Harambee Stars legend advises Engin Firat on handling Austin Odhiambo's temperament

Harambee Stars legend advises Engin Firat on handling Austin Odhiambo's temperament

Festus Chuma 14:40 - 13.06.2024

A former Harambee Stars player has advised coach Engin Firat on managing midfielder Austin Odhiambo's discipline and performance issues.

When the fourth official held aloft the substitute board with three minutes to the end of the match during the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier pitting Harambee Stars against Burundi, the scene became a talking point for many.

Kenya's attacking midfielder Austin Odhiambo walked off the field shaking his head after being replaced by Benson Omala.

Odhiambo, celebrated for his role in helping Gor Mahia retain the FKF Premier League title, had only been on the field since the 65th minute and had assisted the opening goal shortly after his entry.

His substitution, therefore, puzzled many, given his impactful play and recent reconciliation with national team management following a previously reported disciplinary breach.

The 24-year-old youngster's commitment was previously questioned last September when he failed to report to the national team camp, citing illness, only to appear in a club match shortly thereafter.

Social media was abuzz with discussions about the midfielder's relationship with the coaching staff and his role in the national team.

Amidst this ongoing debate, former Harambee Stars striker and youth coach Boniface Ambani shared his experiences and insights into managing Odhiambo's complex character.

"I do understand that he is a player with some disciplinary issues, but I personally decided to find a way to handle it. There came a point when I had to sit him down one-on-one," Ambani explained.

Ambani, who coached Odhiambo at AFC Leopards' youth team in 2019, emphasised the importance of personal engagement with players.

"I didn't entertain fancy hairstyles on the team. They had to cut them off. He is one of the players who complied. I dealt with him as a parent. He knows this, and if you sit down with him, he will tell you that if it wasn’t for the push from me and my technical bench at Leopards Cubs, he wouldn't be where he is now," he added.

The former striker also highlighted the psychological impact of frequent substitutions on a player's confidence.

"Taking a player in and out of the game immediately kills the player internally. Psychologically, it lowers the player's self-esteem. Coaches should be teachers, counselors, problem solvers, and more," Ambani remarked.

The former Yanga player continued stressing the need for understanding and patience from the national team's coaching staff particularly coach Engin Firat.

"If I am not mistaken, the only goal we scored was assisted by Austin. Coach Firat, my advice is to take time to understand this young man. Have a one-on-one sitting with him. He will give you what you lack upfront."

Odhiambo's journey to prominence began under Ambani's mentorship at AFC Leopards, where he rose from the youth ranks to play a crucial role in winning the Regional Championship and the Jamhuri Cup against Zoo FC in Kakamega.

His performances earned him a spot in the Rising Stars team, which clinched silver at the 2019 Cecafa tournament, and later the U23 side that competed in Ethiopia in 2021.

Despite early struggles to cement his place in the team, Odhiambo’s talent eventually shone through, leading to a provisional call-up to the Harambee Stars before his successful stint at Gor Mahia.

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