From FIFA and FKF sanctions, infighting among the executive to poor performances on the pitch, AFC Leopards’ 2023 was bad in every aspect, which leaves them fearing relegation
For AFC Leopards fans, the year 2023 is one they would wish to forget quickly.
It is the year that everything really went wrong. Granted, 2022 or even the last decade, was not any better, 2023 perhaps surpassed them all.
In 2023, Leopards moved from one crisis to another. They came into the year still under a transfer ban with former coach Patrick Aussems forced to do with a thin squad that heavily relied on youth.
Still, they started the year well, picking up 10 wins, three draws and as many losses in 16 matches between January and March before things started to go south.
Until then, Aussems had got them challenging the top teams but when fatigue and injuries kicked in in April, they fell off, managing five wins in their next 16 games, with seven defeats and four draws.
One of that losses was handed over in the boardroom after fan violence marred Leopards’ clash with Kakamega Homeboyz in April where the match was abandoned after a referee was attacked and objects thrown on the pitch.
Sanctions & infighting
It saw Leopards handed heavy sanctions by FKF, which included a Ksh500,000 fine while playing their next five home matches in an empty stadium.
Leopards would finish the season a disappointing seventh in the league while any hopes of silverware were extinguished when they lost to Kakamega Homeboyz in the FKF Cup semi-final.
That cup loss extended their trophy less spell to six years but there was hope that their transfer ban was coming to an end and they would be able to write their wrongs in the offseason.
However, it was not smooth sailing among the Leopards hierarchy during the season as infighting among the executive saw chairman Dan Shikanda and Secretary General Gilbert Andugu pull in different directions which effected a lot of decision-making.
Things reached a head during the club’s AGM in late June where the meeting was aborted after attempts to amend the constitution proved futile following heckling among rival groups.
By this time, the division had already infiltrated into the playing unit with their poor form between April and June attributed to a number of go-slows over delayed salaries and incitement among some players which saw former captains Eugene Mukangula and Peter Thiong’o stripped off their roles.
Aussems adds to their woes
It was reported that the off-field issues had not gone down well with Aussems and few were surprised when the Belgian coach quit in July at a time some had hoped he was set to make the squad strong with some signings.
Aussems’ departure turned to be more than just that as it later emerged that the coach was owed more than Ksh20 million, a matter that had reached FIFA who slapped Ingwe with another transfer ban until they settled the pending payment.
Hamstrung by that, Leopards reacted by promoting Aussems’ assistant Tom Juma into the head coach role as they sought a way out of their mess.
Poor & late recruitment
All this while time was running out to make new signings. By the time they reached a payment plan with Aussems, it was two weeks to the start of the new season, leaving Juma with little time to prepare his team while the club sought to sign new players.
Leopards would end up registering 20 new players, those acquired in the offseason and some who had been agreed on prior, but instead of solving their problems, it actually created more.
With many new players who were not familiar with each other due to limited time together, Leopards entered the 2023-24 season unprepared and they have paid the price.
A poor start to the campaign saw Juma sacked after just six games, having failed to secure a win, only for the club to replace him with Tomas Trucha, a man who quit the club after one month in 2020, citing threats to his life.
Trucha’s arrival did not give Leopards the bounce they needed as after starting with a loss to Bandari, he would secure the club’s first win of the season on matchday eight against Nzoia Sugar.
Another coach, same problems
However, Leopards reverted to type again and had to wait for six games before they got another win. Their 2-0 victory against Kakamega Homeboyz on December 17 came after a run of four draws and two defeats.
Ingwe therefore will end the year with just two wins from 16 games which leaves them 14th on the 18-team table with 15 points, just two more than bottom-placed Nzoia Sugar.
Shikanda recently came out to admit that the transfer committee the club put in place did a shoddy recruitment job and they are now looking forward to the January transfer window to undo the mistakes of four months ago.
It remains to be seen what Trucha will be given to begin the year with but it is hard to see a quick turnaround even in 2024.
Leopards end the year as the team with the fewest wins this season (two), most draws (nine) with only Muhoroni Youth (seven) having scored fewer goals that their 12 so far, showing just how bad they have been in every aspect in 2023.