KPL Countdown: Can the All-Stars fairy tale continue?
Analysis, Jacob Icia
In February 2018 a resolution made out of the pain of a collapsed football club, the defunct Palos FC, and came to life Kisumu All-Stars, a community based club that two seasons later, will grace the Kenyan Premier League (KPL).
Palos had a place in the National Super League (NSL), but financial woes suffocated the vision bearers of the team, and stakeholders later came up with idea of conducting trials across Kisumu County to raise a team to fill the Palos’ gap.
The County Government was in the mix, and an odyssey to the KPL started with a match against St. Joseph’s FC at the Moi Stadium Kisumu.
Odyssey, as the financial enemy of the beautiful game in the talent-rich Nyanza region was not to vacate the quarters of the newly born All-Stars soon.
Former Harambee Stars man Nickakor Oketch who was the founding head coach would resign after the battle got tough, not short of the technical ability but basic money to run the club.
His founding assistant Paul Ogai had thrown in the towel earlier, joining Western Stima leave the struggling young All-Stars facing ‘premature death’ just like Palos.
That was at time players would go for months without salaries, not to mention lack of transport to honour matches among other embarrassing needs.
At one point, the Blue Eagles fielded only eight players against City Stars in an NSL clash, as the rest of the players had no.means to travel for the match. Amazingly, they lost only by a 2-0 margin, laudable sturboness against giving up propelling the team.
Courtesy of the Kisumu County Government, a fundrive was held midway 2018/19 season, and over Sh. 3.5 million was raised to mitigate the money crisis.
It was not enough to cater for everything, but to boost the boy’s morale in fighting for a place in the topflight.
Under then head coach Francis Oduor, there was no looking back. The Blue Eagles marched on until they majestically stormed KPL by thrashing Thika United 7-1 in the final day of the season to accrue 80 points, one behind champions Wazito FC.
Energy and Ambition
Catalysed by the football crazy fanbase in Kisumu, the Blue Eagles cannot wait to take on Ulinzi in the season opener on Saturday at home, with newly appointed head coach Henry ‘Zagallo’ Omino underlining the new wine he has been brewing in the preseason will need strong wineskins to contain.
“By the grace of God I’m the head coach of Kisumu All-Stars, who by the grace of God, against all odds made the KPL status. We bring new energy into the league, the team is very eager and ambitious for the topflight challenge,” Zagallo told, with only four days to their KPL debut match.
Omino, a former Kisumu Posta and Western Stima coach, resumes duty after a two-year sabbatical from active football, having last handled Stima. He is equally excited to be back, and expects to an inspiring start against Ulinzi Stars.
“The main challenge with this team that I was observing from the outside even before I joined was lack of funds. The players were very demoralised until the County Sports Minister intervened at the middle of the journey and things changed,” explained Zagallo, who will be deputised by Oduor and Andrew Aroka.
According to the coach, there is more balance in the team than he found, another reason for confidence as the new season draws near.
“There were areas that were not well represented when I joined. We have done good signings although some of them are late entrants, coming just last week. I however feel comfortable that we are now a complete team to give a good account on the top league.”
While there were enough reasons to doubt how All-Stars would cope with the top tier demands going by the previous season struggles, skipper Bobby Kwaka says they are at their best psychologically ahead of the season.
“We are more than psyched up. We know its is a different level but football is the same. In the NSL it was about winning and winning, but in the KPL we have to be watchful in the way we approach every match. We have to be more tactical and we are ready,” offered Kwaka, the man who captained the team to promotion.
Kwaka has hailed the management’s effort to bolster the team after several departures, saying the unit is now complete for the KPL challenge.
“The players our coaches have brought are superb, the most important thing is to gel and get the engine running. Most of them being young players it should be an issue,” noted Kwaka, a servant of the club since formation day.
A new member Martin Oduor who shifted allegiance from Western Stima foresees a glorious season ahead, setting a personal goal of emerging best midfielder in the league.
“It is exciting to be in a new home, for a new challenge. I personally want to win the MVP and help my team get to top-10 on the log, without limiting ourselves for anything better,” said the ambitious former St. Joseph’s and Agro Chemicals midfielder.
13 in 14
Oduor and veteran Western Stima striker Wesley Kemboi highlight the 14 players Zagallo has roped in, while an equal number has left. Others include Mark Kwasira (offensive midfielder), Maxwell Onyango (midfielder), Charles Bruno (defender), John Owira (midfielder), Steve Otieno (offensive midfielder), Walter Omondi (defender) and goalkeeper Anthony Obonyo.
The defensive unit has also Patrick Ochieng, Jeconia Ogendo, Auther Ochung and Jacob Ombija, with Michael Owino adding to the newly recruited strikers.
On the flipside, James Omondi, Leon Doso, Elvis Jack, Samuel Onyango, Timothy Wangaya Shakil Devans, Victor Manuel, Alex Waiswa and Cornelius Owinyo left the KPL newbies. Wanga Vincent also ditched the club to rivals Chemelil Sugar, as KCB FC signed both Ian Mutanda and Moses Odhiambo from Eagles last season’s squad.
Like many promoted clubs into the top league come with surprise stars, the Eagles should not be different especially after the massive changes including in the technical bench.
One would talk of midfielder Owira, signed from Swedish side IF Dalhem on a two-year deal or the ambitious former Stima man Oduor but more could be in store from the team.
The juicy interesting twist the Blue Eagles will bring is the loyalty question when champions Gor visit them in Kisumu, at the Moi Stadium said to be their spiritual home. Will the Eagles stand the elder brothers K’Ogalo? Will the green army be divided for the flying blue younger brother?