T he 2017 SportPesa Premier League (SPL) lived up to its billing as one of the tightest and which elicited joy to some teams and sorrow to others. Among the teams that had nothing to enthuse about was Tusker who relinquished their 2016 gong to Gor Mahia amidst challenges in the technical bench which saw them lose title-winning coach Paul Nkata to Bandari.
Tusker’s struggles Indeed, 2017 is the year which Tusker would wish to forget in a hurry after they wound up the season in a dismal sixth position in the log. The indifferent performance by Tusker in the league was apparently the last straw which broke the camel’s back as the brewers, who had also won the 2016 GOtv Shield, had earlier on suffered the ignominy of elimination from the Africa Champions League by unfashionable Port Louis of Mauritius.
In the 2017 season, Ugandan tactician George Nsimbe who took over Tusker’s coaching reigns from compatriot Nkata at the start of the season saw his side lose three of their first opening games including a 1-0 dismissal in the Super Cup by Gor Mahia, before succumbing at the hands of Nzoia Sugar who had just been promoted to the league, as well as Thika United.
Nsimbe would later be shown the door and in came Francis Baraza who proved the catalyst for the team to be re-invigorated with some wins which came too little to late as the team off-loaded 10 players in a bid to turn around its fortunes in 2018.
Gor win 16th title
The same cannot be said of Gor Mahia who scooped an unprecedented 16 titles under the stewardship of expatriate coach Dylan Kerr who had just taken over from Brazilian Jose Marcelo Ferreira. Granted, it was Gor’s marquee signing of the likes of Jean Baptise Mugiraneza, Jacques Tuyisenge who had initially worked with Ferreira that won the club the treasured silverware.
And in between the season, Gor caused consternation after they went down fighting 2-1 to English Premier League (EPL) side Everton in a SportPesa Premier League derby in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. As Gor were winning the SPL title, Sofapaka exceeded expectation by winding up runners-up.
Sofapaka back from the dead
For Sofapaka, a second slot was a big boon to them considering that they were on the brink of elimination in a calamitous 2016 season. The breakthrough by “Batoto Ba Mungu” was largely contributed by the commitment by the team’s management to bring on board experienced Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa to replace David Ouma—who was tied up with coaching the national women’s side Harambee Starlets—besides roping in great playing talent amongst them Ugandans Ali Feni and Umaru Kasumba.
Like Sofapaka, Kariobangi Sharks who were among the league rookies punched above their weight after winding up in a respectable fifth position besides producing a player who would later clinch the Golden Boot Award in Masoud Juma, who netted 17 goals.
Post Rangers, under Sammy “Pamzo” Omollo performed comparatively better as they were placed fourth and will be remembered for having contributed two players, Patrick Matasi and Jockins Atudo, who were in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup winning side.
Muhoroni Youth and Western Stima were relegated with Wazito FC and Vihiga United promoted while Thika United and Ushuru are set to play a two-leg play-off to determine who will claim the final SPL promotion slot.
The year 2017 also saw football matters determined in court with the High Court ruling that the current 18-team league structure is illegal. This saw the temporary suspension of Nakumatt FC and Zoo Kericho from the league as the two were the beneficiaries of FKF’s decision to include two more teams. The two, however, received a reprieve when the Court of Appeal suspended the High Court ruling pending a hearing, allowing the 18-team league to continue.