The tactician led K’Ogalo to the 2015 league title with an unbeaten run as he established a legendary status at the club
Ze Maria led the Green Army to the 2015 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) title with an unbeaten run before he abruptly resigned in 2017.
“I arrived in Nairobi and, when I got off the plane, I almost caught fire. The sun burns on your skin. I walked down the road and there were zebras on the other side,” Ze Maria told The Guardian.
“I was having lunch next to Lake Victoria and a guy came over and said: ‘Careful if you see any waves here because it might be a hippopotamus.’
“It was the biggest club in Kenya, so every game was like managing Flamengo or Corinthians in Brazil. The stadium was packed.”
The Brazilin spoke about the challenges he encountered but declared Africa has talent but the big problem is the lack of opportunities to push them to bigger leagues.
“There were difficulties. Sometimes you go to a stadium where the players don’t all fit in the changing room, so you have to change on the bus,” the former KF Tirana coach said.
“But the passion is absurd. African players are technically similar to Brazilians, but they lack opportunities to move to bigger leagues. Because of the pitches, when you dribble, the ball would bounce a metre up in the air, but the quality with which they controlled and conducted it, not even a Brazilian would do that.”
Ze Maria also added his voice to matters of racism, an issue that has continued to generate debate especially in the world of sports.
“I was going to move to Verona but I didn’t go because the fans thought there should not be a black player in their team,” he concluded.
“I’ve been to cities where I was booed, along with other players of colour, like [Lilian] Thuram. When it happened, I responded by dedicating myself even more. That was my way of showing up their stupidity. They harmed their own clubs.
“They lost on the pitch and were fined off it. But in the following game, the same thing happened again. That’s why I say it’s unlikely that it’ll change. It’s sad that people don’t learn.
“We need a 180-degree turn and that requires courage. It requires courage from club presidents and the people in charge. When a coach of colour takes over at a big club, he has to be the best, otherwise, he will be fired quickly.
“We’re not asking for much. I just want the same amount of time a white manager would have. If the opportunity comes for me to coach a big club in Brazil or Europe, I am qualified to do it well.”
When Ze Maria resigned as Gor Mahia coach, he later signed Kenneth Muguna and Musa Mohamed for the Albanian side but the two returned after a short stint in Europe.