Tanzania: Highs and Lows of the 2015/16 Premier League

Dar es Salaam - The curtain fell on the 2015/16 Vodacom Premier League last weekend with Young Africans successfully defending their title.

Yanga, as they are popularly known, won their 26th league title with two matches to spare to quash Simba SC and Azam FC hopes of winning silverware.

Azam and Simba were neck-and-neck with the eventual winners for most of the second round, but they had to concede defeat and settle for the second and third place respectively.

There were exciting battles at the bottom end of the 16-team league, which saw Coastal Union, the 1988 champions, condemned to the First Division League (FDL).

The Tanga side bolstered its ranks heavily during the past transfer window with a view to challenging for silverware, but they endured a season to forget.

They were not alone. Two other Tanga teams compounded the region's misery. They dropped to the less lucrative league.

The relegation of the trio meant that Tanga, one of the regions renowned for producing talented players, will not have any team in the topflight next season.

African Sports, who won promotion to the VPL just a year ago after over 20 years of languishing in lower divisions, returned to the FDL together with Mgambo JKT.

Mgambo JKT, who earned the reputation of giant slayers, lasted in the VPL for four seasons and now face a tough fight to return to the premiership.

As the transfer window and a busy preseason beckon, it is worth highlighting some of the finest moments and lows of the just concluded season.

Youngsters seize chance

The league kicked off last August with fans harbouring high expectations on household names, especially, newly signed foreign imports.

Nonetheless, as the season progressed, budding footballers, who won the trust of their coaches, seized their chances and were immediately in the limelight.

Some of the names that caught the eyes of the coaches and fans include Juma Mahadhi, Godfrey Wambura and Ayoub Semtawa (Coastal Union), Geoffrey Mwashiuya and Pato Ngonyani (Yanga).

Others were Selemani Mangoma,

Ditram Nchimbi, Salvatory Nkulula (Mbeya City), Farid Musa, Aishi Manula (Azam FC), Mohammed Musa and Ibrahim Ajib, both of Simba.

Most of the youngsters did well as to convince the Taifa Stars head coach, Charles Mkwasa, to draft them in the national team.

Maguli the home star

The race began with Stand United's Elias Maguli setting the pace with 10 goals in the first round, but after troubles with his club, he was overtaken by foreign players.

Simba hot-shot Hamis Kiiza (Uganda) and Yanga's Amissi Tambwe (Burundi) regained their goal-scoring exploits and banged in goals almost at will.

Yanga's Donald Ngoma (Zimbabwe) gate crashed the party later, but in the end Tambwe won it with 21 goals followed by Kiiza with 19. Ngoma settled for the third place with 17.

Maguli was the best placed Tanzanian striker with 14 goals followed by Jeremiah Juma of Tanzania Prisons with 12.

Simon Msuva, who won the golden boot in the previous season, did not have a fine year as he managed a paltry nine goals.

John Bocco was always in contention for the top scorer's gong in the past seasons, but managed nine goals only, this time around, tying with his Azam's Ivorian teammate Kipre Tchetche.

The dominance of foreign strikers on the scoring chart must be a cause for concern for the national team head coach, Charles Mkwasa, whose team is seeking qualification for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Firing game

While some coaches had the comfort of guiding their teams from the start to the end of the season, 11 coaches could not live their dreams--they were shown the door midway due to a myriad of reasons.

Ten clubs, which is two third of the VPL teams, changed their technical benches because of dismal performance, misunderstanding with managements and financial constraints.

The coaches who failed to see out their contacts include Mika Lonnstrom (Majimaji FC),

Hamimu Mawazo(Ndanda FC), Dylan Kerr (Simba), Abdul

Mingange (Mbeya City), Mbwana Makata (Kagera Sugar), Martin Glerics (Toto Africans), Bakari Shime (Mgambo JKT), Felix Minziro (JKT Ruvu), Jackson Mayanja (Coastal Union), Joseph Lazaro (African Sports) and Ramadhan Aluko (African Sports). Despite changing the coaches, Coastal Union and African Sports could not survive the drop, which means their problems were deeper.

Fixtures mess

The Tanzania Football Federation (TFF) and Tanzania Premier League Board (TPLB) came under heavy criticism over frequent changes of fixtures, which caused unnecessary congestion.

Allowing Azam FC to travel to Zambia for an invitational tournament while the league was in progress begged the question.

And as the league headed into its home stretch, the TFF and TPLB rescheduled a number of matches, prompting doubts of match fixing.

Simba, for instance, threatened to boycott their matches demanding level playing ground in the title race. Yanga and Azam had four rescheduled matches.

Some coaches blamed their teams' failure to finish the league on a high note on fixture congestion, which was mainly caused by frequent rescheduling of the matches.

Stadia

A number of stadia approved by the TFF to host league matches did not meet the requirements stipulated in the rules and regulations governing the premiership.

Many of the upcountry venues have invited complaints because of their poor state of the pitches.

A lot of coaches have criticised the TFF's decision to okay them for league matches, saying the pitches are unplayable as they play a big role in causing severe injuries to their players.

The immediate former Azam head coach Stewart Hall went on record criticising the state of upcountry stadia.

"It is difficult playing on some pitches in upcountry regions, they are in very poor state to host a Premier League match. Most of our players pick bad injuries from those playgrounds," Hall was quoted as saying.

The venues that most the coaches have criticized in the Majimaji Stadium in Songea, Mkwakwani (Tanga), Kambarage (Shinyanga), Nangwanda Sijaona (Mtwara) and Jamhuri (Morogoro).

However, it remains to be seen whether the TFF will sanction them next season, for the teams that use the venues as their home grounds have avoided the drop with the exception of Mkwakwani.

Apart from the poor state of their playing grounds, sanitation systems at the aforementioned stadia are wanting.

Refereeing

Refereeing has been the worst challenge in the past years and this season is no different. Complaints over poor decisions from referees were plenty with small clubs complaining that big teams get more attention from the match officials.

Matches involving Yanga were adversely hit by claims of favouritism even though they did not end up in crowd trouble.

Most referees looked poor in making decisions and their fitness levels too were not up to scratch.

The notable bad incident happened last October during a match between Coastal Union and Mbeya City when the referee awarded the latter a dubious penalty that sparked ugly scenes at the Mkwakwani Stadium.

To avoid such incidents in the forthcoming season, the TFF must take foolproof measures to ensure that the referees do not spoil the beautiful game.

Source: The Citizen