BY DAVID ONJILI With 456, the 2016 Sportpesa Premier League finally came to an end on November 19 with Tusker FC piping their closest rivals Gor Mahia to the title with a 1-0 win at Nyayo National Stadium to secure the title. Gor Mahia as the defending champions had to settle for second spot with Ulinzi finishing third. Ushuru FC and Nairobi City Stars were relegated to the National Soccer League. The winners Sofapaka FC staged one of the greatest comebacks ever experienced in the local league, to avoid relegation, finishing at number 14 out of 16. Collecting a maximum of 11 points from a possible 18 in their last six games. This impressive run that included a draw against second placed Gor Mahia on September 25 and another impressive high scoring yet controversial draw with Mathare United at Nyayo National Stadium on November 15. This was followed by a 2-1 win on October 21 over Muhoroni FC and a 3-2 win over former league champions AFC Leopards. Their coach and former Kenyan international Francis Baraza helped mastermind an incredible turn around bearing that the club suffered financially throughout the season. During a league game to Kisumu, players were left stranded for days and on empty stomachs until the intervention of well-wishers enabled them get transport back to Nairobi. Hopefully 2017 is a stable year for them as rumours have it that their president, the flamboyant businessman Elly Kalekwa is back into the club affairs are a positive. Erick Ouma The young Gor Mahia left back playing in his debut season was a joy to watch. He dazzled with his runs earning many plaudits and rightly so, this earned him a call up to the national team. He was one of the revelations of the season. One of the best games was against their arch rivals AFC Leopards at the Nyayo National Stadium, a game Gor Mahia won by 2 goals to nil. Eric Ouma gave one of the best displays as a winger, constantly terrorising the Ingwe defence and it was no surprise he was on the winning team on the day. Henry Omino and Paul Nkata A respected and seasoned tactician, Mr Omino was able to steer his side Western Stima into a respected 6th place finish in the league. A former Agro Chemicals coach who was once voted as the 2nd runners up coach back in the year 2008, it was no mean feat especially considering the financial muscle of the teams ahead of him in the league. His side too was amongst the best teams only behind likes of Tusker FC on the travel, Western Stima only lost an incredible 2 games and they must seek to transform their 9 draws on the road into wins if they are to challenge for the title next season. Leading Tusker FC to a league and cup double was Ugandan tactician Paul Nkata. A man once ridiculed and deemed unworthy of coaching in the Kenyan league. For him to lead his team to the double is no mean feat. The soft spoken tactician surely proved his critics wrong as his signings of Sempala steadied his midfield and Allan Wanga came through for him with important goals every time. The losers While a number of teams and players made gains in the season, several teams did actually regress and notable names were Bandari FC, Mathare United and AFC Leopards. Bandari Despite having good sponsorship from Kenya Ports Authority, recruiting massively before the season started, they ended up finishing in a disappointing 11th position and scoring only 28 goals from 30 games after spending huge cash on strikers like Dan Sserunkuma was disappointing. This was in all honesty a sour return for the club, internal wrangling and sabotage made their coach Twahir Muhiddin the first casualty and several players were shown the door. Seasoned players within their ranks never lived up to the expectations and this was very sad. AFC Leopards Fact that AFC Leopards is one of the most supported local clubs cannot be disputed, yet they have never won the league for almost a decade now. This was a new season yet same story as always with the club. Cases of factions within the club were neither new, the playing unit itself was riddled with some players accused of match fixing (a claim later refuted by club officials) and of course there was the famous story where a number of their players were suspected to have contracted sexually transmitted diseases. All this would make you think this was a scene from the Kardashians yet this is a professional football club. They had such a dismal run in the second leg and as usual firing their head coaches until the season ended with Stewart Hall as the man in charge. What ails AFC Leopards are the many off the field issues that affect the club, from poor management, to player sabotage, to interference of the technical bench’s work by management. Hopefully they start a new chapter on this front. Mathare United Despite the fact that coach Francis Kimanzi was pleased with the season and claimed that he had achieved the targets they set out to, I felt that this was a rather poor season from ‘The Slum Boys’. While 2 points separated him from 3rd placed Ulinzi, finishing 7th for Kimanzi felt like a letdown. The many draws his side had (11 games) surely need to be turned into wins in the next season. There was a time in the season that they seemed to be challenging for the title and that’s why coming 7th seems like a big letdown. Football losses and Coach Robert Matano undergoes cancer treatment. On September 9, local soccer did lose an icon in James Aggrey Siang’a aged 67, a former national team goalkeeper in his days turned coach. Mr Siang’a had coached several clubs including Simba of Tanzania, Express of Uganda and Gor Mahia where he too managed to mentor and train many players. Another notable death was that of former player Zablon ‘Pro’ Otieno. A former midfielder in his playing days for Gor Mahia, he was later made an assistant to 1st team coach Anaba Awono before he would later make a name for himself as a youth coach at the same club where he moulded many players and helped the Gor Mahia under 20 side win successive provincial titles. Nick-named The Lion, current Ulinzi FC coach Robert Matano endured a tough time later on in the season as a result of kidney failure. It was the intervention of well wishers in the football fraternity, corporate, the soccer federation that joined hands to help him raise funds for treatment. This also painted a picture of the state of health and contracts that clubs in the league offer players. How such a successful and seasoned coach like Mr Matano would fail to have medical cover as coach of a top team like Ulinzi left many baffled. We at the Nairobi Business Monthly pay our condolences to the departed and for coach Matano, full recovery for the upcoming season. Conclusion The 2016 Sports Journalists Awards were also conducted, shrouded in controversy it was a perfect way to end the footballing calendar. The following won in various categories Most Valuable Player: Kenneth Muguna – Western Stima New Player of the Year: Eric Ouma – Gor Mahia Golden Boot winner: John Mark Makwatta – Ulinzi Stars Coach of the year: Paul Nkata – Tusker FC Defender of the year: Joakins Atudo – Posta Rangers With increased sponsorship deals in the league and interest in the game too, we can only look forward to a better and professionally run 2017 league. Players’ rights like better contracts and medical care should be championed and an increase in the prize money for the overall league winner need to be looked into.