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Rupia vs Juma: AFC Leopards vs Gor Mahia - Who got the better deal?

18:48 EAT 06/02/2020
Juma Balinya of Gor Mahia.
Which of the KPL giants got the better deal in the January transfer window?

The Kenya Premier League's January transfer window threw up a fascinating subplot for the second half of the season, as rivals AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia were each forced to offload top players due to financial constraints, while both also recruited two new high-profile strikers.

At AFC Leopards, notable exits included hotshot John Mark Makwatta, who returned to Zambia to join domestic giants ZESCO United. Whyvonne Isuza and Soter Kayumba are the other key players to leave the Den.

Ingwe swiftly moved to fill the void left by Makwatta, who at the time of his departure was the KPL's top scorer with 13 goals, by raiding Wazito FC for Elvis 'Machapo' Rupia is well known in the KPL scene.

At Gor Mahia, the defending league champions saw Ghanaian Francis Afriyie and Ivorian Gnamien Yikpe leave for Township Rollers and Young Africans respectively, after half a season at the club.

The vast spaces left in the striking department were filled by Juma Balinya and Edwin Lavatsa, although it is the former's arrival that caught the imagination of the supporters and rivals alike.

By joining AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia to now spearhead the KPL's giants, Rupia and Balinya will find themselves being compared and contrasted regularly.

They have already made their debuts, where both found the back of the net. Sablenya, as the Ugandan has been nicknamed at Gor Mahia, earned his debut as a second-half substitute against Sofapaka and made his full debut against Nzoia Sugar.

The 2018/19 Ugandan Premier League top scorer struck twice against the Sugar Millers, instantly endearing himself to the Green Army supporters.

Rupia, after he was denied on many occasions by Ulinzi Stars goalkeeper James Saruni, had the last laugh at Nakuru's Afraha Stadium as he found the back of the net in the 90th minute to secure a slim 1-0 win.

It was Rupia's sixth goal this campaign having previously scored five at Wazito. The tally would have been nine, but his three goals against Sony Sugar were wiped off the scorers' board after the Sugar Millers were relegated to the lower league for skipping three matches in the top flight.

Last year, with Police FC, Balinya was the Uganda Premier League's top scorer with 19 goals, attracting interest from clubs both abroad and domestically.

Balinya ended up signing for Tanzanian giants Young Africans, but ended up terminating his contract after half a season before moving to Kenya.

Two years ago, Rupia became the 10th Kenyan to join a Zambian club when he signed for Power Dynamos, before moving on to a less successful stay with Nzoia Sugar having scored 15 in 23 for Power 90.

At the beginning of the current season, heavy spenders Wazito brought the former Nakuru All-Stars forward back to the KPL but as with many of the moneybags' new recruits, he had difficulty hitting top form and found it hard to find his goalscoring touch.

Balinya and Rupia must now contend with the pressure that will come to their way as they strive to stamp their authority at their new homes. Balinya, in particular, must score the goals to be remembered as his compatriot Dan Sserunkuma is at the club. 

Rupia, for his part, has a massive void to fill immediately. Makwatta joined Ingwe and became an immediate sensation as he bagged 13 goals in 18 matches, scoring against all of the opponents Leopards faced in January.

Fans will be expecting the new man to pick up the slack immediately, but will the added pressure affect Rupia?

Certainly, considering the duo's physical qualities, Rupia has the advantage given his height, aerial ability, and strength.

Balinya will have to go the extra mile to adapt to the KPL, which is largely seen as a more physical competition than Tanzanian and Ugandan leagues. He has to find ways to compensate for his height to lead the line for Gor and trouble defences in the top flight.

When Balinya landed at Gor Mahia, he made his intentions known, and now it is time to demonstrate what he is capable of achieving.

“I’m happy to be here and I want to do my best and help the team win every possible trophy on offer," Balinya told Gor Mahia's website after signing. "I know the likes of Danny [Sserunkuma] grew into bigger players while at this club and I just want to work hard to emulate their achievements and even surpass them.

“I feel very welcome at this club, the players, officials, and fans who attend training sessions have all welcomed me well and I must repay such hospitality by giving my all when I get to the pitch.”

Steven Polack, Gor's head coach, outlined his complete faith in the Uganda international after his exploits against Nzoia Sugar.

“The fans should be ready for more goals from Balinya because he is a complete striker and I know his qualities, he will be a hit when he gets to understand our style of play and gets to know how our systems work,” Polack told Goal.

Simiarly, AFC Leopards Football Operations Manager Tom Juma is impressed with what he's already seen from Rupia.

“From training, you could see his hunger to score; he was determined, committed, and we are happy he made a huge impact for us [against Ulinzi Stars],” Juma told Goal. “We might have lost Makwatta [John], but I have faith in Rupia.

"He will perform well for us as we continue pushing for the top position.”