NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 – Gor Mahia and Kariobangi Sharks shone brightest in the 2018 domestic campaigns with Gor clinching their record 17th Kenyan Premier League title while Sharks picked up their first ever silverware by winning the Football Kenya Federation Shield.
On top of winning the league, Gor Mahia enjoyed more perks of success having made history to qualify for the group stages of the CAF Confederations Cup for the first time ever, defended the SportPesa Super Cup in Nakuru and played against Hull City and Everton in Nairobi and Liverpool respectively.
The record Kenyan champions however ended the year with their charismatic head coach Dylan Kerr leaving the club for South African top tier side Black Leopards.
Coincidentally, Kerr’s first match in charge at Gor was the friendly against Everton in Tanzania in July 2017 and his last was also against the Toffees, in another friendly match in November in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
But despite his departure, Kerr left with a flowery CV and a place forever in the heart of Gor Mahia fans.
Gor kicked off the campaign with a good start, just but exiting the CAF Champions League. Gor lost 1-0 on aggregate to would-be champions Esperance in the first round of the African elite club competition and dropped to the Confederations Cup.
They made it to the group stages for the first time ever after beating South Africa’s SuperSport United on the away goal rule in the play-off round.
At the groups though, Gor had a superb chance to make it into the quarter finals, but a home loss to Rwanda’s Rayon Sport threw the dream into the furnace. Gor beat Tanzania’s Yanga home and away and picked a point against USM Alger at home and Rayon away.
A win or a draw against Rayon in Nairobi would have seen them make the quarters, but Gor lost 2-1 and complicated their chances. They travelled to Algeria needing a win against Alger, but ended up losing and dropping off the race for the quarters by a point.
At this time, Gor were embroiled in a bitter transfer row with Ugandan Godfrey Walusimbi who had ‘sneaked’ away to join South African side Kaizer Chiefs and for a long time, Gor’s lowly performance was blamed on the hole at left back caused by Jaja Walu’s departure.
But Gor still enjoyed some cherry toppings on their 2018 cake as they defended the SportPesa Super Cup with a 2-0 victory over Tanzanian giants Simba in Nakuru, a result that saw them earn the prestigious opportunity of travelling to Liverpool to face Everton FC in a friendly.
Gor became the first ever African club to play at the Goodison Park and though at the end of the 90 minutes they ended up 4-0 losers, the experience and memories picked up from their trip to the English city will forever be firmed in their memories.
Prior to travelling to England to face Everton, Gor Mahia played Championship side Hull City in the SportPesa Trophy game at the Kasarani Stadium, a match that they lost on penalties after a barren draw in regulation time.
It was a historic match with the Kasarani Stadium filled to the rafters as football loving Kenyans thronged the Kenyan football cathedral to watch the historic tie.
Also, Gor represented Kenya at the CECAFA Kagame Cup in Tanzania finishing third after losing to Azam FC in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Kariobangi Sharks picked up their first ever major silverware winning the Shield after edging out Sofapaka 3-2 in a thrilling finale at Kasarani.
Sharks scored two goals within the final seven minutes of the game and survived a last minute penalty to clinch the title and earn a slot in continental football for the first time ever.
The journey in continental football which started late 2018 was memorable and worthwhile, despite it ending in the first round after a 2-1 away loss to Ghana’s Asante Kotoko.
Meanwhile, KCB and Western Stima found their spots back in top flight football after gaining automatic promotion from the second tier National Super League.
Stima, relegated at the end of the 2017 season topped the NSL standings with KCB who were relegated from the top tier in 2015 finishing second.
Ushuru FC finished third and for a second consecutive season featured in the play-off where they lost to Mount Kenya United (previously Nakumatt FC) who earned survival.
From the Kenyan premier League, Wazito’s adventure in the top tier could not come up to a consecutive season as they were relegated having finished bottom of the pile and were joined by Thika United who had been flirting with the chop for the last three seasons.
And just as has been the norm, coaches came and went and as always, it was AFC Leopards who topped the turnover standings.
Ingwe started the season with Robert Matano, the tactician who had guided them to the FKF Shield title the previous year. However, the tactician was fired barely two months into the season and Tanzanian Dennis Kitambi took over.
However, Kitambi had to leave in May for Bangladesh and the club hired Argentine Rodolfo Zapata who weathered the Ingwe storm of politics till October when he finally gave in and left, Tom Juma picking up on interim basis.
At the end of the 2018 campaign, AFC hired Serb Nikola Kavazovic, but the coach left barely a month in the job ‘to attend to personal issues’. It was later to emerge that the former Township Rollers boss was sneaking in a move to South Africa.
When it finally worked out, he terminated his contract and would be assistant Marko Vasiljevic took charge.
Tusker FC started the campaign with Ugandan Sam Timbe at the helm, but the former Sofapaka tactician was fired in April.
Matano who had been working at Bidco United was approached for a second coming to Ruaraka and he heeded the call, pushing the brewers to a third spot finish having found them flirting with relegation.
Sofapaka as well changed coaches in the season.
They started off with Sam Ssimbwa who had been hired the previous season, but the Ugandan was shown the door a few months into the season and his assistant John Baraza took charge on interim basis.
The youthful tactician held forte until the end of the season when the 2009 champions appointed American Melis Medo who left Mount Kenya United.
Bernard Mwalala meanwhile moved from Nzoia to Bandari after the departure of Ken Ochieng with Nzoia appointing Nicholas Muyoti who left Thika after their relegation. Mike Mururi left Kakamega Homeboyz for Vihiga United to replace Edward Manoah.
At Homeboyz, owner Cleophas Shimanyula picked on 2016 league winning coach Paul Nkata as the man in charge.
Paul Odhiambo moved from Chemelil to Sony after the exit of Salim Babu while Francis Baraza who had worked as assistant to Timbe at Tusker rejoined Chemelil.
Only Gor Mahia, Kariobangi Sharks, Mathare United, Wazito and Thika United finished the season with the same coach that started with them.