Kenya: Dan Shikanda - the 'Traitor' Shaping the Future of AFC Leopards

25 October 2020

As a pacy and free-scoring left sided attacker, Dan Shikanda enjoyed successful stints at Kenyan Premier League giants Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards three decades ago.

Presently, Shikanda's mission is to help restore Leopards' lost glory so that Ingwe can stop their arch-rivals K'Ogalo, who have dominated the local football scene in the past decade.

And should he pull off this assignment, it will not be the first time that the father of six is at the centre in the heat of the moment between the two clubs that have been very successful in Kenyan football.

In an exclusive interview with Nation Sport at AFC Leopards' offices along Mombasa Road, Shikanda, 51, said that the most controversial moment of his footballer career was when he agreed to swap Ingwe for K'Ogalo against his family's wishes in 1987.

He said prevailing circumstances forced him to take the decision. Shikanda does not regret the move.

"I won three league titles each at Leopards and Gor Mahia. However, I enjoyed playing for Gor Mahia most," he said.

So what occasioned the controversial switch?

"Leopards had suspended me. The then Chairman Alfred Sambu had given me some time off to write my exams. But the management was not pleased that I played for my university team, the University of Nairobi's Red Brigade in a friendly match against a visiting team from Zimbabwe. I scored a hat-trick and we won 4-1," Shikanda said.

"Around the same time, Leopards lost 1-0 to Gor Mahia in a league match and some players were accused of throwing away that game. I was among the players suspended until further notice as a result of the loss. I decided to train with Wazee wa Kazi Football Club.

"As fate would have it, we played against Gor Mahia in a friendly match and the opposing coach liked me. Then Gor Chairman Job Omino, who doubled up as the Kenya Football Federation (KFF) chairman, ensured that K'Ogalo signed me. Leopards' management tried to rescind my suspension but it was too late. Leopards even offered Gor Felix Otieno and Richard Asabel instead of me."

Now as Leopards' boss, Shikanda wants players' welfare to be given top priority.

"I have been a footballer and I know the challenges. Footballers in Kenya struggle to earn a decent income yet they probably work twice as hard. They are our heroes but have nothing to show for it. To start with, I want to ensure that the players are paid on time. Players need to be appreciated for what they do," he said.

Bringing success to Ingwe might not be an easy task for Shikanda. Since he was overwhelmingly elected Leopards' chairman mid-last year, Gor have won another title but Leopards only managed a sixth place finish last season.

Further, K'Ogalo have emerged as the dominant team in Kenya, scooping 18 league titles compared to Leopards' 13.

Leopards' pre-season preparations have not begun well. Ingwe got a rude shock when they lost 1-0 to National Super League side Shabana during a one-off Mashujaa Day celebrations match at Gusii Stadium on Tuesday.

But Shikanda confidently asserts that he is the man to bridge the gap between Ingwe and K'Ogalo even if his tenure began on a rough note. He took over the helm after the club's former sponsors SportPesa left last August over a tax row with the government leaving a Sh5 million monthly bill.

"We've had a financial crisis. I never thought it would be this rough," he explained.

"There was no notice. The sponsor just left. We were left fire fighting all through and there were times I feared we would fail to honour league matches."

Fast forward, and the situation is slightly better, with Shikanda having brokered a shirt sponsorship deal with BetSafe.

"It is worth Sh40 million a year for the next three years. BetSafe gives us stability. We needed the cash to prepare for the new season and appreciate BetSafe management for agreeing to work with our brand," Shikanda said.

"People voted for me to win the league title. I have worked as an analyst at SuperSport. I've analysed the teams that won the league in the past 15 years. You will not win the league if the players are not paid on time. You also have to have an astute technical bench."

Besides reclaiming lost glory, Shikanda has an ambitious vision to make Leopards popular.

"We have a lean office of three elected officials. It is now easier to make and implement decisions. Our fans deserve more, they have pressure at home and at work and mostly attend matches to relax. We want to offer them entertaining football and success," Shikanda said.

"We've traced the 15 acres of land given to the club by former President Daniel Moi and we are looking to put up a secretariat, that will have an office, gymnasium and training ground in the next few years. This will save us huge costs each year.

"There's also a plan to hire a human resource manager, commercial director, logistics officer and a sales executive to market the brand and bring in money."

The former national team Harambee Stars player weighed in on the political challenges facing the development of football in the country leading to the delay of Football Kenya Federation (FKF) polls by a year after the process was twice nullified by the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT). The elections were finally held on October 17.

"The elections should be done earlier because the stalemate meant our game stagnated and sponsors shied away. Aspirants need to know that we cannot all lead at the same time. Court cases will never be the solution," he said.

Shikanda was born in Land Mawe estate in Nairobi in a family of five boys who all played football, and one sister. He grew up admiring the likes of former Kenya international Noah Wanyama.

He would later discover his love for football as a teenager and started playing in the dusty estate pitches.

Shikanda's siblings Geoffrey played for Posta FC, while Gregory was an active footballer in High School and college. His other brother Hezron turned out for Shamakhokho Babes, while the late Hezekiah was perhaps the most prominent, representing Leopards and the national team as a marauding right back before his tragic death in 2003 as a result of an accident on the football pitch.

"I miss him so much. He was one of my best friends and among the founders of KCB Football Club," Shikanda said.

Shikanda attended Dr. Kraph Primary School in Nairobi, Ofafa Jericho High School and Mang'u High School for his 'O' and 'A' levels before proceeding to the University of Nairobi where he graduated as a veterinary doctor.

Shikanda honed his skills at amateur side Black Mamba in the dusty Jericho grounds in 1983, before being lured by Leopards officials to join the club while still a university student.

He unsuccessfully contested the Makadara parliamentary seat in 2007.

Leopards have a brand new bus that was recently unveiled by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The club also opened a merchandise shop in Nairobi's Central Business District.

Adoring Leopards supporters can only hope that some of these achievements will be replicated on the pitch.

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