The 2016 Sportpesa Kenyan PremierLeague season is just days away and all clubs are busy preparing for the big kick off. There are new entrants to the competition-Posta Rangers and Kakamega Homeboys while there are also the usual suspects in champions Gor Mahia and Ulinzi Stars. Dimbasports soccer analyst John Baraza takes us through what he envisages to be a competitive season Like a cameraman who cannot wait to take his first shot, so am I ready watch the start of the Kenyan Premier League 2016 for the first time not as a player but as an analyst for dimbasports.com.
After over 20 years of playing at the top in my football career, seeing all the highs and lows of the game, I decided to take a bow and leave the stage for younger. Its going to be exciting for me to sit on the terraces and critique the players and coaches, and as I pen my first ever article, I am filled with so much emotions. That notwithstanding, lets shift to the big kick off.
Of course there will be the serious contenders for the KPL title, the usual pretenders and the relegation candidates. Going by their performance last year in which they finished the season unbeaten, everybody will want to stop Gor Mahia from making the Premier League title their own. I played against them last year and for sure, Gor Mahia were in a class of their own. They played with passion, zeal, tact and hunger. Add that to the fact that they have the 12th player or the “green army” and it is definitely going to be another season where Gor will be the favorites.
They have lost their key players Michael Olunga and Meddie Kagere, but then again, the two players were not there in the preceding two seasons when Gor won the title or in 2012 when they lost it on the last day. In has come Jacob Keli, a known goal poacher and of course the four million shilling man Jacques Tuyisenge. The addition of Francis Kahata in the team brings in more options for coach Frank Nuttal.
Ulinzi Stars were runners up last season though the gap between them and Gor was massive. In my opinion, Ulinzi has good title credentials and remain one of the teams that can stop Gor Mahia. The soldiers have not lost any of their stars players, in fact they have just added more fire power. They have roped in Bokokwa from Nzoia sugar. This young man is destined for bigger things, going by his performance in the lower FKF premier league. He even got a call up in the national team. It says a lot about him.
I shudder to talk about my team Sofapaka. In as much as they have been one of the strong teams since coming into the league and winning it in 2009, they have lost top players because of financial reasons. They have rebuilt after losing a number of senior players. All in all I expect them to fight for the title, just like when they won in 2009 when they were unknown. They can still surprise everyone. I wish them luck.
After doing well last season and even surprising themselves with 4th position. Bandari fans will expect nothing else but a podium finish in 2016. The Twahir Muhiddin coached side have reinforced the team with new squad members, who are experienced and reputable in the local scene. They look ready for the season especially after that morale boosting win over Gor Mahia in the Charity Shield clash. All eyes will be on Dan Sserenkuma. On to Thika super highway and the the Ruaraka boys had a season to forget last year. At times they looked promising and even their fans thought that may be champions, but it never come to be. They still possess a formidable squad. And with the reorganization on their technical bench, I can only wish them well. A lot is expected from their star men Humphrey Mieno and James Situma.
My pick is that Muhoroni, AFC Leopards, Ushuru, Western Stima, Sony Sugar Chemelil and Mathare will be battling for the mid table positions within the top eight. Muhoroni had a good second leg last season but they have lost their coach Paul Nkata to Tusker, AFC leopards seem to be having their endless leadership woes and have also lost key players, Ushuru and Western Stima do not have the self belief to contend for the title while Mathare
United seem to be content with just being in the league. The return of coach Francis Kimanzi to Mathare may change their desire but he will have to make the players have some fighting spirit. Thika United have always shown so much promise but probably inexperience has been their biggest undoing. I am sure this season they want to be up there with the best. It will not be easy because they have let go most of their good players to the other teams. Chemelil have acquired the service of coach Francis Baraza who i do believe can turn things around. He has signed experienced players Hilary Echesa, Wills Ouma. On his good day Echesa is a joy to watch.
I do not want to spell doom on some teams, but City Stars will once again find themselves struggling on the lower reaches of the league. I am sure City Stars would not want to be associated with the tag perennial struggles, by enlisting the services of coach Bobby Ogolla, they have laid bare their intentions but just as it has been the last three seasons, they will be down there. Newcomers Posta Rangers and Homeboys will have to up their game. This is the Kenyan Premier League.
John Baraza is a former Kenyan international, a two time MVP and golden boot winner