Write these big cats off at your own peril

Saturday February 13 2016

AFC Leopards players celebrate a goal against Tusker FC during their top eight tournament match at Nyayo National Stadium on September 27, 2015. The jury is out there as to whether the team will challenge for the title in the 2016 Premier League campaign, having lost several key players who kept the team afloat last season. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU |

AFC Leopards players celebrate a goal against Tusker FC during their top eight tournament match at Nyayo National Stadium on September 27, 2015. The jury is out there as to whether the team will challenge for the title in the 2016 Premier League campaign, having lost several key players who kept the team afloat last season. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By PETER LEFTIE
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The jury is out there as to whether AFC Leopards will challenge for the title in the 2016 Premier League campaign, having lost several key players who kept the team afloat last season.

For all its rich history and massive following, never before have Leopards been so hit by a mass exodus of top players led by skipper Jackson Saleh, playmaker Bernard Mang’oli and defensive mainstay Edwin Wafula.

Others are striker Mike Khamati and midfielders Timona Wanyonyi and Duncan Otieno, leaving goalkeeper Lucas Indeche, defender Eric Masika and pint-sized midfielder Jumaan Khalid as the only senior players in the side.

Saleh infuriated many Ingwe diehards when he crossed over to bitter rivals Gor Mahia, while Mang’oli and Wafula signed for Bandari.

Wanyonyi and Khamati have joined Tusker while Otieno has decamped to Posta Rangers.

RAW TALENT

Given the limited resources, Leopards opted to go for raw talent from lower-tier leagues and secondary schools to replace the departing contingent.

Some of the new faces who have already made an impression during the team’s friendlies include left fullback Andrew Diego, centre back Eugene Wambulwa, midfielders Bernard Ongoma and Simon Abuko as well as strikers Geoffrey Ouma and Alfred Wekesa.

Ongoma, who returns to the den after a brief stint at nationwide side Talanta, has demonstrated during recent friendlies that he has what it takes to fill the void left by Mang’oli.

Abuko, formerly of Museno Simbakhalu and Oserian is a Francis Kadenge reincarnate; combining pace, trickery and a high work rate.

He is also gifted with a deadly final ball.

UNDER PRESSURE

Wekesa, nicknamed Kemboi due to his pace, is an out-and-out striker picked straight from Kakamega High School, who has also shown glimpses of his immense potential and is likely to be used as a support striker, playing just behind the main attacker or out wide.

Head coach Jan Koops has been under pressure from fans lately over his coaching credentials and will be keen to prove that he still has the magic that saw Ingwe almost clinch the 2012 KPL season.

“I am not looking for an unbeaten run or any other record. I want to win trophies for this club because that is what our fans want.

It is important we win them for our fans because it has been long since we won one,” Koops said in a recent interview.