KPL Countdown: Glory days gone, which way for soldiers Ulinzi?
Analysis, Matthews Mutai
Benjamin Nyangweso will take charge of his first full season as Ulinzi Stars head coach this coming season with a task to lead the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) club back to its glory days.
Nyangweso took over from Dunstan Nyaudo mid last term and oversaw Ulinzi’s worst ever KPL finish after ending their campaign on eighth place despite producing the division’s top scorer in Enosh Ochieng.
Their domestic cup campaign ended in an embarrassing exit at the hands of minnows SS Assad in the FKF Shield round of 32 with Nyaudo still at the helm when they lost 5-4 on penalties.
Ulinzi have gradually fallen down the pecking order of genuine KPL title contenders after enjoying incredible success in the 2000s where they won four titles.
Their hat-trick of successive championship victories 20003-200 made them only the third KPL club to achieve such a feat after Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards but have found it difficult replicating that success.
The military men have had a quiet transfer window and have made no signings although they expect to make at least three new additions according to team manager Christopher Ouma.
“Right now we have not been able to register any players because of the Military Games but we will sign a few players to bolster the team before the start of the new season. We have had a long pre-season and identified key areas that need strengthening and once we make the signing formal we will announce them,” Ouma told Citizen Digital.
Robert Oyuyo, Constatine Lokuwam and Elijah Mwanzia are among players who were released at the close of the season.
Assistant captain Hassan ‘Rio’ Mohammed has also left the club after eight years in which he was a regular fixture in the heart of the defence with the club confirming his departure was because of military reasons.
Nyangweso emphasised their striking needs strengthening but suggested they might have to rely on players already in the squad to help Ochieng in providing more firepower instead of going to the market.
Oscar Wamalwa, Daniel Waweru and Elvis Nandwa have shown promise during the pre-season and could offer a solution for a team that scored the fewest goals for any team in the top 10 last season.
Former Sofapaka forward Ezekiel Okare can also reinvigorate the team’s attack following his transfer to the club last season where he managed to score two goals albeit playing mainly off the bench.
Nyangweso said they are not setting overambitious objectives for the new campaign and only wants to focus on building a more clinical team.
“I think we’re ready to start the season but we need to add something to our attack. We need to be more clinical with the chances we create and that will be the focus of our training.
“These Military Games have been more like pre-season friendlies for us and now we have an idea of where we are in terms of our strengths and weaknesses. We didn’t finish the last season in a good position and the target for now is just to improve,” Nyangweso said.
One to Watch: Enosh Ochieng
The division’s joint top scorer Ochieng is bound to pick up from where he left as Ulinzi’s standout star. The lanky forward scored 20 goals but three of those were voided last week after a ruling by the KPL’s Independent Disciplinary and Complaints Committee (IDCC).
The IDCC determined that the match between Ulinzi and relegated Mount Kenya United should not have been played and deemed it a walkover for the hosts, cancelling Ochieng’s hat-trick for that game.
Nonetheless, Ochieng’s contribution for his team cannot be discounted after the forward bagged more than half of the league goals scored by Ulinzi last season and he can reaffirm his importance again.
Ulinzi face promoted Kisumu All Stars on Saturday, a clash that Ochieng will feel is ideal to start off his assault for a second golden boot in a row.
The forward was snubbed in the African Cup of Nations but earned a call-up in the CHAN qualifiers where he earned his national team cap as a second half substitute.
He has also been named by Harambee Stars head coach as a reserve striker ahead of the country’s upcoming friendly and international assignments.
Club: Ulinzi Stars
Nickname: Soldiers/Military Men
Home Ground: Afraha Stadium
Year Founded: 1995
Head Coach: Benjamin Nyangweso