Zapata reveals the one Ulinzi Stars player that could have led Leopards to the league crown

Former AFC Leopards head coach Rodolfo Zapata believes that he could have led the club to a first league crown in more than 20 years if he could have added Ulinzi Stars’ Elvis Nandwa to the squad that he had assembled during his tenure in 2018.

Zapata, now with Botswanan champions Township Rollers, spoke exclusively to Soka from his base in Gaborone where he revealed his admiration for Nandwa who he feels could have slotted in seamlessly at the club and given Leopards the chance to break Gor Mahia’s local dominance and claim a first league crown since 1998.

Six months

The Argentine was appointed by Leopards in April of 2018 as Dennis Kitambi’s successor and lasted six months before being relieved of his duties in September after a string of poor results led to a falling out with the club’s hierarchy.

To him, the poor performances were not as a result of him but rather “politics” within the club which proved a major stumbling block.

Elvis Nandwa scored 12 league goals for Ulinzi Stars in 2018 (PIC: Ulinzi Stars)

“Politics kills clubs all over the world,” the 52 year old said. “There was plenty of it at Leopards and it made the environment uneasy for everyone.”

“My relationship with the players was okay as I took over the team in mid table, took them up to second and left with the club in third place.”

Ingwe eventually finished the season in 7th place under interim managers Tom Juma and Gilbert Selebwa who had served as Zapata’s assistants. But before leaving, Zapata had delivered a report to the team’s National Executive Committee (NEC) where he gave guidelines the club should follow to continue from where he had left off.

Foreign players

He urged the team to keep the players he had assembled intact and to change its foreign player recruitment policy which he felt was undoing the club.

“I left a report with the NEC and some of the things I asked the club to do was to add only four other quality players who would work together with the young lads. I also asked them to improve on the foreign players who were coming in because in any country, foreign players should always be better than the local talent. Not the other way around.”

If he would have stayed, Zapata who has Rollers firmly in the Botswanan title race, had already singled out Nandwa who had had an astounding 2018 for Ulinzi Stars, scoring a massive 12 goals from midfield and finished runners-up in the midfielders category at the 2018 KPL Awards.

Zapata believes Ezekiel Odera is the best local centre forward playing in the KPL

A combination of Nandwa and Ezekiel Odera who had finished the season as Leopards top scorer also with 12 goals, would have made the 13 time Kenyan champions a force to reckon with again.

“I cannot quite remember his name but Ulinzi’s top scorer from last season. He was the best player in the league to me. Him and Odera I could have guaranteed the league for Leopards. Of course with the support of the other players like Eugene (Mukangula), Marvin (Nabwire) and Owiti (Jaffari).

Lack of goals

“I do not understand why the team let Odera go because with him upfront you are guaranteed goals. To me he is the best local centre forward. I sometimes follow the team from here and I can say that a lack of goals is what has pegged them back this season.

“I wish them all the best though and I know they will eventually come good. The squad has a lot of young talent and with the right motivation they they will do great things,” he concluded.

The Argentine former goalkeeper in his playing days did not rule out ever returning to the club or the country which he feels has a very competitive league but at the moment he is focused on having Rollers retain their crown for a fourth successive season.

With three games to go, they currently lie in second place a point off the top and with a game in hand.