Following the expiry of his contract, Bosnian Sanjin Alagic will be making a beeline for his homeland after two great seasons at Kenyan club Nairobi City Stars.
Sanjin arrived at Simba wa Nairobi in July of 2019 and led the club straight to the second title hence promotion back to the topflight after four seasons out.
He leaves at a time the team had scaled up to the sixth spot in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), handing the reigns of holding the club together to his assistant John Amboko.
In eight answered questions, Sanjin summed his Kenyan experience and gave a glimpse of his thereafter.
1. Your stay in Kenya come to an end after a year and a half, how would you describe it?
It has been two great years; I started my job in the summer of 2019 actually. After eight years coaching across the Gulf, in Slovakia, Bosnia, and with the Bosnian national team, I wanted to go somewhere different and the opportunity to come to Kenya came at the perfect time.
It was a new challenge, and it gave me the chance to work in a new country and learn about a different culture and mentality.
Learning from all of these different experiences around the world will only make me a better coach, so I am honored that I had the chance to come here and to help the team.
It has been a wonderful opportunity, and we have a great squad. My boys are all humble and hardworking boys, and I will miss them for sure.
2. You have been integral in the transformation from a struggling second-tier team to a title contender how has the experience been and how did you manage that?
I agree, we have had an excellent last two years; first with a dominant title win, and now in the KPL, we are doing an amazing job with great results.
I have had the chance to coach at a good level in several countries, and I have now won trophies in 4 of them: across the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. I was and am always confident in my ability, but as a coach, you still need to have a strong team of people around you that all pull together in the same direction.
Honestly, before the season, no one expected or believed that Nairobi City Stars could achieve what it has achieved.
I said it a few times, we are a humble, hardworking squad, and we have to build the club the right way in order to sustain our position in the KPL. This was number one. However, we had a vision from the first day about how this team needs to grow and how it should look in the future.
We had our objectives and a clear, realistic plan to achieve them. We stuck to the plan, and we have been able to do great things.
We have had a very professional and dedicated approach to our work, in our training, and our planning and this has brought us to the situation where we are certainly one of the best and most organized clubs in Kenya.
There are more famous clubs for sure, but in terms of the way we work, we are doing things in a really good way.
Teamwork has been crucial, and at Nairobi City Stars everyone knows exactly what their role is. I always had great cooperation with Jonathan Jackson (owner), the CEO Patrick Korir, Samson Otieno (Coordinator), John Amboko (Assistant coach), Arthur Museve (trainer), Zack Onyango (keeper trainer), Nihad Nalblantic (assistant coach at some point), Abich (assistant coach) and also our dearly departed team manager Neville Pudo.
All of these people have been important and the achievements we have had, we have all made together.
3. What’s your take on the football talents we have in Kenya? How can we improve them?
When you mention Kenya in Europe, the first thing people always think about is athletics. This is great because Kenya has a strong reputation around the world in these disciplines and is always up there with the best in the world.
But this mentality sometimes forgets the fact that there are so many talented players in Kenya. Having coached players coming up through the Bosnian national team, some of whom have gone on to big-money transfers, and then comparing some of my boys at NCS, I can tell you for certain that the potential is huge.
Unfortunately, many players do not reach their full potential due to a lack of quality training facilities, sometimes lack of early proper coaching, and also due to poor advice coming from people around them.
The focus must always be on improving the youth and giving them the best chance to succeed.
When Kenya gets quality pitches for training and matches and can effectively organize a quality youth academy in clubs with championships for u15, u17, and u19, I am sure that Kenya will see huge progress in a short space of time both in the domestic leagues as well as with the national team.
I know that there are coaching courses taking place for a lot of local coaches and this is really pleasing for me to see, as I have also been a coach instructor myself.
Giving the coaches the ability and understanding on how to improve themselves to help improve the players, will also have a huge effect on Kenyan players being able to reach their undoubted potential.
4. What next for coach Sanjin?
To be honest, for now, it’s time to take a rest for a few months. I have been working non-stop over the last 8 years, and maybe if the coronavirus pandemic didn’t come along, I would have carried on doing this. But the way the world changed made me think more about my family and how much time I have spent away from them.
It makes me really happy that people have seen, and they appreciate our good work. Jonathan offered that I stay for a longer period and if circumstances were different, I would have had no problem in doing so.
However, it is time for me to go back home now. I want to take this opportunity to thank Jonathan for all of the trust and support he has given me in the past two years, and for sure we will always remain in contact.
5. How has JJF contributed to your successes in Kenya?
I liked the idea to connect sport with an impact in the community, to help people who really need support from us all. City Stars and Jonathan Jackson Foundation (JJF) have done a fantastic job this year, especially in the difficult times of Covid.
I am sure that they will continue their support in the future, and I will of course continue to support the cause as well.
6. What made you leave in the middle of the season?
It has been an accumulation of factors. As I mentioned, working non-stop for many years has been a consideration.
When I was working with the Bosnia national team, this job was coupled up with my club jobs at the time (FK Sarajevo in Bosnia and STK Samorin in Slovakia), so I was working double.
Then, everything with Covid happened and things became more intense. I was in periods in Kenya when my family couldn’t visit me, and even when I went home, the only consideration was to stay clear of people and keep doing all of the tests just so you can fly back with no problems. There has been no rest period for me.
We had certain objectives, and we not only reached them, but we hugely exceeded them. I think everyone who follows Kenyan football will agree with this.
The season also got extended past June, and it got to a stage where I had a conversation with Jonathan and asked him if I could leave earlier to go home to my family.
In the meantime, we have continued to have strong results, and I have set up all of the daily and match plans for the remaining few games we have left.
Jonathan was very kind and he understood my position, so it’s time for me to go back. I’m sure I will be back in Kenya soon, even if not for work, then to meet all of the wonderful friends that I have made here.
7. What memories will you pick from Kenya?
Friendly people with big hearts, beautiful nature, a great working atmosphere in City Stars, JJF and Lordship Africa, amongst all of the employees. I will treasure my memories of Kenya.
8. Toughest opponent, hardest game, favorite player?
I would say we have had many tough opponents, remember our team was put together from scratch at the start of last season, so we have had many challenges both last season and this.
The match against Tusker was probably the toughest game for me, and it was a great experience. They have some really good players and deserve to be top of the league this year. For the title, it will be tight between Tusker and KCB.
For my favorite players? don’t think it is fair for me to pick one. My whole squad has given blood and sweat for the team, and I am massively proud of every single one of them.
Whenever you have a team, your experienced players are the ones that can help the coaches to carry the message onto the pitch, and for this, I have to give a huge shout to Shitu (Salim Abdala), Muki (Anthony Kimani), and Pinchez (Peter Opiyo). They are great players and great personalities.
However, I love my whole squad, and everyone has contributed to what we have managed to achieve so far.