Ulinzi Stars custodian James Saruni hopes he will be able to replicate the top-notch and sublime performance he pulled off last season to propel the soldiers to their fifth Kenyan Premier League title.
The Nakuru-based side won three consecutive titles from 2003 to 2005 and basked in the glory of another title in 2010.
They are the only Kenyan Premier League side, other than traditional giants Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards, to have won three back-to-back titles.
Saruni believes the soldiers now have a perfect opportunity to replicate their previous fetes in the 2021/2022 season that kicks off on Wednesday.
He was the toast of the season after keeping 12 clean sheets to his name, effectively edging KCB’s James Okoth (11) and City Stars' Steve Njunge (11) to the FKF-PL golden gloves award.
The custodian hailed former Harambee Stars first-choice goalkeeper Francis Onyiso, terming him as a fatherly figure who has played a big part in moulding him into his current status.
“I want to thank Onyiso. He has all along encouraged and guided me. It is because of him that Ulinzi Stars have produced good goalkeepers in recent years ever since he took up his role as the goalkeeper trainer.
Onyiso, 48, shot into the limelight between 1996 and 2011 when he donned the national team jersey under the late German tactician Reinhardt Fabisch.
He earned 51 caps for Harambee Stars from 1996 to 2011, and was also named in Kenya's squad for the 2004 African Cup of Nations tournament.
Saruni said cutthroat competition in the Kenyan Premier League propelled him to a glorious season.
“The top tier is full of exceptional quality and I knew clinching the golden gloves wouldn't be easy given I received tough competition from the likes of Okoth and Njunge.
“I really want to thank them for pushing me to that level. They made me work harder to beat them to the honour,” said Saruni.
The 35-year-old custodian is convinced that his advanced years have contributed immensely to his performance, given he has accumulated a wealth of experience in his many years of service.
“It's very true that years play a big role in one's performance as a goalkeeper. The older you become the more experience you gather along the way,” said Saruni.
“Goalkeeping is not an easy task. It's one of the most demanding positions on the pitch because there is a lot of expectation placed on one's shoulders,” he added.
Saruni believes investing in future talent is key to ensuring that the country will have a constant supply of quality shotstoppers in the future. Which is why he chose to establish a centre for honing the skills of budding goalkeepers.
“I also have a goalkeeping academy in Nakuru where I nurture budding talent during my free time,” said Saruni.
Ulinzi host Nzoia Sugar at ASK Grounds, Nakuru in their opening match of the 2021/2022 season.
Source: Star News