The 2017 SportPesa Premier League season provided the best possible reflection of the highs and lows of Kenyan footballers.
The season saw coaches struggle to meet their targets. Players struggled to overcome poor form and showcase their talent as consistent squabbling between Football Kenya Federation and Kenya Premier League Limited spilled onto the courts.
Incessant squabbles meant reduced interest in the competition from supporters and the corporate world, and eventually the abrupt withdrawal of broadcast rights holders SuperSport.
“This was a tough season overall especially?after what happened with SuperSport,” Kenya Premier League Chief Executive Officer Jack Oguda.
“We had to adjust our budgets fast and work around the clock to ensure the competition went on smoothly. It wasn’t easy but in the end we made it. We learnt valuable lessons which we will use to make the league better.”
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. New Stars were born on the pitch. For example, at just 21 years, Kenyan international Masoud Juma emerged the star player in the league this season, taking over from defender Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma who starred for Gor last year before leaving to join the paid ranks in Georgia.?
Juma, formerly of Sony Sugar, started the season as an ordinary player and opted to join Kariobangi Sharks despite interest from AFC Leopards.?
By the end of the league campaign, the youngster had scored an impressive 17 times, an achievement that puts him at par?with the likes of Jesse Were, Dan Sserunkuma, Jacob Keli, John Baraza and Allan Wanga who have emerged top scorers in this competition in the past decade.
Juma also top-scored in the domestic cup with six goals from four games, helping Kariobangi Sharks reach the final.
By end of season, he had already earned his first cap, turning out for Harambee Stars against Mauritius in an international friendly where he also scored his first international goal.
He also played for Stars against Sierra Leone in the 2019 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers.
“I should have scored more goals (in the league). I missed 10 matches in the season, and this?made me fail to meet my targets. I wanted to score at least 20 goals in the league.”
Other stand-out players in the league were AFC Leopards youngster Wilson Oburu who only featured in the second half of the campaign. Oburu?sat out the first six months of the league as Leopards and Gor Mahia tussled over ownership of his rights, and Football Kenya Federation did not register him for the first half of the season.
When he finally had his chance though, the 19-year-old’s his industry, skill and pace convinced Harambee Stars coach Paul Putt of his abilities, and Put has included him in a 25-man for Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup.
Other stand-out players were Nicholas Kipkurui from Zoo Kericho who scored 10 league goals in his debut season for a team that struggled to compete with the top six teams in the league.
Mathare’s Chris Oduor also stood out. Despite turning out for a team that flirted with relegation throughout the season Oduor, and?Gor Mahia defender Wellington Ochieng have put up a strong case for themselves as future stars.
Oduor stood out in Mathare’s defence with excellent?marking and tackling, while Ochieng imposed himself into coach Dylan Kerr’s plans, specifically for his exemplary blocks and tackles at the back.
Sony Sugar winger Benjamin Mosha also stood out with his trickery on the flanks, and sublime crosses from the wings, his form earning him a call-up to?the Tanzania’s national team.
Despite a far-from-impressive campaign for SC Villa in his home country where he managed one league goal in nine appearances, Ugandan Umar Kasumba?who arrived in Kenya in June to join Sofapaka, was a stand-out player.
Upon settling down in the league, he? embarked on a goal-scoring streak which was only blighted by a thigh injury. In the end he managed 12 goals in 16 games, five behind top scorer Juma to finish sixth overall on the scoring charts.
It remains to be seen if his plans to change nationality to Kenyan and turn out for Harambee Stars will convince Put.?
Seasoned stars Kepha Aswani, fourth on the scorers charts with 13 goals,? Rwandan?Jacques Tuyisenge (13 goals), Tuyisenge compatriot Meddie Kagere (14) also deserve a pat of the back.?
So does Tusker midfielder Humphrey Mieno who turned out the most creative player in Tusker’s midfield despite the defending champions finishing a poor sixth.
Custodian?Boniface Oluoch who manned the posts during Gor Mahia’s exemplary run in the league all through also left a mark and made a strong case of continuing with his role as the country’s first-choice goalkeeper ahead of the 2019 Africa Nations Cup qualifiers.
Whenever he played, Tusker’s James Situma was also consistent either at right fullback or midfield. His discipline and dedication set the standard for upcoming players.?
Youthful coaches Bernard Mwalala (Nzoia Sugar), and William Mluhya (Kariobangi Sharks) both made successful?debut?in the league in only their first full season, leading their teams to position three and nine respectively in the 18-team league.
Ultimately, Gor Mahia, backed by a passionate following, talented players and the dynamic English coach Dylan Kerr, who came in to replace Brazilian Marcelo Ferreira ‘Ze Maria’ mid-season, emerged the biggest winners, easily?dethroning Tusker to claim an unprecedented 16th league title.
Sofapaka, Kariobangi Sharks and Posta Rangers claimed the remaining top four positions in that order.?
Incredibly, none of the promoted teams, including Zoo Kericho and Nakumatt, were relegated. Cash-strapped Muhoroni Youth and Western Stima were relegated to the National Super League next season.
It is, however, unfortunate that all these local-based talents?will not compete at the 2018 Africa Nations Championship (Chan) in Morocco early next year.?
This is after Kenya was disqualified from competing at the event by Caf after?Kenya for failed to prepare in time to host the tournament.
KPL TEAM OF THE SEASON
Goalkeeper: Boniface Oluoch (Gor Mahia)
Defenders: Wellington Ochieng (Gor Mahia), Godfrey Walusimbi (Gor Mahia), Kennedy Onyango (Nakumatt), Charles Momanyi (Kakamega Homeboyz)
Midfielders: Sven Yidah (Karibangi Sharks), Benjamin Mosha (Sony Sugar), Humphrey Mieno (Tusker),? Masoud Juma (Kariobangi Sharks), Nicholas Kipkurui (Zoo Kericho)
Strikers: Masoud Juma (Kariobangi Sharks), Wilson Oburu (AFC Leopards).
Substitutes: Patrik Matasi (Posta Rangers), Mohammed Sherrif (Bandari), Robinson Kamura (AFC Leopards), Mohammed Mulume (Sofapaka), Mwinyi Kibwana (Thika United), Omar Kasumba
(Sofapaka), Jacques Tuyisenge (Gor Mahia).
Coach: William Mluhya (Kariobangi Sharks)
Assistant coach: Benard Mwalala (Nzoia Sugar)