KPL watch: Will Leopards’ Shikanda finally unravel the puzzle at the den?

KPL watch: Will Leopards’ Shikanda finally unravel the puzzle at the den?

Analysis, Jacob Icia

For over two decades now, AFC Leopards have gone without a Kenyan Premier League (KPL) title. Agonisingly, they have been watching their eternal rivals Gor Mahia do it again and again, with the rich history of the club reflecting nowhere in the current state of affairs.

The conversation of good managers and players has not sufficed in the revolving door at the den, of the way to lift the title again, and make Leopards great again.

And so coaches have come and gone, recently the likes of John Stewart Hall, Dennis Kitambi, Rodolfo Zapata et al while players like Mike Baraza, Allan Wanga, Paul Were, Demonde Selenge just to mention a few have not helped the club regain even a half of the milestones of the 1980s. Notably, they have helped clubs win elsewhere.

Simply put, it is neither a playing unit nor coaches question, but a leadership one that once the Leopards family gets right, the Leopards can run their way back to the KPL title. Wrangles have rendered the club difficult to run, going by immediate former chairman Dan Mule’s case.

Though he never knew how to beat his drum, his successor Dr Dan Shikanda confessed the man of little words had immense goodwill for Leopards, but figures within the club pulling in different directions helped nothing but fail at the den.

As it has become a trend now, every season starts with hope for Leopards but soon fades to oblivion.

And talking of hope, there can’t be any at the moment other than the election of Shikanda to the top seat of Ingwe, after the 2018/19 season.

Shikanda would have been the Deputy Governor of Nairobi had his friend Peter Kenneth won the 2017 Nairobi gubernatorial race , just pointing out to what extent his leadership abilities have placed him among  the over 5 million Kenyans.

He therefore should be able to solve the problem of disunity in the Leopards family, which is all about leadership. On the pitch, he understands in every perspective how to win KPL titles, having lifted the gong three times. Of the many men who have sat on the Leopards chairman post; he stands out by all standards.

Kennedy Onyango (L) of Kakamega Homeboyz FC tackle Diarra Ismailla of AFC Leopards SC during their Kenyan Premier League match at Bukhungu stadium in Kakamega on September 01, 2019. Homeboyz FC won 1-0. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha/Citizen

Reality dawning 

The season is here, and there are enough indicators there is a lot to do to find the winning formula.

Shikanda came in as their main sponsor left owing to strict betting rules laid down by the national government of Kenya. His term also began with the old turbulence of leadership hitting hard again, as a section of stakeholders have refused to recognise his election.

“We know the people behind the laughable reasons raised by the Registrar of Sports explaining denial of certificate. They pretend to be friends of AFC Leopards but their only interest is to force agreements that will help them sit in the leadership to access favours at the expense of the  club,” fumed Shikanda.

Besides, Ingwe has lost 1-0 in the season opener to ‘younger brothers’ Kakamega Homeboyz on Sunday, leaving head coach Andre Casa Mbungo confused on what to do with the so hungry and demanding fans.

“I joined in the middle of the league last season and we have done our best although it could not be enough. Next season we begin afresh our quest to the top again,” offered Mbungo at the end of last season.

He definitely expected a good start, having been with the team in the preseason and having released and signed to his plan.

“We had perfect first half. It was difficult to sustain the temple in the second half because our opponents reacted differently. Our problem was failing to capitalise our chances, and so we were punished. We have to learn from this, it should have been a different result,” said a crestfallen Mbungo.

AFC Leopards signings pose for a group photo on Sunday during their unveiling.PHOTO/Courtesy

Captain Whyvonne Isuza showed expressed little optimism too after the loss to Homeboyz, despite his initial new season forecast.

“We want to start well. We have done a lot of work and played several friendlies in readiness. Our target is to finish among top three and the best way towards this is by avoiding dropping points. It will be a tricky match though that must be carefully approached,” Isuza told Citizen Digital a day to the season opener.

After the loss, the Harambee Stars midfielder regretted the loss saying it is a setback already to their target.

“We can only try quickest possible to amend the areas we didn’t do well in. We have a good squad that can compete well in this league; we just have to gel faster especially with the new players. Last season had its issues that the technical bench knows better, for now we have to focus on our next match because we have lost despite fighting hard,” said Isuza.

Ten in, 11 out

Leopards have Malian striker Ismaila Diarra, former Tusker defender Collins Shivachi, Burundian midfielder Tresor Ndikumana and Ugandan goalkeeper Benjamin Ochan.

Also roped in are defender Robert Mudenyu from Sony Sugar, Collins Shichenje, striker Hansel Ochieng from Nzoia Sugar, Rwandan defender Soter Kayumba who was with Ingwe for the second half of last season on loan from Sofapaka, midfielder John Wanda, and Rwandese Vincent Habamahoro.

Moses Mburu, Jairus Adira, Salim Abadalla, Tutuwe Wayi Yeka, Eric Ndayishimiye, Ivan Sekazza, Marcel Kahaza (loan terminated), Shami Kibwana (loan ended), Aziz Okaka, Paul Were and David Ochieng all left the den, the later three ending their contracts.

Ones to watch

Benjamin Ochan could save Leopards a lot of points this season, after taking over from a string of poorly performing goalkeepers.

Since the time of Gabriel Andika and Ian Otieno who was never liked by the Ingwe faithful, Jairus Adira, Ezekiel Owadde and Ndashimiye, none of the goalkeepers has stood out as a pillar in the team.

Gor Mahia FC forwards Nicholas Kipkirui (L) and Kenneth Muguna challenge AFC Leopards SC forward Whyvonne Isuza during their Kenyan Premier League match dubbed Mashemeji Derby held at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on May 19, 2019. Gor Mahia FC won 3-1. Photo/Kelly Ayodi/Sportpicha/Citizen.

Ochan brings wealth of experience from his youth days at Aarhus, Kampala City Council Authority, Sports Club Villa, Bloemfontein SC, Kwabwe Woriors, Victoria University SC and importantly, national team Uganda Cranes.

The 27-year old kept Leopards in the match against Homeboyz only to crack in the 85th minute in a match the opponent’s coach Nicholas Muyoti hailed his heroics saying they denied him a bumper harvest.

Club: AFC Leopards

Nickname: Ingwe

Homeground: Nyayo Stadium, Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos, Bukhungu Stadium

Year founded: 1964

Head coach: Andre Casa Mbungo.