18 February 2019

Kenya: Why AFC Leopards' Den is Crumbling

Arrears cleared, allowances fully paid, morale restored! Yet AFC Leopards succumbed to their fifth straight loss in the league.

It was the third defeat on the trot under Rwandese Andre Casa Mbungo, who inherited a team that was lacking in confidence, having spiralled down the bottom three at his unveiling.

So bad was the situation that greeted his arrival that on a day he was meant to watch his new team from the stands, he ended up on the touchline.

With Mount Kenya United running rugged against Ingwe, he had to step down the VIP dias at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos, but not even his presence on the touchline could prevent AFC Leopards from losing.

"I didn't want to lose, but that is football. I know the fans are agitated and angry but they shouldn't expect miracles. We made mistakes in defence and lost too many chances. That is why we lost so we shall pick up from there," Mbungo said.

Then came the Mashemeji Derby, where an uninspiring display from Leopards, saw Gor Mahia dominate and carry the day.

Apart from Whyvonne Isuza's acrobatic shot in the second half, there was no other chance worth noting from the blue end. But Mbungo gave a glimmer of hope post match saying:

"It may not look like it, but I believe these players have what it takes to stage a revival in this club. I still have faith in them. We shall obviously add a few more talents in the coming transfer window but I think they played quite well today under the circumstances."

The Rescue team, formed on the eve of the Derby, seems to be in a supremacy battle with the elected officials that make the National Executive Committee. With roles poorly spelt out, the move seems to have brought more harm than good at the Den.

In fact, the results speak louder. Against Ulinzi Stars on Sunday, Leopards conceded early. Daniel Waweru's opener inside the opening five minutes tore apart Mbungo's game plan. It was the second time during his reign that they were trailing in the early exchanges.

Ulinzi could have easily have been 2-0 up by the half hour, but they failed to capitalise on Leopards' poor start.

Skipper Robinson Kamura ought to have seen red for pushing referee Samuel Mwaura while protesting a yellow card to Salim Abdalla. That summed up Ingwe's frustrations on the day and the hot head that was Kamura being withdrawn at the restart, is evidence that Mbungo has also taken over a team that lacks leadership both on and off the pitch.

After the 4-1 loss to Bandari on February 3, Kamura - in a video that went viral on social media - was at pains to explain to fans what was ailing the team.

Regrettably, he tore into his teammates specifically the strikers painting them as incapable, while absolving the defence, where he plays in, of any blame.

Since then, Leopards have conceded five goals and scored once in three matches. If Leopards had kept a clean sheet in all those matches, the returns would have read WDD as opposed to LLL.

And even as Mbungo re-organised his charges to put up a spirited fight in the second half against the soldiers, their fans threw another spanner to the works.

Hooliganism once again reared its ugly head in a match involving AFC Leopards.

Godfrey Ndeva, the first assistant, was the victim this time round as he was injured by a stone from irate fans. A section of fans later hurled missiles at police who sought to calm the situation by firing teargas to disperse them.

Running battles ensued after the final whistle but the fracas aside, AFC Leopards is now on a five-match losing streak and in real danger of slumping further into relegation zone.

"It has not been a bad game. Only that Ulinzi utilised the single chance they got and we were either unlucky or unable to use the many that we got," said field captain Isuza.

It remains to be seen where the recent incident of hooliganism leaves the club, given that a case is ongoing at the Independent Disciplinary Complaints Committee (IDCC) for similar occurrences against Nzoia Sugar last month where referee George Mwai was accosted by fans.

Part of the recommendations by Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa to clump down on hooliganism has been docking of points.

If Leopards are docked three points each for every incidence, it could leave them bottom of the log with four points. That would leave Mbungo and the club with a mountain to climb.

And with leadership lacking at the helm, the problems at Leopards will certainly persist. The mid-season transfer window is fast approaching and Mbungo has made it clear that his squad needs reinforcement.

As it stands, it's still not clear whether it's the NEC, the Rescue Team or the newly formed technical sub-committee that will handle transfers.

That is perfect recipe for chaos. As has been the norm in recent times, the transfer window has left the NEC divided as club officials scramble for a cut in signing fees by signing players without the approval of the coach.

Even as Mbungo "the Messiah" mulls solutions, the real problems at AFC Leopards need to be addressed. The band needs a new arm and the management needs to speak one language for AFC Leopards to sharpen its claws.

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