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Limping Leopards eye Barcelona model

AFC Leopards fans celebrate victory over Sofapaka FC. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

AFC Leopards fans celebrate victory over Sofapaka FC. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, July 1- AFC Leopards could adopt Spanish giants, FC Barcelona ownership model for posterity if the newly elected interim committee succeeds in pushing through proposals to change the organisational structure of the club.

Established in 1964, Ingwe are as old as the nation, with the club enshrining itself as one of Kenya’s grandest institutions. But, the sordid 2015 season thus far has been a rude wake-up call for the Leopards’ faithful with the team flirting with collapse.

An inflated wage bill and the unceremonious pull out of sponsors Mumias Sugar Company left their coffers dry leaving the club to stagger through the first leg of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season in farcical fashion.

Their woes, owing to their elevated stature, provided rich fodder for tragic-comical ridicule with unpaid salaries, players’ revolt, threats of match boycotts and the team being locked in a Mombasa hotel among the sick headlines that dominated local media.

Sordid tales of star players facing eviction for non-payment of rent filled acres of space with the transfer window sparking off a mass exodus of Biblical proportions as they sought to end their misery.

At the height of the malaise, elected chairman, Allan Kasavuli announced his resignation, igniting a managerial tussle that pit members of his executive and a team led by his predecessor, Alex Ole Magelo, that he put in temporary charge on his way out.

On Tuesday, the club held an Annual General Meeting where Magelo’s former deputy, Walter Onyino, was ushered to the chair alongside a team that will lay the groundwork ahead of December’s election where a new office will be ushered in.

“The situation was so bad at the club, I tell you,” eminent sports journalist, Robin Toskin, who was co-opted to the interim management as a member, told this writer.

So, will Onyino and his committee set in place measures aimed at rescuing this pompous institution from inevitable ruin following the failure, once again, of the politically instigated organisational model that almost slew the Leopard?

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– Rescue plan-

Leopards head coach, Zradvko Logarusic (left) and former chairman, Alex Ole Magelo in conversation ahead of the Sofapaka FC game. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

Leopards head coach, Zradvko Logarusic (left) and former chairman, Alex Ole Magelo in conversation ahead of the Sofapaka FC game. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

At the apex of Onyino’s rescue plan, is the push for the privatisation of the team to make it immune to the cycle of administrative circus where politicians and their puppets have used Ingwe as a footstool for higher office, often high tailing once their narrow objectives have been met.

“The Barcelona model is socially complex like AFC Leopards and it’s the best model to use. The idea is to have a number based on the membership of the club,” Onyino told Capital Sport on Wednesday as he sits down to lay the framework for the adoption of the model that has turned the two-time treble winning Catalan giants into a global superpower.

Unlike many other football clubs, supporters own and operate Barcelona. It is the second most valuable sports team in the world, worth $3.2 billion, and the world’s fourth richest football club in terms of revenue, with an annual turnover of €484.6 million.

However, like previous attempts before, convincing the so-called ‘wenyewe’ (owners) of Leopards who draw their bedrock support from Western Kenya to adopt the model that has served Barca since it was founded in 1899, where it has since grown to be a Catalan community emblem, will be a Herculean challenge.

“One drawback to the plan is the problem where no one tells the people to stop believing if it turns into a company, only few benefit. They should understand benefits will trickle down to all ordinary members,” the interim chair acknowledged.

The provisional management line-up is banking on the new face of paying club members, far removed from the traditional ‘wenyewe’, to finally push through much needed reforms besides adopting austerity measures to return the club to sound financial footing.

“Those people (politicians) attempted to stop yesterday’s (Tuesday) AGM and install faces who mirror the ‘owners of the club’. The new-face of our members who are drawn from across the country understand what the club needs.

“They have no ambitions (political) and they can squarely support measures we intend to put in place to ensure Leopards survive any changes in leadership. They are not going to bend backwards to encourage politicians,” Onyino asserted.

-Short term remedies-

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AFC Leopards’ Mohammed Diallo reacts after being red-carded against Sofapaka. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya.

With the club losing their first match of the second KPL leg 1-0 away to Thika United in an ill-tempered match that degenerated to chaos as police used teargas and bullets to disperse their irate fans, the interim team moved with speed to ensure Croat head coach, Zradvko Logarusic has a full squad to work with after the talent drain.

“We have 26 players and that is the number we want to sustain for wage bill management. (Austin) Ikenna is out on trials and should he return or not, we shall keep the squad at that.

“We have a couple of things in place and once they are complete, we will have a sponsor on board and restructure the management.

“There are those who pledged to assist the club and could not come forward during the Harambee (fund raiser) and we shall aggressively pursue them.

“One of the things we are looking at is to contract a sports marketing company with enough expertise to run the club’s financial interests on a day to day basis. They will bring their management skill to maximise our income,” the former vice-chairman explained the roadmap to rescue Ingwe.

Onyino maintains the current organisational set-up of domestic clubs needs to be overhauled to inject professionalism having experienced transfer deadline mad-rush as Leopards sought players to plug the holes.

And, he has a simple explanation to where the weather started beating proud Ingwe.

“We spent way too high to maintain the stature of our club by bringing in high profile signings and when Mumias pulled out, it compounded the wage problems,” he told.

“All is looking well for the Leopard,” he assured as he embarks on the mission to bring a falling giant back to their feet.

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