Gor Mahia: Architects of their own downfall in the most chaotic fashion

By Kimathi Kamau: Sunday, April 14th 2019 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Football
Gor Mahia fans pray against Petro Atletico of Angola during their CAF Confederation Cup group D match at Kasarani Stadium on Sunday 17/03/19. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

When will Kenyan club footballs learn? Or rather, when will those given the task of running local teams smell the coffee and realise the world moved on from the 20th century?

It has been a sullen week for Gor Mahia faithful and Kenyan football fans at large when the most storied team, contrived to be the architects of their own downfall in the most chaotic fashion.

Last Sunday, the team that has lifted five of the last six national league titles had a chance to take Kenya's football to the lights when Gor hosted Morocco cup holders, RS Berkane in their first leg of their 2018/19 CAF Confederations Cup quarter-final.

However, in what can briefly be described as a lifeless performance Gor, who displayed a lot of huff and puff with no end product, surrendered meekly to a 2-0 loss that left their hopes of making the semi finals hanging by a thread. 

It was a slap in the faces of their devoted fans and a huge let down for Kenyan football that believed the chance of seeing one of their own clubs had a golden chance to lift a first continental title since the historic 1987 CAF Winners Cup (Mandela Cup).

Heeding the call led by new Sports, Culture and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed to turn up, K’Ogalo fans did not disappoint, turning the imposing Kasarani Stadium into a cauldron.

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The 60,000-seater Kasarani Stadium was not busting in its seams but the turn up was impressive, creating an intimidating atmosphere that in essence, should have driven the home side to victory by simply feeding on the energy.

Rival clubs, including Kariobangi Sharks, Ulinzi Stars and Mathare United among others posted messages on social media willing Gor on against the Moroccan opposition in a rare show of unity among the ranks.

However, this was not how a date with destiny and history was supposed to end for Gor.

The mass disappointment was aptly captured on behalf of all by head coach, Hassan Oktay, who cut such a gloomy figure after the match that it would have been inhuman not to feel sorry for him no matter which team you support.

Even he was powerless to do anything to prevent his SportPesa Premier League (SPL) champions from slipping to a defeat that left a bitter after taste besides sapping the collective faith of a nation.

Oktay was suspended from the dugout alongside five of his dependable players as Gor welcomed Berkane for the first leg.

It was billed as the kind of matches the biggest club in the country thrives on, another chance to overcome adversity and show their might in the hunt for a historic league, domestic cup and continental treble.

Berhane could not believe their luck. A 24th minute own goal from Kenya international midfielder, Francis Kahata set them on their way before Bakr El Helali sealed the victory with a second in the 59th to set the Moroccan cup holders on their way to a first Confed Cup semi.

The poisoned atmosphere inside Gor that has been simmering since the tail end of last season drained the spirit among the players as the SPL champions were left with the unenviable task of conjuring what would be the mother of all comebacks in their glittering history to make the last four.

As Oktay faced the media following his most draining defeat since he took charge of the record 17-time domestic champions ahead of the start of the new season, he had ready reasons for the loss

“My job is very difficult. These types of games require players to be at the best frame of mind. Days before the match the players are on strike.

“You work so hard to motivate them all season and then this. A 2-0 loss because of this. I am so hurt. My job is difficult,” Oktay lamented in his post match interview. Who could not feel the hurt with him?

Statistics will show his side hogged possession (61 to 39 per cent) and shots on goal (21 to nine) and efforts on target (six to four) but Berkane emerged with the ideal away day performance largely owing to the chaotic nature of Gor’s play.

Often, passes were over or under hit, shots on goal rushed and the quality of the final ball lacking, leaving the Moroccans with a simple task of soaking in the wild but ineffective attack mounted by Gor.

Anyone watching could tell the home side, that had won their six previous home Confed Cup matches, were not prepared for this game.

The build-up to the Berkane clash was dominated by reports players had downed their tools protesting over unpaid bonuses stretching to the tail end of last season where they contrived to lose six of their last 10 in all competitions.

Assured of a 17th league title; Gor stars started what has become their customary training boycotts over unpaid bonuses and allowances, with team management playing a game of cat and mouse with them.

The exit of popular British head coach, Dylan Kerr, who recently spoke of the toxic atmosphere in the final days of his tenure when he would find himself alone in training ushered the arrival of Oktay.

But the same murky dispute has spilled into the new season with Dennis Oliech, who opted to revive his career at the club going missing in mid February when he checked into his account to find only a fraction of the salary promised to him.

With the squad playing hardball, club management moved to settle their salaries on Friday but 24 hours later, the players refused to train ahead of the Berkane test insisting their allowances must be paid.

They cannot understand why a club that earned Sh27m and now Sh38m from making the group stages and quarterfinals of the last two Confed Cups cannot settle their allowances with some players said to be owed in excess of Sh120,000.

Playing North African teams has often proved to be a nadir for Kenyan sides, Gor included but over the last two seasons, the SPL titleholders have defied their supposed might at home.

In the 2017/18 Confed Cup, Gor held USM Alger to a 0-0 draw at Kasarani before blowing Egyptian giants Zamalek 4-2 in January.

Another Algerian side, NA Hussein Dey were outclassed 2-0 in the pool stages of the current competition before Berkane came to town and ended the strong home record.

Last Sunday’s showing should be a wake up call to the Gor management of the urgent need to resolve the shameful dispute with their players.

The intervention of revered Club Patron and former Prime Minister, Raila Amolo Odinga- a ready route club officials has turned to quell unrest- can only go so far in soothing the players who frankly, have had enough of empty promises.

With Gor (44) two points clear at the summit of the SPL with a game in hand over closest challengers, Sofapaka, the poor form continued midweek when the record-equalling 10-time domestic cup holders crashed out of the 2018/19 SportPesa Shield 5-4 on penalties to Bandari after a 1-1 draw in normal time.

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