Nzoia United, the 2016 National Super League (NSL) champions are keen to impress in the Premier League next season.
The Bungoma based club return to top flight football for the first time since 2004. Bernard Mwalala, the Nzoia coach believes he has molded a side equal to the task and targets finishing among the top five.
“I believe my boys are ready for the big stage. It has taken hard work and patience to get here,” Mwalala told Sports News Arena after his side’s weekend 2-2 draw with Nairobi Stima.
The 2002 Kenyan Premier League champions have been on the ascendancy since Mwalala, a former Coastal Union assistant coach was appointed in December 2014. The coach attributed the success to a never say die attitude from his players.
Nzoia have had a superb run this season losing only once in 37 matches, a shock 2-1 result away to Nakuru All Stars. They lead the NSL standings with 92 points, 12 ahead of second-placed Kariobangi Sharks with two matches left.
“What was important to us this season was not even finishing off unbeaten but getting promoted. We analyzed our season in January basing on how we performed last year and we knew this was a possibility,” Mwalala offered.
Coming into the top tier, Nzoia boast of a decent record against several KPL clubs who they have played in the GOtv Shield. They eliminated Tusker FC last year, eliminated Gor Mahia this year and narrowly lost to Ulinzi Stars on penalties.
“The performances we have given against Premier League clubs show what kind of a team we have. What I love about my players is that we don’t fear anyone. This is the same attitude we want to carry on with,” the young coach noted.
Mwalala says he will not be heavily recruiting and will keep faith in his young squad, most of who are in their early 20s. He could sign three new players who have Premier League experience.
“These same players have dedicated their service for the club very well this season and I know they are capable to do the same in the Premier League. My policy has always been working with young players,” Mwalala affirmed.
Despite the confidence, some of the top players could leave. Already, midfielder Lawrence Juma is targeted by AFC Leopards.
Both Mwalala and club chairman Yerpets Mokua Mokoua say they will not come in the way of any player who wants to leave the club. “If a player wants to leave, I don’t think we can block them. The only thing I will do as the coach is to advise them accordingly and let them make their own decisions,” Mwalala offered.
Meanwhile, Kariobangi Sharks, Zoo Kericho and Nakumatt FC who are placed second, third and fourth could be promoted if FKF expands the Premier League to 18 teams.
The Sports Tribunal will on Tuesday have an inter-parte hearing on a case presented by the KPL management seeking to block the expansion.
Posta Rangers have appointed Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo, the former Tusker FC and Sony Sugar tactician as the club’s new coach, beginning December 1.
Zedekiah Otieno, the immediate former coach is now the Technical Director, according to the club’s top hierarchy. Otieno and his then assistant George Maina were sent on leave towards the close of last season due to the club’s dwindling fortunes.
Posta Rangers managed to win back to back matches and finished fourth under the tutelage of former players Pascal Ochieng and Lawrence Webo.
“We have had talks with Omollo and we have been impressed with his workmanship, his past record and his success in the various teams he has worked with,” John Tonui, the club chairman told Sports News Arena.
The fate of Maina, whose contract with the club ends on December 31 is uncertain.
Omollo returns to the Kenyan Premier League for the first time since 2013 when he left Sony Sugar. He then went on to work with lower tier side Zetech University before joining his former club in India, East Bengal to work as an assistant coach.
He returned mid this year and has been working with Zetech as well as Jericho All Stars. His new employers have given him a minimum target of finishing in the top five.
“Not that we did not perform well last season but we need to move forward and improve. The minimum we expect is to make to the top five. We know the team has that ability and with the credentials of the new coach plus Zedekiah’s support, we can even do better,” Tonui added.
In his debut season in the Kenyan Premier League, Kenneth Muguna, Western Stima’s midfield sensation has earned three nominations for this year’s Player of the Year Awards to be held on December 14 in Nairobi.
The youngster, 19, also named the August player of the month has been nominated in the Most Valuable Player (MVP) category after his impressive performances for the club this term. He has also been shortlisted in the midfielder of the year category as well as the new player of the year category.
“He is a brilliant young boy and I am happy for him. We gave him a chance in the team and he has taken that chance with both hands. I am pleased for him because he totally deserves it. He has held the bar high for himself in his debut in top flight,” Henry Omino, his coach at Western Stima told Sports News Arena.
Tusker FC duo of Humphrey Mieno and James Situma have also landed two nominations each. They have been shortlisted in the MVP award after playing a central role in Tusker’s run to a season double.
Situma, the brewers’ captain, has also been nominated in the defender of the year category. His team mate Mieno has been named in the shortlist for the midfielder of the year award.
Erick ‘Marcelo’ Ouma, the sensational Gor Mahia left back has also been nominated for the prestigious MVP award as well as the new player of the year. The 20-year old broke into the Gor first team midway through the first leg and has since established himself firmly on the left side of Gor’s defense.
The Kakamega High School alumni has also cemented his place in the national team.
Ulinzi Stars forward John Mark Makwatta who has won the golden boot is the final name on the five-man shortlist for the MVP, won last year by Michael Olunga.
Makwatta scored 24 goals in all competitions this season including 14 in the KPL and is seen as the front-runner for the award after almost single handedly carrying Ulinzi through a tough season.
In the midfielder of the year category, a stiff challenge is expected with Mieno battling for the top honor with Muguna, Mathare’s Whyvonne Isuza, Francis Kahata of Gor Mahia and Hillary Echesa of Chemelil Sugar.
Last year’s winner Eric Johannah hasn’t quite replicated the same performance especially with his season being disrupted by a month-long trial period in Norway.
Full list of nominees
Most Valuable Player: John Makwatta (Ulinzi Stars), Erick Ouma (Gor Mahia), David Okello (Tusker FC), Kenneth Muguna (Western Stima), Humphrey Mieno (Tusker FC)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Patrick Matasi (Posta Rangers), Boniface Oluoch (Gor Mahia), David Okello (Tusker FC), James Saruni (Ulinzi Stars), Michael Wanyika (Kakamega Homeboyz)
Defender of the Year: George Owino (Mathare United), Noah Abich (Sofapaka), Musa Mohammed (Gor Mahia, Joackins Atudo (Posta Rangers), James Situma (Tusker FC)
Midfielder of the Year: Kenneth Muguna (Western Stima), Wyvonne Isuza (Mathare United), Humphrey Mieno (Tusker FC), Francis Kahata (Gor Mahia), Hillary Echesa (Chemelil Sugar)
New player of the Year: Erick Marcelo Ouma (Gor Mahia), Kenneth Muguna (Western Stima), Cavin Odongo (Posta Rangers), Jacques Tuyisenge (Gor Mahia), Oliver Maloba (City Stars)
Coach of the Year: Paul Nkata (Tusker FC), Francis Baraza (Chemelil Sugar), Henry Omino (Western Stima), Jose Ferreira (Gor Mahia), Zedekiah Otieno (Posta Rangers)
Fair Play Team of the Year :Sony Sugar, Mathare United, Gor Mahia, Kakamega Homeboyz, Western Stima
Fair Play Player of the Year: Jared Obwoge (Chemelil Sugar), Francis Kahata (Gor Mahia), Amos Asembeka (Sony Sugar), Ali Bhai (Kakamega Homeboyz)
Team Manager of the Year: Moses Jobita (Western Stima), George Opondo (Tusker FC), Pascal Ochieng’ (Posta Rangers), David Mwangi (Ulinzi Stars), Hillary Ouma (Chemelil Sugar)
Centre referee of the Year: Anthony Ogwayo, Davies Omweno, David Mulongo, Andrew Juma, Badir Yassin
Assistant referee of the year John Alando, Gilbert Cheruiyot, Steven Oduor, Peter Sabatia, Mary Njoroge.
sports News Arena