Rodrigo Kenton was recently named head coach of the Costa Rica national soccer team, after the ungraceful exit by the previous coach, Hernán Medford.
Kenton first served La Sele, as the squad is called, as an assistant coach in Costa Rica’s first World Cup appearance in Italy in 1990 under storied Mexican-Serb Bora Milutinovic. The two worked together for several years afterward, including a 1998 appearance in the World Cup when they coached the Nigerian national team.
Originally from Limón, the 53-year-old Kenton played a decade in Costa Rica and was a member of the 1981 national championship team Saprissa.
With an easy-going and welcoming Caribbean persona, Kenton keeps a Bible on his desk and cites Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross among his favorite singers.
After providing The Tico Times a photo tour of his years of coaching, which include a trip as an assistant coach in Costa Rica’s 2002 World Cup appearance, Kenton sat down to discuss his principles, working with Bora and his much-questioned naming of striker Froylán Ledezma, among others, to the squad for its upcoming game on Aug. 20 against El Salvador on the road to qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
TT: How has the reception been with the management and the team?
RK: Very good … (The executive committee has been) happy with the boost and stability that I’ve been able to bring to Costa Rican football.
Is this stability something that needs to be re-established among the players?
Yeah, bit by bit, the confidence is being rebuilt, the assurance that Costa Rica will once again be in the best rankings within CONCACAF (the regional tournament). The idea is to restore confidence in Costa Rican football throughout the country.
So how is that confidence going into the game on Aug. 20?
Very very good. All of the players have the desire to start working. This is a process in which Costa Rica really has to start from the beginning and show itself.
And what of FIFA’s announcement that the Aug. 20 game is going to be dangerous?
“High risk.” No, in reality, I don’t believe there’s that much of a risk as they say. It’s a normal game, and the stadium will obviously be full of Costa Ricans supporting our squad. I don’t think there will be anything out of the ordinary.
What are some of the things you learned from Milutinovic?
To have patience with people, to know that we all have virtues, weaknesses, defects. And to always see the positive in soccer and in life, and to know that, hey, it’s not always going to be what I want. There are going to be times in life when you have to try to adapt to certain situations and focus on the positive. … To have the ability to rise above challenges and carry on, that’s the most important thing.
Now to talk about the team. What characteristics were you looking for when you made your selections?
First, a great mental disposition to do things well. More than anything, players who are strong, powerful, aggressive, fast and very dynamic. We’re looking for a team that’s solid, well-organized in every area of the playing field.
So what are Froylán (Ledezma)’s standout qualities?
(Smiling) What’s wrong with Froylán? … I feel he’s got a lot (of qualities). I’ve watched him for a long time. He’s a unique player … in his physical aptitude, his innate abilities, his natural talent, the profile of a player who has character, a presence, is a winner. (He’s at) a good age to develop soccer talents, a lot of experience and maturity. He has an element that you like to have in players in terms of temperament. He’s got character, blood, backbone. You have to exploit that in a player.
In what aspects do you feel the team is strongest?
I feel strong in the sense that this group, all of them, are happy, positive, fighting for World Cup qualification. … We just went up in the (FIFA) rankings from 79 to 78 (out of 208 countries), which is small, but it helps. And the atmosphere on the streets, among the people, is a supportive one.
Do you think you guys will go to South Africa?
Well, that’s the objective. And it’s because I believe that we will that I’m here.
How long do you see yourself in this position?
Oh, I’d love to be here for the next 20 years or more.n