Tusker FC will no doubt want to quickly forget the just concluded 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season which has seen them fail in their attempt to defend the league title they won in 2016. The Ruaraka based side finished a dismal sixth on the log, a whooping 24 points behind Gor Mahia who claimed an unprecedented 16th league title.
They romped to the league title last year by winning 17 out of the 30 games they played while suffering defeat on only three occasions. Spending a total of 21 match days at the summit of the table, but this time round things haven’t been as straight forward for the Ruaraka based side.
With more teams to pick points from after the league was expanded to 18 from the previous 16 Tusker faltered heavily, finishing the campaign with 50 points from 34 games, 11 points below their tally in the previous season. The tally of 12 defeats in 2017 was four times more than last season’s as they finished with a negative goal difference for the first time this decade after conceding 34 times and finding the back of the net on 33 occasions.
Ugandan tactician George Nsimbe who took over from compatriot Paul Nkata at the start of the season saw his side lose three of their first opening games including a 1-0 dismissal in the Super Cup by Gor Mahia, before crushing defeats against promoted Nzoia Sugar and Thika United. The Nzoia game in particular showed a side in disarray as they were thumped 5-2 by a team constituting of largely inexperienced players in the top flight.
They picked their first points of the campaign on match day three after edging Chemelil Sugar 1-0 to set off a seven game unbeaten run that included commendable draws against Sofapaka, Ulinzi and Gor in a tough run of fixtures.
The Brewers also failed to make it to the group stage of the Champions League when they were dumped out at their first attempt by Mauritius champions AS Port Louis over two legs. The result continued the side’s continental dismay with the only time they had gone beyond the preliminaries of any continental tournament being back in 1994 when they reached the final of the CAF Cup winners Cup.
Failed Cup Exploits
In June during the mid-season break, Tusker was part of an eight team ensemble that participated in the inaugural Sportpesa Super Cup that was held in Dar es Salaam for a chance to play against English topflight team Everton FC. They failed to get out of the first knockout stage, losing 4-2 on penalties to Tanzanian giants Yanga SC after a barren draw.
They also failed to retain the GOtv Shield crown as they were dumped out at the quarter-final stage by National Super League (NSL) side Vihiga United, losing 2-0 in August - a month that saw them win only once in five games, managing only three goals.
The end was similar to how they started as they finished with three consecutive defeats again against Thika, Sofapaka and Ulinzi. Against Ulinzi on the final day of the campaign they were thumped 4-0 to conclude a season that had been lackluster in so many ways and had seen them fail to score in 15 matches all season.
No player reached double figures for the club in terms of goals with Michael Khamati (who managed five in the title winning campaign) finishing as joint top scorer tied at six goals a piece with influential midfield anchorman Humphrey Mieno. The team’s five strikers managed 18 league goals between them with last season’s top scorer Anthony Ndolo-already released from the club, finishing with zero goals after playing little part in the campaign.
Blaming their dismal 2017 show on player injuries can offer solace to some but in truth, the team has failed to turn up and Nsimbe’s earlier claim of an aged squad landed him in hot water but in truth the former Azam tactician hit the nail on the head. Seven of the team’s 29 players who started the season are over the age of 30 with custodian Duncan Ochieng the oldest at 38.
There are positives though to be taken from this season, the club’s youthful players have come to the fore when called upon and heading into 2018 Nsimbe or whoever will be in charge should focus on giving them a sustained run.
Boniface Muchiri, signed from Sony Sugar in the mid-season transfer window has been a revelation, with three goals and four assists in the season. The attacking midfielder netted a crucial goal against Nakumatt in October, coming off the bench to curve the only goal of the game that propelled them up to third during this period as they showed glimpses of their former selves. He was included in the KPL AllStars team that toured Spain in July.
Midfielder Jackson Macharia is also another player who should feature prominently next season. The former Thika United player managed one goal and three assists in his bit part role after having struggled with injury in the season. He was named the club’s Player of the Month for July after netting in the 1-0 win over NSL side Palos FC in the GOtv Shield last 32 stage. He was also in that AllStars team.
The transfer window officially opens on Friday 1 December and Ruaraka will sure be a hub of activity with plenty of ins and outs.