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Thursday, May 24, 2012

AFC Leopards on the Slump - What Needs to be Done

The dance at Leopards is slowly fading away
The Kenya Premier League went into the mid-season break last weekend with 2009 Champions Sofapaka sitting comfortably at the helm, three points above defending champions Tusker. With the closure of the first leg of the season, the teams in Kenya’s top division will have a chance to rest, albeit a bit, and also get to bolster their squads in the June transfer window.

However, the end of the first half of the season couldn’t have come at a much better time for Jan Koops-led AFC Leopards side who are sitting third, 6 points off the pace. The Leopards were on a roll during the early stages of the season going on an unprecedented 10-match unbeaten run that included seven wins and only three draws.

“The Invincibles”, a term commonly used to refer to the Arsenal team that went unbeaten the whole season on their way to winning the 2003-04 English Premier League title, became the vocabulary that most of the club’s ardent supporters employed to describe the club. And indeed they looked invisible.
A barren draw against Chemelil in the first game of the season was followed by a 2-0 win over Mathare United, with Ugandan import Jimmy Bageya and Bernard Mang’oli both on target. Promoted side Oserian provided the opposition in the next match but they were also swept aside in another 2-0 win, prodigal son Allan Wanga opening his account and Mike Baraza adding the other to propel Ingwe to the top.

Another promoted side, Muhoroni Youth, put a spirited performance in the third match but the Leopards were in no mood to drop points coming from a goal down to win 2-1. Wanga scored on his second successive match and Victor Ochieng’ squeezed in the winner.

Koops’ charges looked unstoppable to say the least. So much so that they were clear odds on favourite to beat a Gor Mahia side that was languishing at the bottom, or thereabouts, in the next match. However, against their numero uno nemesis, K’ogalo upped their game when they needed to and ensured the derby spoils were evenly shared at the end of a high-tempered match that was suspended for minutes due to crowd trouble.

That proved to be the only blip for the 12-time champions as they clawed back and embarked on yet another impressive winning run. Western Stima were beaten by a Jonas Paco Nahimana brace as the Leopards came from behind, again, for a 2-1 win.

A Roy of the Rovers performance saw Rangers mauled 6-2 in the highest scoring KPL game to date. Another 2-1 win away to Thika United and you would have been forgiven for saying Ingwe were on a league of their own. The statistics were as good as they come for any team deserving of being called champions elect. 26 points from a possible 30, unbeaten in 23 consecutive KPL matches, top of the table by 6 points and playing like they were possessed.

But that’s as far as they went. The joy ride had ended. The proverbial cookie had crumbled. A 2-0 loss to defending champions Tusker at Mombasa’s Mbaraki Stadium may have broken the 23-match unbeaten run but it was easily dismissed as a minor setback. But then came a 1-1 draw with Karuturi Sports, an embarrassing 3-0 loss to City Stars, a team that just escaped relegation last season, and doubts started creeping in.

Add the boardroom wrangles and court tussles and the Leopards have transformed from an aura of invisibility to that of a sorry almost laughable downward slump. The 2-1 loss to Sofapaka in their last match before the mid-season break didn’t come as a surprise. Did it?

It's funny how fortunes can and do change in football overnight. Leopards now look more likely to lose the next game more than win it and that's not something you would have said with 10 matches into the season. All is not lost though.

With the league resuming on June 23rd, Leopards still have the a lot of time on their side to rediscover and regain that mojo that made them the envy of all the teams in the division. The fans have not stopped singing, the coach looks barely distracted by the boardroom instability, the players are there so there's really not much job to be done in the transfer window.

It seems, however, that the players have lost that little bit of confidence. They are not believing anymore. The motivation looks as good as dying, if not dead. And this, more than anything else, is what needs to change. The players should overlook the endless wrangles and concentrate on doing the job, for the love of the club and for the love of the loyal support. That's all.

But right now, the walls seem to be "tumbling down" as Carol Radul puts it here.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!