1 in the regional finals. It was the best record ever set by our school team.”

After completing high school in 2000, he landed a casual job in Eldoret where he worked for two years before moving to Nakuru in 2002 to stay with his uncle in the hope he could help him secure a job. In 2003, he was employed in a local girls’ school as a member of the support staff.

“I was given a job as a casual worker at Christ the King Girls’ Secondary School in Nakuru. After a while, I started coaching their football team and during my free time, I would train with a local club.”

He made little impact as a coach on the performance of the girls’ football team during his stint in the school.

“Coaching girls is not all that easy. I was coaching using the little knowledge I gathered after sharing ideas with a couple of high school coaches. The girls also viewed playing football as a pastime activity, so we never achieved much.”

It was in 2005 that a pep-talk with his cousin who came visiting them in Nakuru changed his life. His cousin, who had secured a job at Bidco by then asked him to accompany him to Thika, where the firm was based so that he could try out with a football team which the firm had established for its staff and registered in the league. His trip to Thika proved to be a successful one given that he eventually got a temporary job at Bidco. It took him two good years to pen a deal with the side after attending their training sessions every day after work.

“Coach Tony Lwanga signed me up as a centre back for Bidco in 2007. All along, I was there working as a casual labourer and joining their football team for training sessions every day after work.”

Any player who was brought in to join Bidco would first be given a temporary job in the factory while waiting for an opportunity to pen a contract with the club. Akhulia says that he found Bidco a well organised and formidable side. “All the years, Bidco has been a very good and strong team. When I first joined them, they were among the best teams in the Nationwide League which had teams like Mathare United, Home Grown, AP, Agro Chemicals among others.”

Akhulia has metamorphosed through the ranks of the side, starting off as a player, a kit manager, a team manager, a trainer, an assistant coach and finally ending up as the head coach.

“If you add up all those years I’ve held all those positions, you’ll notice that I’ve been at Bidco for quite sometime now. Interestingly though, there are people I found there who are still with the team up-to now.”

Bidco has been participating in the NSL for the past two decades. Akhulia says he joined them when they were only five years old in the league.

It was only until this year that the side managed to gain promotion to the country’s top tier, the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) after finishing second in the NSL behind champions Nairobi City Stars. So, what was the magic behind their historic achievement?

Akhulia says that every season Bidco had a new team and just before it got to gel the coach would be kicked out and replaced with a new one if the performance wasn’t all that fulfilling.

This sequence would continue year in year out. The players were also a big let down because they knew it was the coach who would be fired incase of unsatisfactory results. Akhulia says he had to work towards changing this perception if things were to turn out differently.

“In my 15 years at Bidco, we have had close to 20 coaches. With each new coach came a set of new players because the new coaches were at liberty to overhaul the squad. It therefore meant that the club lacked continuity. That’s what has been ailing the club all along.”

“In the two seasons I’ve been the head coach, I tried my best to make all players equal in importance to our team. We didn’t have a star who would get preferential treatment over others, it didn’t really matter whether one was already in the national team or straight from high school.

“Featuring in a match all depended on the player’s form during training sessions. If you were good you would play if not you’d remain on the bench to cheer others on. I didn’t have any favourite pets.”

Akhulia says he sat down with members of the technical bench and the entire squad to make it clear that they all had a responsibility to fight for promotion.

He promised not to drop any of the players if they could manage to maintain a good run in the league. He kept his promise and retained the same squad when they secured a second place finish at the end of the first leg in the 2019/2020 season, only deciding to add just three signings. “This was more than a team, it was a family. Your problem was the team’s problem. I set rules that I wanted all of us to follow.”

The team, he adds, set aside a special kitty for players, where they could borrow money anytime they had a problem, be it rent, fare or anything else that could be taken care of. That helped them to avoid cases of players borrowing from shylocks.

The kitty was being funded from match-day gate collections as well as monthly contributions from players and members of the technical bench.

“The money was also used to motivate the team, giving each player a Sh1,000 incentive every time they registered an impressive result. I changed the mindset of everyone in the team...we had no secrets.”

Akhulia says that the technical bench also boasted of a wealth of experience. It comprised members who had been in the team for more than five years and this was a big plus for the team because ‘we all wanted to cleanse our names from this notion that we are never keen on elevating the team to the KPL’.

“Personally, I was so tired of being ridiculed for staying in the NSL for such a long time. That’s why I had motivated the players right from our first match against Mt. Kenya. We also prayed a lot.”

 

Akhulia says he doesn’t want to ever imagine what could have befallen the team if they had once again failed to secure promotion, but believes there is no way the management could have abandoned the team regardless of the outcome.

“One thing I know for a fact is that the management really loves the team...that’s why they have unrelentingly invested a lot of resources over the years. Even without the team moving up, they still never gave up, always holding on to the dream that one day they would have their own team in the KPL.”

“So many teams came to ask for sponsorship or to be bought by the company but they stuck with us.”

Akhulia says he felt indebted to the management and just needed to find a way of appreciating their selfless support by changing things drastically.

“I needed the team to write history after a lengthy 20 years stagnation in the NSL. I will forever be grateful to Bidco. Football is very expensive and sponsoring a team for all those years and the team isn’t progressing wasn’t easy for them.”

 

Is he planning to strengthen the team ahead of the new season?

“As for now, I’m not sure if I have lost any player because no one has talked of leaving. Out of the 28 players we had last season, we only dropped 8. Of course, we shall recruit but we can’t do it now. We will wait until we get back on the pitch to gauge their level of fitness and competitiveness.”

He says the side has opened talks with quite a number of players who have expressed interest to join them via different modes of communication, but insists they can only assess a player on the pitch.

“Maybe he is not the same player we saw last season. I hope we will have enough time to look at them.”

Asked why he has backtracked on his earlier promise to retain all the players if they performed well, Akhulia says that he had made them aware of such an eventuality at the start of the second half of the season.

“When we began the second leg, I told them now it was time for everyone to fight for his position including the coach because I knew what was at stake and we could not afford to play around. Changes were to be made. It’s true the team performed well but not everyone performed well enough to be retained.”

“We have plans to try and get good players who will help us assert ourselves in the league, this being our maiden season in the top tier. We want to work towards maintaining our slot in the league.”

Does he plan to strengthen the technical bench by bringing in more assistants who can offer the squad some specialised training?

 

“I really would want to do that, I’m discussing it with my bosses.”

Akhulia says he draws inspiration from quite a number of coaches based on their strengths. “I have worked with a good number of local coaches and learned a lot of things from them. I love Tusker FC’s Robert Matano for demanding results from his players. I love national team coach Francis Kimanzi for his knowledge of the game; he makes football coaching look so simple.”

“I love Leonard Saleh for his calmness even when things aren’t going his way...he is so composed..I love former national team coach Jacob Ghost Mulee for making the team lively. You can’t be bored, he makes football exciting.”

Internationally, he admires Arsene Wenger. “How he picked a player from unknown team and makes him a big player was just amazing. The quality of football his team was playing, the speed, the passing rate and the execution was just excellent.”

Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola also inspires him a lot. “He coaches his team in such a way that they combine passes so well. It makes football look so easy and fun. Pep is a master of the game.”

 

Any advice for upcoming coaches? Yes.

Akhulia says coaching is different from playing. You might have been a good player but when it comes to coaching it’s quite a different ball game altogether, and adds: “In coaching, be your own man and work on your philosophy. Work on how you want your team to play.”

He further advises upcoming coaches to always be ready to bite the bullet when things go south on the pitch. “The team wins, players are praised; the team loses the coach is heckled and even abused. That’s how football is. Don’t coach because you’ve seen someone else succeed. Coach because you love the game. To me coaching is not a career, its my passion. There are so many teams in the lower divisions whom I offer my expertise free of charge.”

“Don’t do it for money. Do it because you want to see that boy or that girl give a good pass, receive the ball correctly.”

In 2013, Akhulia did his first coaching course and attained a Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) basic coaching certificate. He later successfully pursued an advanced KNVB certificate. In 2016, he did the Confederations of African Football (Caf) basic certificate and later in 2017 did his Diploma (Caf ‘C’).

Akhulia says that his sons, five-year-old twins Reagan and Ryan are his biggest fans. “They always attend our matches when we play at home and accompany me to our training sessions. Thy are my biggest fans.”

His wife, Irene, also supports him a lot. She’s my number one fan. Of course, she supports me 100 per cent.  She watches our matches too but of late she had become afraid of watching us play because of all the pressure as we fought to gain promotion.

His father, Christopher, didn’t mind when he decided to pursue football as a career. “My father told me to do what makes me happy.  My mother, Elizabeth wasn’t happy. She kept asking if we are being paid. She kept telling me to look for a real job and stop wasting my time on something that doesn’t have any future.”

 

Any message for his team?

“Yes. We haven’t done anything yet. We have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. How we get from the fire will depend on how we work as a team. It’s not easy...it’s a battle and they should be ready. But as I always tell them, humble yourself and God will raise you. Keep dreaming, keep believing. Nothing is impossible.”

 

How does he spend his free time?

“I love helping with the household chores. I also hang out with my sons watching cartoons together. I also watch a lot of football on TV. I watch every game I find on TV... I relax with movies sometimes. I play a lot of football too. Then I love working with young people. I coach football, a lot.”

 

coach Akhulia in a past match
coach Akhulia in a past match

“Coaching girls is not all that easy. I was coaching using the little knowledge I gathered after sharing ideas with a couple of high school coaches. The girls also viewed playing football as a pastime activity, so we never achieved much.”

It was in 2005 that a pep-talk with his cousin who came visiting them in Nakuru changed his life. His cousin who had secured a job at Bidco by then asked him to accompany him to Thika, where the firm was based so that he could try out with a football team which the firm had established for its staff and registered in the league. “My cousin who had clinched a job at Bidco came for a visit and asked me to try out with Bidco.”

His trip to Thika proved to be a successful one given that he eventually got a temporary job at Bidco. It took him two good years to pen a deal with the side after attending their training sessions every day after work. He found them playing in the National Super League (NSL).

“Coach Tony Lwanga signed me up as a centre back for Bidco in 2007. All along, I was there working as a casual labourer and joining their football team for training sessions every day after work.”

Any player who was brought in to join Bidco would first be given a temporary job in the factory while waiting for an opportunity to pen a contract with the club.

Akhulia says that he found Bidco a well organised and formidable side. “All the years, Bidco has been a very good and strong team. When I first joined them, they were among the best team in the Nationwide League which had teams like Mathare United, Home Grown, AP, Agro Chemicals among others.”

Akhulia has metamorphosed through the ranks of the side, starting off as a player, a kit manager, a team manager, a trainer, an assistant coach and finally ending up as the head coach.

“If you add up all those years I’ve held all those positions, you’ll notice that I’ve been at Bidco for quite sometime now. Interestingly though, there are people I found there who are still with the team up-to now.”

Bidco has been participating in the NSL for the past two decades. Akhulia says he joined them when they were only five years old in the league.

It was only until this year that the side managed to gain promotion to the country’s top tier, the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) after finishing second in the NSL behind eventual champions Nairobi City Stars. So, what was the magic behind their historic achievement?

Akhulia says that every season Bidco had a new team and just before it got to gel the coach would be kicked out and replaced with a new one if the performance wasn’t all that fulfilling.

This sequence would continue year in year out. The players were also a big let down because they knew it was the coach who would be fired incase of unsatisfactory results. Akhulia says he had to work towards changing this perception if things were to turn out differently.

“In my 15 years at Bidco, we have had close to 20 coaches. With each new coach came a set of new players because the new coaches were at liberty to overhaul the squad. It therefore meant that the club lacked continuity. That’s what has been ailing the club all along.”

“In the two seasons I’ve been the head coach, I tried my best to make all players equal in importance to our team. We didn’t have a star who would get preferential treatment over others, it didn’t really matter whether one was already in the national team or straight from high school.

“Featuring in a match all depended on the player’s form during training sessions. If you were good you would play if not you’d remain on the bench to cheer others on. I didn’t have any favourite pets.”

Akhulia says he sat down with members of the technical bench and the entire squad to make it clear that they all had a responsibility to fight for promotion.

He promised not to drop any of the players if they could manage to maintain a good run in the league. He kept his promise and retained the same squad when they secured a second place finish at the end of the first leg in the 2019/2020 season, only deciding to add some three more new signings. “This was more than a team, it was a family. Your problem was a team’s problem. I set rules that I wanted all of us to follow.”

The team, he adds, set aside a special kitty for players, where they could borrow money anytime they had a problem, be it rent, fare or anything else that could be taken care of. That helped them to avoid cases of players borrowing from shylocks.

The kitty was being funded from match-day gate collections as well as monthly contributions from players and members of the technical bench.

“The money was also used to motivate the team, giving each player a Sh1,000 incentive every time they registered an impressive result. I changed the mindset of everyone in the team...we had no secrets.”

Akhulia says that the technical bench also boasted of a wealth of experience. It comprised members who had been in the team for more than 5 years and this was a big plus for the team because ‘we all wanted to cleanse our names from this notion that we are never keen on elevating the team to the KPL’.

“Personally, I was so tired of being ridiculed for staying in the NSL for such a long time. That’s why I had motivated the players right from our first match against Mt. Kenya. We also prayed a lot.”

Akhulia says he doesn’t want to ever imagine what could have befallen the team if they had once again failed to secure promotion, but believes there is no way the management could have abandoned the team regardless of the outcome.

“One thing I know for a fact is that the management really loves the team...that’s why they have unrelentingly invested a lot of resources over the years. Even without the team moving up, they still never gave up, always holding on to the dream that one day they would have their own team in the KPL.”

“So many teams came to ask for sponsorship or to be bought by the company but they stuck with us.”

Akhulia says he felt indebted to the management and just needed to find a way of appreciating their selfless support by changing things drastically.

“I needed the team to write history after a lengthy 20 years stagnation in the NSL. I will forever be grateful to Bidco. Football is very expensive and sponsoring a team for all those years and the team isn’t progressing wasn’t easy for them.”

Is he planning to strengthen the team ahead of the new season?

“As for now, I’m not sure if I have lost any player because no one has talked of leaving. Out of the 28 players we had last season, we only dropped 8. Of course, we shall recruit but we can’t do it now. We will wait until we get back on the pitch to gauge their level of fitness and competitiveness.”

He says the side has opened talks with quite a number of players via different modes of communication who have expressed interest to join them, but insists they can only assess a player on the pitch.

“Maybe he is not the same player we saw last season. Hope we will have enough time to look at them.”

Asked why he has backtracked on his earlier promise to retain all the players if they performed well, Akhulia says that he had made them aware of such an eventuality at the start of the second half of the season.

“When we began the second leg, I told them now it was time for everyone to fight for his position including the coach because I knew what was at stake and we could not afford to play around. Changes were to be made. It’s true the team performed well but not everyone performed well enough to be retained.”

“We have plans to try and get good players who will help us assert ourselves in the league, this being our maiden season in the top tier. We want to work towards maintaining our slot in the league.”

Bidco's Erick Odhiambo battles his way against Elvis Noor and Jimmy Bageya of City stars during their NSL clash at Camp Toyoyo
Bidco's Erick Odhiambo battles his way against Elvis Noor and Jimmy Bageya of City stars during their NSL clash at Camp Toyoyo
Image: .ERICK BARASA.JPG

Does he plan to strengthen the technical bench by bringing in more assistants who can offer the squad some specialised training?

“I really would want to do that, I’m discussing it with my bosses.”

Akhulia says he draws inspiration from quite a number of coaches based on their strengths. “I have worked with a good number of local coaches and learned a lot of things from them. I love Tusker FC’s Robert Matano for demanding results from his players. I love national team coach Francis Kimanzi for his knowledge of the game; he makes football coaching look so simple.”

“I love Leonard Saleh for his calmness even when things aren’t going his way...he is so composed..I love former national soccer team coach Jacob Ghost Mulei for making the team lively. You can’t be bored, he makes football exciting.”

Internationally, he admires Arsene Wenger. “How he picked a player from unknown team and makes him a big player was just amazing. The quality of football his team was playing, the speed, the passing rate and the execution was just excellent.”

Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola also inspires him a lot. “He coaches his team in such a way that they combine passes so well. It makes football look so easy and fun. Pep is a master of the game.”

Any advice for upcoming coaches? Yes.

Akhulia says that coaching is different from playing. You might have been a good player but when it comes to coaching it’s quite a different ball game altogether, and adds: “In coaching, be your own man and work on your philosophy. Work on how you want your team to play.”

He further advises upcoming coaches to always be ready to bite the bullet when things go south on the pitch. “The team wins, players are praised; the team loses the coach is heckled and even abused. That’s how football is.”

“Don’t coach because you’ve seen someone else succeed. Coach because you love the game. To me coaching is not a career, its my passion. There are so many teams in the lower divisions whom I offer my expertise free of charge.”

“Don’t do it for money. Do it because you want to see that boy or that girl give a good pass, receive the ball correctly.”

In 2013, Akhulia did his first coaching course and attained a Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) basic coaching certificate. He later successfully pursued an advanced KNVB certificate. In 2016, he did the Confederations of African Football (Caf) basic certificate and later In 2017 did his diploma (Caf ‘C’).

Akhulia says that his sons, five-year-old twins Reagan and Ryan are his biggest fans. “They always attend our matches when we play at home and accompany me to our training sessions. Thy are my biggest fans.”

His wife, Irene also supports him a lot. She’s my number one fan. Of course, she supports me 100 per cent.  She watches our matches too but of late she had become afraid of watching us play because of all the pressure as we fought to gain promotion.

His father, Christopher, didn’t mind when he decided to pursue football as a career. “My father told me to do what makes me happy.  My mother, Elizabeth wasn’t happy. She kept asking if we are being paid. She kept telling me to look for a real job and stop wasting my time on something that doesn’t have any future.”

Any message for his team?

“Yes. We haven’t done anything yet. We must jumped from the frying pan into the fire. How we get from the fire will depend on how we work as a team. It’s not easy...its a battle and thy should be ready. Bit as I always tell them, humble yourself and God will raise you. Keep dreaming, keep believing. Nothing is impossible.”

How does he spend his free time?

“I love helping with the household chores. I also hang out with my sons watching cartoons together. I also watch a lot of football on TV, I watch every game I find on TV...I relax with movies sometimes. I play a lot of football too. Then I love working with young people. I coach football a lot.”

   

BIOGRAPHY

Name: Anthony Akhulia

Date of Birth: 3/9/1984

Place of Birth: Lurambi, Kakamega County

1989-1996: Emurumba Primary School

1997-2000: Eshisiru Secondary Day

2013: KNVB Basic Coaching Certificate

2014: KNVB Advance Coaching Certificate

2016: CAF Basic Coaching Certificate

2017: CAF “C”

2005 to-date: Bidco United