NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 26 – Nairobi City Stars finally earned a return to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) after four seasons in the lower tier and Capital Sports has established that a well structured allowance system played a pivotal role in aiding the Kawangware based side back to top flight football.
The team had a base allowance of 5,000 shillings for every win picked up in their National Super League campaign. But here is the catch; the allowance would grow by Sh1,000 for every subsequent win with a ceiling set at Sh10,000.
A draw or a loss in between and the winning bonus would coil back to the original Sh5,000.
This proved to be a motivational driver for the team.
“This really improved the performance of the team because it was an incentive for players to win consecutive games and not want to roll back to the original Sh5,000. You find that in games we naturally could have drawn, we ended up getting wins. Case in point is our away games. By the time the league was being stopped, we had won 12 of our 13 away games and this was the incentive,” Patrick Korir, the City Stars CEO told Capital Sports.
And to add spice to the allowance scheme, players were assured of getting their allowance before the next game. The highest they ever paid for allowances in a month was Sh37,000 per player last October.
“It gave the players an extra edge to fight because they knew before the next game, they would get their allowance and for those who had things to do during the week, this was the money they looked forward to,” Korir further stated.
The allowance scheme was a fruit of the arrival of new sponsors into the team, the Jonathan Jackson Foundation who had acquired the team from previous owner Peter Jabuya.
They picked the team up in the 2018 season in April when they were struggling with relegation and the quick fix of organizational change saw Korir, a former Sports Journalist picked up as the CEO.
“By the time I was coming in as CEO, City Stars had played 20 games and in those, there was one win, eight draws and they had lost the rest. We officially picked up the team with 15 games to go and my task was to help the team avoid relegation. It was basically first aid,” Korir says.
With the June transfer window opening up, City Stars, under new owners took up the task to recruit some experienced faces to aid them off the murky waters of relegation and another season in the second tier.
Quickly, with his experience and prior knowledge of players from his time as CEO, Korir led the recruitment process that brought back the likes of Ebrimah Sanneh and the experienced feet of Noah Abich to help steady the team.
“We looked at the team and where they were struggling. There were no goals and the team was conceding a lot. When I heard that Abich was available and Sanneh was also training with the team, I didn’t think twice and we signed them.”
“They were vital and between the two of them, they scored 17 goals to help the team survive. We got 25 points from the last 15 games and we were assured of another season in the NSL,” Korir adds on.
From there, the new club owner had his target and wanted it achieved. He needed the team back to the Kenyan Premier League the following season.
The new CEO together with the management took up the challenge and planned for the new season with targets in mind.
“When we were planning, we had a comprehensive matrix in place. We went back five seasons and looked at how all the other teams had been promoted. We knew what points we needed to have after every five games. By the time we were in round eight, we knew we would be promoted because we had more points than all those other teams when they were promoted,” Korir explains.
Before the season, they did what had not been done for so many years before; a comprehensive pre-season. The team started off in Nairobi before moving to Western and Nyanza where they had more sessions complete with high profile friendly matches.
“We had a very structured training program and that really helped us. When we started the season, we had already picked up and it was just like a continuation,” Korir explains.
By the time the league was halted at round 18, City Stars were comfortably in the lead with a 10-point buffer between them and second placed Bidco United.
With the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) implementing the Force Majeure clause in its leagues and competition rules due to the stoppages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, City Stars still sat at the apex with 43 points, seven ahead of Bidco. The two were promoted to the 2020-21 KPL season.
Korir has disclosed to Capital Sports that they had already planned for their Premier League campaign in advance even before the 2019-20 NSL season started. They had recruited players with their first top flight season in mind.
Among the players to arrive before the campaign began include old boy Anthony ‘Muki’ Kimani, defenders Wycliffe Otieno (Kariobangi Sharks) and Salim ‘Shittu’ Abdallah (AFC Leopards).
He now says they will not dance to the script of overhauling the team, like most newly promoted sides do.
“We actually wanted to close our transfer business by April and were it not for this pandemic, we would be done already. We had identified a group of 18 players from our current squad who we wanted to keep for the KPL season and we want to see whether we can agree with two more to make it 20. We wanted to look at continuity in the team.”
“After that, we will sign only five more players, that is if we agree with the other two. Since we saw it would be difficult to start a youth team, we will have five more players between 18 and 20 to make a roaster of 30 for the KPL season,” he explains.
With a top-flight return for the first time in four years, the Kawangware based side is modest in its ambitions with a top 10 target set.
“I have looked at the history of City Stars in the KPL and the best season was 2009 when they had 43 points and finished sixth. We should try and better that but just top of my head, a top 10 target will be the minimum we are looking at,” he says.
With two ticks already in his box as CEO; avoiding NSL relegation in his first season in charge and achieving KPL promotion in his second, Korir will now take on the third challenge, to ensure City Stars do not drop back to the second tier.
He says he is ready for the challenge and so far has learnt a lot in his first ever assignment as CEO.
“I used to report about all these things; how a player has been dropped, a coach has been fired and all that and now it sounds funny that I am actually the one on the other end. It is a huge learning curve but I am loving the challenge,”
“My background as a journalist has made it easier but also, I have had to learn and understand a lot of things and being in this position has helped me understand football in a different way. It has taken me to a place in football that I had never been,” Korir, the founder of Soka football website and RagaHouse rugby site said.