Why Leopards are quickly losing its spots, face SPL axe
13-team league champions have faced myriad problems this season.
Could AFC Leopards be headed to relegation again? Have the gods of football forsaken Ingwe or are there deeper issues in the den?
The last time Leopards were relegated was in 2006 and it took them three years to earn promotion back to topflight football.
It might be premature but these are some of the questions on the lips of many Kenyans keenly following the dwindling fortunes of the 13 time Kenyan champions.
Still, the riddle remains of what is actually bedeviling the club that once sent shivers among opposition teams and produced some of the best players for the national team, Harambee Stars.
Though what Ingwe is going through is a true reflection of the state of most of local clubs, it is hard to find some semblance in the current outfit with the squad that last won the league title in 1998 leave alone the early 90s squad.
And as evident from the current position on the log, second from the bottom, Leopards are struggling to be at their usual best this campaign after garnering a paltry ten points from 12 matches.
It is more shocking and devastating to those associated with the once mighty AFC as they are used to seeing them either challenge for the title or top three finish.
While Gor Mahia seems to have found its footing locally and continentally, AFC is literally staggering into oblivion. Leopards’ inconsistency in the recent past has paved way for Gor dominance in local football.
And just after hiring Rwandese coach Andre Casa Mbungo-their third coach in less than three months- Leopards’ matters appear to have gone from bad to worse.
And the post-mortem begins into what might have led the club to the red-zone.
High coaches’ turn-over/Technical bench instability
It is no longer news for AFC Leopards to hire and fire coaches. This has become norm in the den. Although Leopards possesses one of the best squads in the league, technical bench instability appears to have shattered their title dreams. In a span of three months, Leopards have hired three coaches. The trend appears to be made for result oriented reasons despite coaches having limited time to build a team.
While Serbian coach Nikola Kavazovic controversially ditched Ingwe for South Africa’s Premier Soccer League side Free States Stars, just before beginning of the season, his successor Marko Vasiljevic threw in the towel after nine matches in charge. The management then hired Andre Casa Mbungo a fortnight ago leaving many wondering how much stability could have been achieved if they stuck to one coach.
“High turnover of coaches is a big concern at AFC Leopards because these coaches don’t have enough time to implement their philosophies. Unfortunately, AFC management likes quick fixes. They should understand football is a process and to get the desired results, you have to be patient,” said former AFC Leopards striker Boniface Ambani.
Injury to key players
Injuries record in the den doesn’t bode well for success this season. Right from the start of the campaign Leopards have missed at least one key player in every match since December. Midfielder Edward Seda and winger Marvin Nabwire have both been ruled with knee injury for rest of the season, while Said Tsuma is still recovering from an ankle injury. Victor Majid has returned to full fitness training.
“Injuries have been revolving around dependable players, hence affecting our performance. Some of the players have even been sidelined for the rest of the season,” said a technical bench member.
Lack of defensive organisation/blunt attack
AFC Leopards backline is the second worst defensive record in the league so far. Though the best way to defend in football is to attack, defence remains the major concern for the limping Leopards. Ingwe have shipped in 18 goals in twelve matches, six goals less than bottom rooted Mount Kenya United.
Leopards’ defensive shape is not what it used to be some years back. Since the departure of captain Duncan Otieno to Zambian side Nkana, and with his replacement Said Tsuma still sidelined with an ankle injury, AFC have become prone to counter attacks from the opposition. Their vulnerability was exposed against Kakamega Homeboyz and Bandari, who beat them 3-0 and 4-1 respectively.
The club has lacked a ‘strong’ chairman and captain to lead both the management and the playing unit.
Going by Chairman Dan Mule’s absenteeism ‘character’ and captain Robinson Kamura’s recent remarks castigating his teammates in media that didn’t go well with a section of fans, there is a leadership crisis in the den. It seems the former captain Duncan Otieno left a huge void to be filled at AFC Leopards.
“Apart from elections, AFC Leopards have its owners who are fans. When the team is abandoned, the owners must take it back. The current chairman has abandoned the team and the players feel like they are orphans. He’s never around for the players. We are not here for a coup and gain mileage as alleged but to rescue the team,” said Rescue Committee Chairman Maurice Amahwa.
Unlike the late 80s and early 90s AFC Leopards squads where the likes of Wilberforce Mulamba, JJ Masiga and Joe Kadenge played for the badge, the current crop appears to be playing for personal glory, headlines or the next big move.
Though Leopards players are one of the best paid players in the league, it seems they are not committed and happy to put on the blue shirt in a way that helps the club win.
Majority of the players are doing less in reviving the club’s lost glory and helping it to succeed.
“Play for the badge and people will always remember the name on the back. We need to bring people who know the philosophy and the history of the team. Sometimes it’s not all about money, but the legacy you leave behind. The office might have their own problems, but players should ask themselves what are they doing to uplift the team,” observed former AFC Leopards striker Boniface Ambani.
Lack of enough depth/bungled transfer
This isn’t something new about AFC Leopards. Instead of strengthening their central defence and striking, Leopards went for other positions.
Their inability to sign centre backs and natural strikers have exposed many weaknesses in AFC’s squad with their opponents fully capitalising on that.
The departure of lead striker Ezekiel Odera to KCB was a big blow to the team. Unfortunately, the club didn’t sign a proven goalscorer to replace Odera.
“It’s very sad to see a team of AFC Leopards stature struggling. I feel for their fans. Ingwe is a big team and I’m confident they will not be relegated,” said former AFC Leopards coach Luc Eymael.
It is evident the AFC Leopards players are struggling due to lack of confidence after a stuttering start to the season.
The players appear to have forgotten how good they are during the club’s torrid run of form. Leopards have been in the same situation before, but managed to overcome it. The team has won only two of the twelve opening matches of the campaign.
And to get their season back on track, the players need a confidence boost. It might be too early to talk about relegation, but the team needs to be consistent.
The players must remember their qualities to turn around the recent dire string of results.
“It is difficult to give a honest opinion because I’m not in Kenya but I think there is definitely a problem either with the players/technical bench or the management. This seems to be the same situation, the team was in when I took over but we started winning games and finally survived,” said former AFC Leopards coach Luc Eymael.
There is talk that the team has been surrounded by many brokers, who have been enriching themselves through unscrupulous deals (players’ transfers). The brokers have brainwashed the officials to an extend that they cannot listen to anyone else. Some of the club officials are allegedly involved in the players and coaches’ transfer deals.
AFC Leopards fans have been a big letdown to the team. Majority have literally distanced themselves from the club. They only associate themselves with the team when it is doing well, but once it dips in form, they abandon it. Some fans have even switched their allegiance to rival clubs.
Pundits say Ingwe fans should borrow a leaf from Gor Mahia supporters who stand with the team during tough and good times.
Teams don’t fear AFC Leopards anymore
AFC Leopards have become a shadow of its former self. No team has respect for AFC like they did in the 80s and 90s when Ingwe used to dominate Kenyan football. Leopards has been turned into an average team, competing for nothing.
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