Zoo rebuilding after key exits, says undeterred Okoth
- When Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Zoo Kericho was promoted to the topflight in 2017, none of the players under Sammy Okoth's roster was known beyond the confines of the tea growing region, at least as we see it!
- Soon, like in any history of trailblazers, a few names stood out in the squad as the process of cementing a place in Kenya’s elite football league commenced.
- Okoth says, even with the loss of the key players, relegation debate is out of context for Zoo.
Jacob Icia @icia_jacob
When Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Zoo Kericho was promoted to the topflight in 2017, none of the players under Sammy Okoth’s roster was known beyond the confines of the tea growing region, at least as we see it!
Soon, like in any history of trailblazers, a few names stood out in the squad as the process of cementing a place in Kenya’s elite football league commenced.
The team, from Kericho, in Kenya’s vast Rift Valley region hitherto known for churning out some of the best athletes in the world, would present to the world and to Kenya’s football arena names like Nicholas Kipkirui, Isaac Kipyegon and Mike Madoya, who have hogged the limelight since making a name at the modest club.
Madoya, would, in fact, scoop four accolades in the KPL Gala Awards in the team’s debut season in the league, highlighting the commendable start Zoo, who at a point in the season had been barred from participating in the topflight through a court order.
Madoya was KPL’s Most Valuable Player, Midfielder of the Year, Fairplay Player of the Year and finest of the newcomers – New Player of the Year.
Fast forward to February 10, 2018 when 11-time KPL champions Tusker FC toured Kericho for a league clash, and Madoya arrives as an opponent for the first time at the field that lifted him to stardom.
The man who had netted 14 goals in the 2018 season for Zoo, was being relied upon by the brewers to muzzle his former employer.
A warm reception he was accorded, and though he could not register his name on the score-sheet, his former coach Okoth could not help commenting about the blow, the departure of his former marksman dealt him.
“We came to the top league and soon were making impact. We suffered a major setback at the end of last season when Madoya, Kipkirui and Kipyegon, amongst others, left. We lost about six players but the three have not been replaced completely, although we are gradually getting somewhere with the ones we have been shaping in their roles,” said Okoth, after the Sunday’s 0-1 defeat to Tusker.
His current coach Robert Matano says the stout, journalism graduate attacker, is yet to unleash his best at Tusker.
“Madoya has been deterred by injury. He has spent over a month out but today (Sunday) you could see his work on the ball was more of what we know him for. He will certainly give us more, as he fully regains his shape. He was received well here, of course he was an important player for them (Zoo) and realities of football especially players departures to rival clubs cannot be avoided…,” said Matano.
While Madoya was a key figure, Kipkirui was pivotal as well. Gor Mahia, the most decorated club in East Africa, came for his services and has already scored three goals for K’Ogalo in three competitive matches, including against giants Zamalek in CAF Confederations Cup.
“Look, in a club that has dreaded pressure and competition, he is already standing out as key player although he has not featured in many matches as it was here. It tells you about his quality, and the gap he left of course,” commented Okoth, who underscored his joy for the exploits his former boy is making at different club .
Kipyegon, a left-back who had caught the eye of former Harambee Stars coach Paul Put in the 2017 CECAFA Senior Challenge winning team, could not last beyond two seasons at the Kericho Green Stadium. Though he joined unsettled AFC Leopards, the rush for his signature emphasized his ability as Okoth opines.
“He (Kipyegon) was exceptional. It was not only Leopards who wanted him, but finally he landed there although they have had a shaky season so far. We have found able players in those positions but they have taken time to fit in.
“I still believe in grooming new players for the big assignment we have in KPL, so the local players I have picked are work in progress. I’m confident they will soon fit in the big stage, learning from the rest who learnt it progressively here, in the big stage,” averred the soft spoken Okoth.
Zoo surrendered all points to Tusker for the first time in their backyard, thanks to Timothy Otieno’s only goal in the evenly balanced clash. The defeat leaves them at 13 on 11 points after 13 outings, while Tusker are tied on 22 at the second on the table with champions Gor, the latter enjoying a match in hand.
Okoth says, even with the loss of the key players, relegation debate is out of context for Zoo.
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