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KPL coaches talking tough

It’s early in the season and already I feel that 2013 is going to be special. With just one round of matches played in the Kenyan Premier League by most teams, already coaches are talking tough and making their intentions known.

As the Sunday games kicked off, the coach of City Stars, Wadda Bye ,declared how he is aiming to finish in the top eight this season. For the past three years City Stars have been fighting relegation from the word “go”. They have been struggling financially for a lot longer than that and even changed their name from World Hope to City Stars in a deal that should have seen some money going their way. The financial constraints have seen them lose top players to bigger teams and coaches leave after not being paid for several months.

The club’s biggest loss was undoubtedly Ugandan striker Dan Sserunkuma, who left in the middle of last season to play for the financially comfortable Gor Mahia. During the January transfer window, City Stars lost another great player, David Kingatua, to Thika United – another team with ample financial support.

Over the past two years the players have stage several go-slows over salaries and that has hurt their performance greatly.

City Stars recruited nine players during the January window, most notably bringing back their “prodigal son” Jimmy Bagaye. Bagaye had tried in vain to break into the AFC Leopards first team and I guess he felt he needed first team football and returned “home” for that.

Bagaye had a good game against KCB but didn’t do enough to prevent the 4-0 whipping! Back to Wadda Bye and his quest to finish in the top eight. The financial issues that have dogged the club for several years persist and I just hope Bye has a way of keeping the boys motivated at all costs. Last season they finished 13th, which was just five points away from relegation.

KCB Coach Juma Abdullah wants a top six position. Last season KCB finished 10th but just two wins more would have seen them finish in the top six. So it isn’t too much of a long shot. My only concern with KCB is that they have started strong every season for the past three years, only to fade as the months go by.

Already critics are dismissing KCB as strong starters who will definitely fade. As former Harambee Stars coach, Ghost Mulee, puts it, “They think the league is a sprint, when in actual fact it’s a marathon.”

Hopefully new coach Juma Abdullah will change the status quo and ensure that the banker boys know that the season runs until November and doesn’t end in June.

I have deep respect for Sofapaka coach David Ouma. He did wonders with Rangers in 2011, seeing them top of the league halfway through the season, only to drop when they lost nearly all their best players in the June transfer window. I’m glad that Sofapaka CEO Elly Kalekwa has given him this chance to be head coach because I think he deserves it.

Ouma wants nothing less than the title and I think he can get it. He had a decent outing against Thika United on Sunday and walked away with the three points. With the players at his disposal I would have expected them to score more goals but Thika were resilient. I think Sofapaka just needs to settle down before their season really kicks off. They recruited heavily as well and their squad is so rich that, if they keep their heads down and focus, they can win anything they want this year.

Thika Coach John Kamau wants to win the club’s inaugural league title this year. Kamau finished fifth with a youthful squad last season and, even though they lost star player Moses Arita to Tusker FC, they still showed signs of possibly becoming champions this year. Although Kamau was really harsh on the team in his post-match interview, something I totally understand because potential champions shouldn’t be letting in easy goals, I saw a lot that the coach can work with to develop the side. That development has to happen quickly.

Over the past three years the league title has literally been decided on the last day, so every win, draw or loss counts.

Other coaches talking tough include Ulinzi Stars new-man Salim Ali. The former Sofapaka and Mathare United tactician is aiming to win every home game this season and so far so good. Even though it was slim, they earned three points against newly promoted Bandari United over the weekend with a 1-0 victory. Ali says he wants the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru to become a fortress where other teams only come to drop points.

Nakuru has the fan base to ensure that every home game is filled to capacity with home fans but it will be an uphill task when up against Gor Mahia or AFC Leopards, who literally make every game – home and away – feel like home. Ali has his targets and I respect that.

The list of optimistic coaches goes on and on.

Gor Mahia’s Zdravko Logarusic is saying very little this time around as if not to jinx anything. Expectation is high for Gor to win the league given what the coach managed to do last season. Logarusic took Gor from 10th in the league nearly 10 games in, to second, just a point behind Tusker at the final whistle in November. So the only way for the club is up.

AFC Leopards didn’t have a very convincing pre-season, struggling against lower league sides and their opening game on Sunday against Chemelil did not go as planned. Coach Tom Olaba has been cautious over the past week, not disclosing their goals for the season but we know that the fans and the management want nothing less than to be holding the league trophy at the end of the season.

Tusker, meanwhile, are playing like champions. They may have lost the SuperSport DSTV SuperCup to Gor Mahia on penalties but that is in a large part due to the silliest error from keeper Boniface Oluoch. Oluoch handled the ball yards from his box and was deservedly red carded. I’m told that those within ear shot of the Tusker bench heard some very angry words uttered from Coach Robert Matano’s mouth towards Oluoch.

Matano was evidently angry because he knows what a great team he has put together and he wants nothing more than to fill the Tusker cabinet with silverware.

If Tusker continue to play the way they have been doing, apart from the keeper’s moment of petite madness, then they could make their wins three in a row.

I haven’t even touched on new boys, Kakamega Homeboyz, who beat seasoned team Karuturi Sports 3-1 on Sunday. Usually newly promoted sides just want to stay up but clearly Coach Fred Serenge and his Homeboyz have their own ideas.

The good news is that for now it’s an open slate for every coach to work with and the ambition is clear.

One thing is for sure. We are in for a very interesting and competitive season. Sadly for all the coaches but one, only one will be left standing at the end of the season.

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