NAIROBI, Kenya, February 10- After months of transfer activity and sharpening of swords, the big Kenyan Premier League kick-off is on Saturday with 15 teams out to dethrone Tusker FC from their champions’ perch.
“This will be a very good test for Tusker and basically we have prepared on how we shall play. We shall try a new system, new things and I’m confident we are stronger than last season,” Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo, the Brewers’ coach said ahead of the kick-off.
“It will be really tough considering how teams have recruited particularly from Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Sofapaka and you cannot forget Ulinzi but we have also done good recruitment and we are ready,” he added.
With Tusker who will kick-off the season with a televised tie against City Stars who in turn starved off relegation on the final day of last season on Saturday afternoon at Nyayo National Stadium challenging for honours in three fronts, the coach remains optimistic they are equal to the task.
“We made wholesale buys in goal keeping, defense, midfield and attack so that our squad can compete well in all the competitions we enter and this will be reflected as the season progresses,” Omollo, who went down with Mahakama in the 2010 campaign expressed.
Tusker return to the lucrative CAF Champions League this season since the 2008 campaign where they bowed out of the preliminaries and have been paired with Rwanda’s APR in the formative stage of the competition.
They will also be seeking to sip the KPL Top 8 knock-out trophy just like deposed titleholders Ulinzi as well as seek Cup honours in the domestic front.
Returning former captain, Jerry Santo and former Sofapaka forward, Patrick ‘Petit’ Kagogo are the pick of Tusker’s acquisitions as they prepare to hold on to the KPL crown, a feat that has eluded Mathare United, Sofapaka and Ulinzi since the competition adopted a current outlook under a management company in 2008.
Keeper George Opiyo has been brought in from Sofapaka as cover for Boniface Oluoch, Peter Opiyo (Thika United), Obadiah Ndege (KRA), David Ochieng, Luke Ochieng (KCB), Kenneth Wendo (Thika United), Andrew Mulunga (Bandari FC), Fredrick Onyango (Sony Sugar) and James Macharia (Karuturi Sport) have also linked up with the Brewers.
On Sunday, Ulinzi who fell two points short of retaining the big eared KPL trophy launch their operation to uncork the Brewers from the crown with a banana skin fixture against KCB who blew hot and cold last season at the City Stadium.
Benjamin Nyangweso’s side who failed to gather maximum points in their two games at hand at the back end of the past campaign have retained a majority of the team that has evolved to be among the hardest to beat in the KPL.
However, former Harambee Stars assistant head coach, Yusuf Chippo has joined them as the technical director charged with charting a battle plan to ensure the trophy returns to the barracks.
On the players’ front, Western Stima’s Kelvin Amwayi and fresh from high school Justin Onwong’a have joined their battalion alongside Wycliffe Ochomo, Anthony Muriithi, Mohammed Rio Hassan and Amon Mwamburi.
Vincent Onyango, Brian Kaka, Richard Chege, Joseph Kwambira, Marcos Wainaina and Mark Anyumba were deemed surplus to requirements and dropped from the side.
Gor Mahia the 13-time or 12-time domestic champions depending on whom you believe are also braced for a serious title tilt this season after national and club election intrigues stalled their challenge mid last season.
Cameroon national Anaba Anono is now firmly ensconced in the managerial hot seat and the demanding Green Army support will settle for nothing less than a title charge beginning in the first ‘Milk Derby’ of the season away to Thika United on Sunday.
K’Ogalo snapped up the signature of relegated Coast Stars shining midfielder, Rama Salim, Tanzanian custodian Ivo Mapunda and Sony Sugar leading marksman Hugo Nzangu among others.
With Francis Kimanzi taking up the Harambee Stars coaching job, endowed 2009 champions Sofapaka are keen to flex their muscle and land their second KPL title with a visit to their bogey team Karuturi Sports in Naivasha ushering in their season on Sunday.
Club president, Elly Kalekwa who has gone through Robert Matano, Sam Ssimbwa, Ezekiel Akwana and Kimanzi since they lifted the trophy has placed lofty ambitions on the shoulders of new coach, Salim Ali who fled the sinking Mathare United ship.
With no continental action to disrupt their season, the ‘Batoto Ba Mungu’ are in perfect shape to mount a spirited charge for the crown.
Not far down in the title mix are revered AFC Leopards who have regained their claws under Dutchman Jan Coops who took over mid last season. Their fifth place finish and intense recruitment offers Ingwe the platform to scale the heights of the competition they held sway in the 70s and 80s.
Since winning two successive trophies mid last decade, Oserian fell off the wagon and shot down the relegation trap door but they are now back with a bid to reclaim their lost glory after winning promotion.
Their credentials will be outlined when they face Rangers, another team who had to stem financial woe to finish in the top eight on Sunday.
ROUND ONE FIXTURES
Tusker vs City Stars (2pm, Nyayo, SuperSport 9 Live)
Muhoroni Youth vs Western Stima (3pm, Muhoroni)
AFC Leopards vs Chemelil Sugar (4pm, Nyayo, SuperSport 9 Live)
SUNDAY (All kick-off at 3pm)
Thika United vs Gor Mahia (Thika, SuperSport 9 Live)
Karuturi Sports vs Sofapaka (Karuturi)
SonySugar vs Mathare United (Gusii)
KCB vs Ulinzi Stars (City)
Rangers vs Oserian (Nyayo)