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They came, saw and conquered: Football stars who faded fast

FOOTBALL By Rodgers Eshitemi | August 2nd 2020
Bob Mugalia playing for Tusker against AFC Leopards at Kinoru Stadium, Meru County in 2014. [Dennis Okeyo, Standard]

The Kenyan Premier League (KPL) has witnessed a number of both current and retired players who have either failed to live up to expectations or faded into relative obscurity after enjoying a standout top-flight campaign.

While some have been branded as one hit wonders, others have stumbled and lost their way and faded from the limelight after joining new teams.

From former Congolese-born Kenyan international Bob Mugalia to journeyman Paul Kiongera, Gor Mahia forward Edwin Lavatsa and former AFC Leopards captain Martin Imbalambala the list is endless.

Mugalia became an instant hit with Sofapaka helping them clinch the 2009 KPL title on their debut season.

The 32-year-old striker's impressive performance saw him earn a Harambee Stars call up after he was granted Kenyan citizenship.

Mugalia, who was once valued at Sh10 million in 2011 after Gor Mahia wanted to sign him, went on to make 15 appearances for the national team.

But Mugalia's career took a nosedive when he was sent out on loan to Tusker in 2014. This was followed by unsuccessful stints at National Super League (NSL) side Shabana, Muhoroni Youth and Wazito before rejoining his current club Shabana in 2018.  

Just like Mugalia, Kiongera was a household name in the domestic league while at KCB in 2012.

Though the midfielder is hugely talented, he seems to have failed to reach his expectations due to injuries.

The Kenyatta University graduate was unstoppable at KCB thanks to his ruthlessness in front of goal. 

After finishing the 2012 season as the club's top scorer (ten goals), Kiongera crossed over to Gor Mahia where he netted seven goals as K'Ogalo ended their 18-year title drought.

He looked set to join a German club after the expiry of his one-year loan deal at Gor but missed out on the opportunity due to nagging knee injury.

Kiongera was on the move again in 2015 to Tanzanian giants Simba SC after making an impressive comeback from injury at KCB.

He then picked up an injury forcing him to return to KCB after making only nine appearances for Simba. 

He joined AFC Leopards in 2016 after recovering from the injury before fading out.

Kiongera then resurfaced at Ushuru and then Irish lower tier side Killarney Athletic before signing for Wazito in February. 

Kiongera, who has since then parted ways with Wazito, said then in February: "This is a great opportunity to show the world what I can do and revive my career. It is normal to be criticised. Nobody can trust you if you can’t trust yourself. But I believe in my ability."

Ushuru FC's Paul Kiongera during playoff match against Nakumatt FC at Camp Toyoyo on Friday Oct 19, 2018. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

But it is a sad story of  how former AFC Leopards captain Martin Imbalambala's rising star drastically fell from grace to grass.

Though the ailing midfielder (partially blind) was unfortunate not to don the national team colours while at his peak, he can take solace in the fact that he won the 2013 FA Cup with Ingwe.

He then ditched AFC Leopards for Nakumatt in 2015 before having unsuccessful short stints at Kakamega Homeboyz and National Super League (NSL) side Nakumatt where he was released by both clubs over disciplinary issues.

Former AFC Leopards Martin Imbalambala during the interview at his home in Lisaswa village in Sabatia constituency. [Photo/Benjamin Sakwa/Standard]

Edwin Lavatsa is another player who burst onto the KPL scene before disappearing in a flash.

He became a fans' darling after scoring crucial goals to help the club win the FA Cup on his debut in 2011 and the 2013 KPL title.

Lavatsa got himself straight into the starting line up after joining the Green Army in 2011 from Upper Hill Secondary School.

He was also part of the Harambee Stars squad that won the 2012 Cecafa Senior Challenge in Nairobi.

But his career went downhill when he went to Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1 side MC Alger  in 2014.

He returned to Kenya in 2015 and signed for Mathare United before featuring for Bandari, Tusker and Kakamega Homeboyz.

Mathare United Edwin Lavatsa (R) and Llyod Wahome of Tusker battle for ball possession during their KPL match at City Stadium, Nairobi on Friday 31/07/15. Mathare won 1-0. [PHOTO:BONIFACE OKENDO]

KCB striker Stephen Waruru has also had his fare share of struggles after failing to replicate his performances at Ulinzi Stars with Sofapaka for two seasons. The 2011 KPL golden boot winner moved to the bankers in August last year.

While Mugalia and company appears to have failed to shake off the tag after initially setting high standards, a couple of other highly talented players led by  2017 KPL player of the year Michael Madoya (Tusker) and AFC Leopards duo of Vincent Oburu and Saad Musa (AFC Leopards) could be headed the same direction.

Others who seem to be equally struggling to reignite their careers at their new clubs include Amos Asembeka (Wazito), Faraj Ominde (Tusker), Eston Esiye (KCB), Victor Ndinya (unattached) and Dennis Oalo (Gor Mahia).

Madoya, who made the headlines after scooping four accolades at the 2017 KPL gala awards (Most valuable player, best midfielder, Fairplay player of the year and the New player of the year) following his scintillating show that saw him score 14 goals to help the Kericho-based side avoid relegation, has been a pale shadow of his former self since joining 11-time league champions Tusker in November 2018.

While a spate of injuries have derailed Saad Musa's promising career at AFC Leopards his teammate Vincent Oburu's inconsistency has cost him a regular place in the den.

Oburu was once considered as the  'next big thing' in the Kenyan football.

Wazito's Amos Asembeka has also blown hot and cold since leaving Sony Sugar for Tusker in January 2018 before switching to KPL returnees Wazito the following season.

It is the same situation with Eston Esiye who has failed to establish himself at KCB since joining them from Kakamega Homeboyz in two years ago.

Michael Madoya at Ruaraka Stadium on Friday 23/11/18. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]
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