KPL TOP 8- The Sprint inside the Marathon

3 years since the first ever Kenya Premier League Top 8 match was played, Football fans once again gather to witness as the crème de la crème take on each other in 9 matches that ultimately culminates into an early trophy and medal haul for the ultimate winners.

57 goals, 26 games don’t express the complete narrative- it’s a race. A race against time, targets and survival. In this narrative, heartbreaks are the exact opposite of glee and downfalls the ignition of another year wait or who knows- even many more years if not watched carefully.

Ever since the day Fredrick Nyarombo got off the bench to score a second half winner against a fancied Tusker side that had finished a whopping 15 points ahead of Western Stima in 2010- the stage was set.

Sounds more like a David v Goliath narrative but the bigger picture actually lies in the detail. In my view, the top 8 was an additional motivation- a spark that woke up the desire for competition and respect.

A quick look at the point’s difference between KPL over the last four seasons depicts that whereas in 2010 when 38 points would easily bag a team the final KPL Top 8 slot, in 2011, 2012 and 2013- 41 points had become the ‘nirvana’ for Top 8 football as the table below shows.

 

Year Position Team Points
2010 Pos 8 W Stima 38
Pos 9 Chemelil 34
2011 Pos 8 Chemelil 41
Pos 9 KCB 40
2012 Pos 8 Mathare United 41
Pos 9 Western Stima 40
2013 Pos 8 Ulinzi 41
Pos 9 Chemelil 40

 

The reality of the excitement became so evident in the previous Kenya Premier League season as noticed, such that at game 27 with the title won and the relegated contingent half way confirmed; the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th positions had four alternate occupants over the last 3 match days. In the end Thika United who were at position 9 and Chemelil who occupied the 8th position at match day 27 had different positions to contend with- sadly Chemelil missed out by a point.

But it just doesn’t end there; the dynamics of this tournament mean that teams that qualify and hope to lift the title must contend with opposition at a different stage and state.

While a league is a ‘double round robin’ format with fixtures released well in advance allowing opposition proper times and techniques to handle games- the KPL Top 8 is a knock out tourney with only the home and away tie’s coming in the semi-finals. Away from that challenge, the fact that it’s played in the next season gives ‘ambitious’ sides time to tweak and prepare.

In my view this basically relates well with the school of thought that dictates- being a champions doesn’t matter, maintaining or bettering your position as a champion is all that matters- have in mind team strengthening and holding on to good players.

It’s in this respect therefore that while Rangers FC in 2011 stormed the Kenya Premier League in 2011, the 2012 KPL Top 8 tournament never really mirrored their ‘worth’ in the big boy’s league. Same can be said of Mathare United in the 2013 KPL top 8. Unfortunately both cases fell to Tusker FC’s perfection of means and confusion of targets.

Gor Mahia as Champions of the KPL Top 8 2012.

Gor Mahia as Champions of the KPL Top 8 2012.

The 2012 KPL Top 8 may further explain what the final sentence above means. See in this year, Tusker had just won the league previously and the general expectation was that Pamzo would go all out and take Tusker FC to the next level. However his eyes were elsewhere- probably wanting to retain the KPL (Tusker later did under Matano) and met a team, Gor Mahia (Read Logarusic) in the semi-finals who were hungry for silverware.

So while Gor Mahia would go on to later lose the title and win the KPL Top 8, unlike Tusker- they did it under no pressure.

It immediately then strikes you that over the last three editions of this Cup, taking all teams (12) apart from AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia, Sofapaka, Tusker , Ulinzi (Kind of) who have qualified for this tourney consistently- the problem for the other seven teams has been the ability to strike a balance. (Did you notice amongst the seven only Sony Sugar and Western Stima have reached the Semi Finals, Sadly none has ever won it even though Stima reached the final in 2011)

So unlike the Marathon where a mistake can be rectified over the course, the KPL Top 8 gives teams a one off opportunity to make the difference. For what some teams might lack in endurance and stamina, a perfect opportunity is presented in form of ‘short sprints’ but all embedded inside the aim of finishing as a winner on both fronts.

In this regard therefore, in KPL Top 8’s fourth edition- who will strike the perfect balance?