Defending champions Ulinzi Stars beat Rangers 3-0 on Saturday but it counted for nothing as they surrendered the title to Tusker FC. It has been a season of ups and downs for teams.
Tusker’s 1-0 victory over Congo United in Mumias was deserved after a tough season that ended in a neck-to-neck battle with Ulinzi.
The soldiers began the season as the team to beat but were always going to have it difficult playing in international competitions and defending the Kenyan Premier League title at the same time.
Ulinzi started off with an African Champions League clash with Egyptian giants Zamalek but exited in the first round following a 5-0 aggregate loss.
They returned and shifted focus to the KPL, their first game against a wounded Gor Mahia who had lost their opening game 3-0 to Rangers.
They would be held to a 1-1 draw by Thika United before losing to AFC Leopards by a solitary goal in Nakuru.
“It was a slow start for us. By the third game, we had been dismissed. But we have steadily improved and those who had written us off were shocked when we returned to the race for the title,” says Ulinzi coach Benjamin Nyangweso.
While Ulinzi surged, especially after exiting the Council of East and Central Africa (Cecaf) Club Championships at the quarter-final stage, 2009 KPL champions Sofapaka, who had spent their energy in the Caf Confederations Cup, were having an inconsistent league season.
Their sacking of Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa did not help matters for Sofapaka. They however picked up on the final bend to finish in a credible third-place after Francis Kimanzi settled down at the helm.
Former Kenya international Dan Shikanda says Kimanzi brought in stability at Sofapaka and things could have been different had he started the season with the team credited with ending Nyangweso’s slim hopes of retaining the title.
A look at the 16 teams in the table reveals what they did right or wrong.
By the 10th game of the season, Tusker were the apparent champions. They went the first five games unbeaten and by the 10th game, they had dropped only nine points from a possible 30.
They blip came towards the end of the first leg when they drew twice to Gor and Kenya Commercial Bank and lost twice to defending champions Ulinzi Stars and Thika United.
The team became consistent, only losing to Ulinzi in September and Sofapaka. The draw in Karuturi could have seen them lose the title but when Ulinzi later fell to Sofapaka, it became apparent the title was headed to Ruaraka.
Key figures in Tusker’s title push have been Ibrahim Kitawi and Hillary Echesa. Then there are strikers George Midenyo and Dennis Mukaisi, and midfielder Crispin Olando.
Ulinzi were always under pressure from the start. Defending a title is not easy and previous winners Mathare United and Sofapaka can attest to this. It is difficult playing in the continental club championships, Cecafa club championships and also concentrate on the league unless the team is psychologically prepared, which Ulinzi lacked.
Ulinzi made matters worse for themselves by taking their first team to the World Military Games and by the time they were back, they were playing catch-up as and fatigue caught up with them. But Ulinzi produced some flashes of brilliance, completing a double over Tusker and first leg win over Sofapaka. Tusker’s key players were Stephen Waruru and goalkeeper Jackton Odhiambo.
Like Ulinzi, Sofapaka had an inconsistent start to the season. Differences between the technical bench and the office did not help much. There was a silent player revolt against Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa as the team concentrated too much on the CAF Confederations Cup and dropped points in the league.
By the time coach Francis Kimanzi joined the club in in April, the title seemed lost. Kimanzi brought in stability, pushing the side to third in the league but the mid-season crisis ensured they always played catch-up in the race. Loses to Ulinzi, Rangers, City Stars and Karuturi hampered their title chase. The key players were Bob Mugalia, Humphrey Mieno and Titus Mulama.
The green army were out to win this year’s title after finishing second last season. They started the season badly, losing 3-0 to Rangers. Gor later picked up in the mid season, rising to second in the league with two points separating them from leaders Tusker.
After going eight matches without a loss, they succumbed to Sony Sugar and later to Leopards. Their 1-2 loss to Congo United prompted fans to demand the sacking of coach Zedekiah “Zico” Otieno.
The side picked up under Cameroonian Annaba Awono and went on to win the FKL Cup. Gor’s key players were Collins Okoth, Edwin Lavatsa and Eric Masika.
‘Ingwe’ deserve credit even if they did not win the league title. To Leopards, finishing among the top eight is an achievement, considering how the club following has suffered over the years.
Those who saw Leopards in the first leg must have dismissed the side as relegation material but the arrival of coach Jan Koops in the mid season and the signing of striker Mike Baraza changed everything.
Going into the last 15 matches, Leopards has been the most in form side in the KPL convincingly beating Gor, Sofapaka and Ulinzi. Had the team started off with the same vigour, they would have won their 13th league title this season. Their key players were Baraza, Bernard Mang’oli, Martin Imbalabala and goalkeeper Patrick Matasi.
The surprise package of the season. They had been written off even before the season started after losing their sponsors – the Kenya Postal Corporation. But Rangers’ never-say-die attitude has endeared them to many.
They beat Gor 3-0 on the opening day of the season and they have never looked back. Financial issues have hampered their progress, especially mid season when they slumped in performance but with Daima Dairy coming to sponsor them next season, they may just be the team to watch. Key player was captain Pascal Ochieng.
Always promising but fails to deliver. Sony Sugar’s undoing was the management’s move to create chaos in the technical bench. Coach Francis Baraza has performed credibly, yet the office deemed it fit to try and bring in first Henry Omino and later Bobby Ogolla. This boomeranged on the team as seen on the performance. Their star player was Hugo Nzangu, and Isaiah Omondi “Song”.
They had mixed fortunes in the league. At some point, Chemelil were relegation candidates. Then they sacked coach Nick Yakhama and brought in Edward Manoah who signed striker Victor Ochieng and soon, Chemelil were winning all their games. Then the slump began and they dropped points in their last five matches to find themselves mid table. Their star player: Victor Ochieng.
They started the season well but went through a bad period towards the end going nine matches without a win which eventually cost coach James Nandwa his job. Problem with Karuturi was lack of depth as any slight injury affected the squad. Key player: James Omondi.
Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB)
The Bankers are always good at the beginning of the season, then they lose steam. It has been their story over the last three years and this season was no different. They went five games unbeaten at the start of the season but started to slump and at some point were staring at relegation. Their Achilles heel is always failing to maintain tempo. Star player: Clifford Alwanga.
Thika’s belied they can win with young inexperienced players has continued to hurt their title ambitions. The side has been inconsistent from the start of the season and, despite enjoying multi-million sponsorship from Brookeside, they have failed to deliver. They showed some flashes of brilliance in beating Tusker, but finishing in the bottom half is a failure considering the investment put in the club. Key player: Moses Arita.
For some time, Stima were unbeatable at home but this season they have been weak at home and have dropped points away despite having one of the most experienced sides. Pre-season confusion in the selection of players affected the team. There was also confusion over coach Henry Omino’s contract. Key player: Fred Nyarombo.
They have been going downhill since winning the league in 2008. Maybe Kenyans are seeing the last of Mathare United, which is going through serious financial problems. The club is losing players every transfer window and, despite a good base in their youth association, without money they are doomed to fail. Failure to look into players’ welfare has been the reason for their downfall. Key player: Kevin Kimani.
Nairobi City Stars
A last-gasp 4-2 win earned them the survival tag. but they will look back at a season they struggled yet they beat bigwigs Gor, Sofapaka and Ulinzi Stars. City Stars must solve their finanlcial problems to remain afloat. Their key player was Dan Sserunkuma.
They seemed likely to survive after beating Thika 1-0 at home last weekend but, after the barren draw in Chemelil, they had to go. Key player: Ivo Mapunda.
Was relegation material from day one and even wins over Gor in Nairobi and Leopards in Mombasa were just flashes. Their controversial entry into the league did not help matters and their performance proved they were not KPL material, though in Ramadhan Salim they had one of the best players in the league.