Coach Sammy Okoth believes the healing of his players’ mindset is the first thing that counts in pre-season if they are to get themselves back in the top flight.
Overseeing his Wednesday 10 July training session with relegated Vihiga United at the Chambiti Primary School grounds, Okoth, a former Kenyan international, says they are already down to work.
”We have started preparations. Some main players have not but as you can see a bulk of the team is here,” he tells Soka, amidst leading sessions that have his main team mixed with a few new faces.
”There are a few trialists whom we have had for some days now and we hope to get some good signings from them. At the moment, we are just getting started,”
Okoth moved from Zoo FC towards the end of the Kenyan Premier League 2018-19 season, but could not secure Vihiga United’s stay in the top flight, eventually dropping a tier down and for a side that was in the second tier two seasons ago, he says they have to heal first, then set to work.
”We have to heal first, that is the first thing we are trying to do with the team. The boys have to accept that they are no longer playing at the top level and once we are done with that, the behavior and approach will be different.
When you are used to playing in the top league, you imagine the lower tiers are beneath you so when you drop down, you have to change that mindset,” he chats up Soka as his assistant Alex Alumirah guides more sessions with the team that has temporarily shifted training base to Chambiti.
The usual faces at Vihiga United are present in training, and one can count on one hand the few that are missing. Long-serving players Edwin Mukoya, Michael Isabwa, Dennis Ombeva, Dennis Muhanji and Patrick Okullo are only but a fraction of the bulk present. Coach Okoth is looking at their fitness levels in this first week of training.
”Fitness is another thing we are looking at. The break has been long and once we are done with healing their minds, we then look at the fitness levels and lay down approaches to how we will play in the second tier because it is different,” he continues, adding that the core difference between the top flight and the second tier is the amount of work teams put in their matches.
”There’s a lot of effort here in the NSL, the work rate is high because it is the league that takes you to the top level. In the KPL, everyone is always already there and maybe players just play so that they can get offers abroad or the national team, but in the NSL, there is a lot more work,” says Okoth.
Amos Kigadi and Ben Ochieng are the two most notable absentees in the Tuesday training session, with the latter having been confirmed at Wazito FC. Amos, one of the founding members at the team, is in Kisumu with Western Stima. Coach Okoth, however, is least concerned at the departures, as a matter of fact, he says he only works with whom he has in training.
”I cannot confirm who has left. As a coach, I only work with who I have in training. Maybe some of them have cleared with the office, I may not know that” he concludes.
As the team drops down to the NSL, they are joined by Vihiga Bullets from the other end who recently earned promotion from the third tier. A local rivalry is in the offing.