AFC Leopards recently appointed 52-year old Rodolfo Zapata as their Head Coach, replacing Dennis Kitambi who is said to be heading to Bangladesh.
We caught up with the Argentine, who before joining Ingwe was coaching Gaberone United in Botswana, for an exclusive one on one interview.
Q: Welcome to Kenya coach. What informed your decision to cross over to AFC Leopards?
A: I am very proud to be in Kenya. AFC Leopards is one of the biggest teams in Africa, and I love the challenge to win the league after 20 years.
Q: What’s your general assessment of the team so far?
A: Unfortunately, I only run 4 sessions so it is impossible to have a real opinion about it. But last game against Gor Mahia my players showed positive attitude and good football. Penalty kicks was just a “lottery”. I analyze the performance they achieved in the 90 minutes.
Q: You have coached in several other countries in Africa, what’s your opinion on the Kenyan Premier League?
A: Kenyan Premier League is very competitive, unpredictable and with a high parity. I see very interesting players and good organization.
Q: AFC Leopards has been playing entertaining football but conceding lots of goals. With the few matches and training sessions you have conducted with the team, how do you plan to fix this?
A: I strongly believe that big clubs must entertain, and I will assume the risk that a big team can take. Yes, I saw big problems in our defense. But we corrected some mistakes, starting with the game against Gor Mahia. I need to keep working in this aspect to coordinate movements, and we must be careful not to ignore the tactical dimension as well. Also, we do not have to make silly fouls around the penalty area. It is a big mistake.
Q: What’s your short term and long term plans for the team?
A: I have a short and long term program. First is to implement the best strategies and to correct mistakes. I have designed quick team-building activities to help my players and the team in general get great results in a few sessions. In the long-term, I plan to work progressively with the team until we achieve the main objective, which is winning titles and taking the club back to continental football.
Q: Do you think the team has quality players to challenge for top honours?
A: AFC Leopards has a lot of young talents. Sometimes young players are inconsistent. I think the most important thing is these players need to believe in themselves. My job is to impart and hold players accountable to the highest standard they can reach. The way a team practice is often reflected in how the team or player plays in each game. I want each player to work to improve himself and his teammates. If they do that, the team benefits, and that is my chief concern.
Q: What coaching badges do you hold?
A: I have an international coaching license from the Argentina Football Association (equivalent UEFA “Pro” license). The style of Argentinian football is essentially based on how the ball is controlled, which means proper technique and effective use. This is my coaching philosophy.
Q: AFC Leopards has a history of sacking coaches after a short period of time. Is this something that worries you as you take up the job?
A: No at all. My greatest point is my persistence, and I didn’t come here to lose. Winning is my objective. I believe that continuity, consistency and ambition are important to create a successful team. Both a game or the league are won through team effort, and the guidance and leadership of the coaching staff and EXCO. Together as a team, each person in his own specific capacity must aim towards one goal, which is to the benefit of AFC Leopards.
Q: With Dennis Kitambi leaving the team, do you plan to bring in a foreign assistant or what’s the plan?
A: Not immediately. We have a complete coaching staff.
Q: Do you have any specific plans for the upcoming transfer window? Which department would you like to strengthen?
A: We need to review it. I already provided recommendations to balances the needs. The Executive Committee is working on it.
Q: Any realistic targets for the team this season?
A: Like I said, our goals should be specific and challenging but realistic. In African football, two common goal-setting problems are setting too many goals too quickly, and setting unrealistic goals based on current level of performance. But our supporters should be optimistic.