NAIROBI, July 13 – Every sportsman’s dream is to be feted and when one is named the best, it means he or she has surpassed all others in excellence, achievement, quality and skills.
In football, the most popular sport in the world, players and coaches who are voted the best go on to raise their standards but in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) being named the finest has turned into a poisoned chalice.
The ‘curse’ of the annual Footballer of the Year Awards (FOYA) Awards has struck again this season, throwing aspersions to the integrity of the nomination process and on a wider perspective, fuelling the assertion the KPL is over-hyped.
Since the domestic topflight was remodelled and awards introduced in 2008, veteran striker, John Baraza, 38, is the only recipient who has matched being named the KPL Player of the Year with substance.
Gor Mahia goalkeeper, Boniface Oluoch formerly of Tusker and defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino managed to win awards at the glittering FOYA Gala twice in a row before going on to make headway in the game to join Baraza in the small list of those who have escaped from the ‘curse’.
Oluoch was crowned the 2011 and 12 shot –stopper of the Year, whilst Owino was named the Best defender in 2013 and 14 before departing for Zambian, side Zesco United where he has managed to flourish.
The inaugural FOYA Player of the Year winner, Francis Ouma (Mathare United/2008), George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo (Gor Mahia/2010), Kevin Kimani (Mathare United/2011), Ugandan Dan Sserunkuma (Gor Mahia/2012), Jacob Keli (KCB/2013) and the latest victim of the ‘jinx’ Ekaliani Ndolo (Sofapaka/2014) have failed to replicate top form in the subsequent season.
The midfielder who was the rave last year, bagging the Midfielder of the Year Award is struggling to start in Sam Timbe’s first XI, with only a goal to his name thus far, 18 games into the season.
Coaches have not been spared from the ‘hex’ with last season’s surprise top tactacian, Mike Mururi of Chemelil Sugar, facing the chop after a torrid sequence of eight games without victory with the club only a place above the relegation zone.
He continues an astonishing nightmare run for recipients of the Coach of the Year award who have not gone on to complete an entire season in the campaign after their moment of glory.
Club chairman, Robert Nyakundi told Capital Sport Mururi’s fate will be decided on Monday, just less than 24 hours after Team Manager, Meshack Muyonga was sacked following their latest 5-1 mauling to Tusker FC on Sunday.
“We have not fired Mururi, he is still our coach, you can’t fire someone for losing the match but we will meet on Monday to decide what to do because we are not happy with the performance of the team,” Nyakundi declared giving the beleaguered former club captain what should a short reprieve.
His keeper, Jairus Adira, who was also controversially named the Goal Keeper of the Year, has soaked in 25 goals between the Chemelil sticks, with all talk of making national team Harambee Stars a distant memory.
-Traces of the ‘curse’-
“When you are put on the spotlight everyone will be watching on you. I’m there now and I hope to even do better in the coming season. I know where I have come from and where I’m heading, it won’t be easy maintaining consistency but I will try my best.
“Football has become a full time paying job so if an offer comes and my club agrees I will go but for now I have six months left in my contract,” Ndolo said last year after being crowned KPL’s best but like those before him, he would rather return the gong to rediscover his touch that put him on the cusp of the national team.
At least, Ndolo did not move to foreign competition when he was the hottest property with his predecessors, Odhiambo, Kimani and Sserunkuma who ditched the KPL in the glow of their victories were forced to return after failing to replicate.
KPL standards have been put in question by the continued failure of its stars to make head away once they are out of the cuckoo nest.
Promising Odhiambo, who was spotted while playing for Thur Gem High School in the Kenya Secondary School Ball Games, was voted Young Player of the year on his debut KPL season at Gor in 2009 before bagging the top award in 2010.
He left the country for Denmark where he turned out for top fight side Randers FC for one season (2011-12) before joining Tanzanian side Azam FC for the 2012-13 campaign, failing to dazzle defences with the wizardly that had some here to brand him ‘Kenya’s Messi’ in glowing comparisons with the Argentine superstar.
Odhiambo returned to the KPL in January 2013 with his tail in between his legs after mutually terminating his contract with Azam to sign a six-month deal with Nairobi City Stars and after the contract elapsed, he signed with Armenian club Shirak FC but only stayed for six months before returning for his old stomping ground, K’Ogalo in 2014 where he remains a bit part player.
Kimani hightailed to Belgian’s third Division Bocholter (2012-2013) before moving to Greece for a half a season to feature for second tier side, APO Fostiras Tavros FC in the immediate aftermath of his KPL recognition.
After a spell without playing, he returned quietly back to the KPL in 2014 after signing for Tusker FC where he re-united with his former coach at Mathare United, Francis Kimanzi.
Former Gor talisman Sserunkuma, a feared goal poacher in the land failed to bench fellow Ugandan Emmanuel Okwi at Tanzanian Vodacom PL giants Simba and five months into a two-year deal, he parted company with his new side in May and his mooted return to K’Ogalo during the June transfer window fell through.
The man who led from the front as Gor claimed back-to-back KPL titles could not force his way back to the side that had exhausted their quota of seven foreign players as his fall from grace continues.
Keli did not escape either, his goals drying up in 2014 after joining dream club AFC Leopards having found the net more than anyone else in the previous season in KCB colours. He scored only eight in a season he came in for stick among the Ingwe faithful.
“After winning the Golden Boot and the Best Player in the domestic league, there is nothing more I can win here because I have already achieved, I only have to be very careful and patient.
“It’s all about playing time and it’s not that the previous winners have disappeared, I usually chat with Kevin Kimani and George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo. They are playing where they are and earning money it’s just that we don’t get information of how they are doing,” Keli, who recently joined Zambia side, Nkana FC said at his crowning moment in 2013.
Inaugural Coach of the Year winner, Robert Matano was shown the door only three months after leading Sofapaka to their first title on their KPL debut in 2009 with Ugandan Sam Ssimbwa brought in to take his place.
His successor in 2010, Benjamin Nyangweso (Ulinzi Stars) was demoted after another three months after helping the Militarymen win their fourth title. He was briefly re-instated before being officially fired in 2012 to be succeeded by Salim Ali.
Sammy Omollo, the next man in the queue, was the next causality but at least he lasted eight months only to be replaced by Matano who went on to lead the Brewers to snatch the title from Gor on the final day of the 2012 season for back-to-back victories.
Croatian, Zdravko Logarusic, the only foreign manager to have bagged the accolade in 2012 when he led Gor to GOtv Shield title and second in the league, parted ways with the champions’ mid-season.
He then watched as his successor, Scot Bobby Williamson, finally broke the 18-year wait for the crown as Gor fans went into frenzy.
Abdallah Juma, the 2013 winner did not last past three months after KCB failed to win a single game in nine at the start of the following season.
KPL Players of the Year
2008- Francis Ouma
2009- John Baraza
2010- George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo
2011- Kevin Kimani
2013- Jacob Keli
2014- Ekhaliani Ndolo
KPL Coaches of the Year
2009- Robert Matano
2010- Benjamin Nyangweso
2011- Sammy Omollo
2012- Zradvko Lofarusic
2013- Abdallah Juma
2014- Mike Mururi