KPL Countdown: Impressive Sharks are coming of age

Analysis, Jacob Icia

Kariobangi Sharks will open their 2019/20 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) campaign on Friday against Western Stima, marking the start of what will be their fourth top-flight season.

As they approach this milestone, there is a comprehensive feeling among the players that the team is finally reaching peak maturity and the time is ripe to lift a maiden league title.

Founded in the year 2000 by the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president Nick Mwendwa, Sharks made a huge statement in 2017 when they finished third in the KPL while playing some exceptional attacking football.

They producing league’s top scorer that same year through Masoud Juma  who scored 17 goals and also reached the FKF Shield final where they lost 2-0 to AFC Leopards.

Sharks goalkeeper John Oyemba also won the Golden Glove award while its coach coach William ‘Kanu’ Muluhya was  voted Coach of the Year. Midfielder Sven Yidah was also nominated among the league’s New Player of the Year.

In 2018 the team won their first major trophy as they returned to the Federation Shield final, beating Sofapaka FC 3-2 thanks to a brace from Ugandan striker George Abege and a goal from Sydney Lokale. This, in only their second season in KPL, earned them the honour of representing Kenya in the CAF Confederations Cup.

Sharks man Eric Kapaito followed Masoud’s suit hitting 16 goals in his 25 appearances to also emerge KPL Most Valuable Player.

He also bagged the New Player of the Year and was the second 2nd in the League Fair Play award, compounding yet another brilliant season for the club, albeit slipping to sixth on the log from the previous third place finish.

In the 2018/19 season Sharks played in the CAF Cup, beating Djibouti’s Arta Solar FC in the first  round before bowing to Ghana’s Asante Kotoko in the second round.

Interestingly, Muluya guided his men to the FKF Cup final for the third season in a row but lost 3-1 to Bandari FC in a two-day final.

However, they still slipped two places further in the KPL log from the previous season, finishing eighth. Notably, it is the season they won the Super Cup earning the privilege to play English Premier League (EPL) side Everton, whom they beat in a post-match shootout at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani.

Inspired by the milestones thus far, captain Eric Juma minces no word in declaring title quest, a target he underscores every player in the team has embraced.

“We are very ready and fired up. Our season target is the title, the players are willing and waiting for the day – tomorrow, to start off strongly. We want to show something different, a new level,” Juma said.

The soft spoken skipper regretted the side could not improve on the 2018 season performance during the 2018/19 campaign, citing depth issues that he feels are now sorted.

“We had a lean squad and some of our players were students who had to juggle between school and club duties. We had our key players out for a long time with the national team and when injuries hit us it became even worse. We are now more compact because we did not lose our key players and we have added more experienced ones,” offered Juma.

Poignantly, their main striker Kapaito was absent with injuries for half of the season, featuring only 15 times. This left George Abege (now at Asante Kotoko of Ghana) and Sidney Lokale to lead the goal-hunt mission, the latter also dropping with an injury along the way. It was not easy, in a season that was so congested.

Electric Atmosphere 

Kariobangi Sharks forward Duke Abuya celebrates scoring his opening goal against Everton FC. (PHOTO/Sportpicha)

Reflecting on the preseason, Juma says over-dependence on few players has been smothered with second team players showing more hunger hence exciting competition.

“What has stood out for me in the preseason especially after the Tanzania tour is that everyone proved they are ready to step up when called upon by the coach.

“You could see in the Yanga game, we were missing four players who were on international duty but the boys still competed very well against a football powerhouse in the region under an electric atmosphere. In the second game, the coach changed the entire line up and still, the boys gave a good performance against a good team.

“We have been having a problem anytime we miss two or three key players but this time round everybody is positive, eager and ready to rise up to the challenge regardless of the opposition,” observed Juma.

Eight players were added into Muluya’s playing unit in the preseason, with Samuel Olwande crossing over from Mathare United, Armani Kiyata from MKU, Daniel Sakari from Kakamega Homeboyz while Brian Opondo switched allegiance from Sony Sugar.

Patrick Otieno joined from Nzoia Sugar, as Muluya continued his tradition of scouting in schools, this time tapping John Otieno and Lawrence Abok. Peter Oudu has been meanwhile recalled from loan at Nairobi Stima.

Released players Fidel Origa was released as well as Henry Juma, while Findlay Osoro and Alvin Mangeni were loaned off.

One to Watch: Erick Kapaito

Kariobangi Sharks FC forward Eric Kapaito celebrate a goal against Nzoia FC during their Kenyan Premier League match at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on March 13, 2019. Photo/Kelly Ayodi/Sportpicha

By the end of his second season at Sharks, Kapaito had 24 league goals to his name, making himself the club’s all time league top scorer. Since he made his league debut on February 3, 2018, no other player in the league has scored more goals than him despite the fact that he only played half of the second season due to injury.

It has taken Kapaito 40 league appearances to score the 24 goals meaning he averages a goal every one and a half-game since he opened his league account on February 11, 2018 against Vihiga United.

Having recovered fully, Kapaito is ready to roar again in the 2018/19 season, as he narrates to Citizen Digital.

“Last season was not the best for me because I suffered injuries and before I regained my form the leagu was much advanced. I’m now ready to score goals, my target is to score more than I did in 2018 season. I believe with God it is possible.”

He continued: “We have a good team, enough to compete for the title. We really want to win it because we have already won some accolades in the few seasons we have been here showing we can do it,” paused Kapaito.

When the season opener ends at the Kenyatta Stadium Machakos on Friday, Kapaito wants to be in the scoresheet and launch season target earliest possible.

Although KPL title could be quite a demanding aim for Sharks, it is never too early dream big for a side that needed just a season in the league to seal a second runners up.

Club Name: Kariobangi Sharks.

Nickname: K. Sharks.

Year Founded: 2000.

Homeground: Kenyatta Stadium Machakos.

Head Coach: William Muluya.