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What Gor Mahia need if they are to succeed in Africa

FOOTBALL By Kimathi Kamau | October 29th 2017 | 5 min read
Gor Mahia celebrate after winning Super Cup

Team has been performing dismally in the last few seasons at the big stage.

In one of the most troubled Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season in recent memory, the only constant was Gor Mahia who cantered to a 16th title without so much of a fight in an expanded competition that is yet to be decided.

The Court of Appeal will rule on November 2 whether to quash or uphold a High Court decision that declared the 18-team KPL null and void but amid all the drama, K’Ogalo went about their business to reclaim the title they lost to Tusker FC in 2016.

Like most clubs, Gor did not enjoy a faultless season, with the KPL giants among those whose revenues were hit by the exit of broadcast sponsors, SuperSport who quit Kenya over the expansion of the top flight from 16.

In June, popular Brazilian head coach, Jose Marcelo ‘Ze Maria’ Ferreira quit the club for Albanian side FK Tirana amid reports of sabotage with allegations he wanted to strip the club some of its top talent, including the 2016 KPL Player of the Year, Kenneth Muguna.

In came flamboyant Briton, Dylan Kerr, a well-travelled retired defender who played for former English Premier League sides, Leeds United FC, Reading FC and Sheffield Wednesday FC among others to take over the K’Ogalo hot seat.

If anyone expected Gor to capitulate like last season where three docked points wrestled the title initiative to Tusker, they were in for a rude shock.

The champions simply shifted the gears since Kerr took over, losing only one game en-route to sealing the crown with four games to spare.

Having won four of the last five KPL titles, it beggars belief that the proud fans of the club went 18 years without the cherished crown from 1995 to 2013 and with no other team looking capable of challenging their domestic supremacy, K’Ogalo should be aiming at scaling the continental peak next season.

Since their return to the high table of African football in 2014, Gor- the 1987 CAF Winner Cup (Mandela Cup) champions- have failed to progress past the first round of the competition.

On their return, K’Ogalo squeezed through US Bitam 4-2 on penalties in the preliminary phase of the 2015 CAF Champions League before the Kenyan champions were humiliated 8-2 on aggregate by Tunisian giants Esperance in the first round.

In 2015, Gor once again sneaked past CNaPS Sport of Madagascar on the away goals rule following a 3-3 stalemate after both legs of their clash in the preliminaries before AC Leopards of Congo ended their run in the first round 2-0 on aggregate.

CNaPS earned swift revenge when they outclassed the Kenyans 3-1 on aggregate in 2016 to end K’Ogalo’s interest at the very first hurdle.

Here are the five things that Gor need to do to make an impact in the 2018 CAF Champions League.

Consistent squad

When Gor became the first East and Central African team to lift a continental title in 1987, players such as shot-stopper, David ‘Kamoga’ Ochieng, Austin Oduor, Abbas Magongo, Charles Otieno, George Nyangi, Peter Dawo, Sammy ‘Jogoo’ Onyango and George ‘Fundi’ Onyango had played together in the side for five seasons or more.

In sharp contrast, the squad that featured in the 2016 Champions League for example, was without three of their top scorers from 2015 SPL season where they went unbeaten in, Michael Olunga, Ali Hassan Abondo and Meddie Kagere who were let go in the close season.

“Back in the day, coaches would keep a settled squad and we would not even look up to see where my teammate was. That is why we won many trophies within and outside Kenya,” Moses ‘Shonyi’ Ochieng, a Gor star in the 70s who still holds the domestic top-flight goal scoring record of 26 remarked.

Having realised the club’s recent mediocre performance at continental level is largely due to inexperience and constant player turnover, the KPL champions have moved quickly to tie top scorer and record signing Jacques Tuyisenge (Rwanda), long-serving captain Musa Mohammed (Kenya), Ernest Wendo (Kenya) and Godfrey Walusimbi (Uganda) to new deals with more key players discussing extensions.

Off-season Preparations

Having fallen off the CAF ladder after years of underwhelming results and football wrangles, Kenyan teams are disadvantaged to start their continental forays in early January, way ahead of the start of the domestic season that is not harmonised with most other leagues worldwide.

For Gor to navigate past the preliminary/first round, coach Kerr and his staff need to take the shortest of post-seasons breaks and start training in earnest.

“In our time, training was not restrained to ball work or tactics on the pitch. We would go out there and train like athletes in Ngong Hills to get endurance. I do not see that happening anymore.

“The benefits of running hard were there to see, we never dropped intensity and tempo of play,” former Tusker and Harambee Stars stalwart, Sammy Sholei once said.

Good exposure

“It would serve Gor and other Kenyan teams well if they are given exposure to other tough teams outside the country. We can no longer rely on infrastructure and our way of playing football if we want to make it past the best in Africa,” Ochieng remarked.

In the past, Kenyan clubs would feature in glamourous friendlies against regional and continental super powers, a good example being the Stars team that qualified for the 1988 Afcon that toured Brazil where they played the country’s top sides, Botafogo and Fluminense.

Gor and arch-rivals AFC Leopards contested the final of the inaugural SportPesa Super Cup in Tanzania on July 13 in the tournament they played against opposition from Tanzania and Zanzibar and barely four months later, the archenemies stand as domestic league and cup champions in that order.

Settled bench

In 2009 and 2012 when Gor suffered embarrassing exits in the CAF Confederations Cup to APR FC (Rwanda) and Ferroviario (Mozambique), the club overhauled their technical and playing staff soon after the close season.

In came a bunch of inexperienced players led by coaches who barely had time and the results were a 5-0 drubbing on aggregate to APR and another 4-0 pasting to the Maputo based side.

At that time, the Executive Committee was heavily involved in compelling then coaches, James Siangaa (the late) and Anaba Awono which players to field which fuelled the disaster.

Sound Budget 

Kenyan football is going through a cash crisis and although Gor enjoyed a relatively quiet season, reports players had boycotted training over unpaid allowances filtered through as they marched on to the title.

For the club to make it to the lucrative stages of the CAF Champions League, the club hierarchy has a race against time to raise the huge budgets required to sustain a continental push.

In 2013 when Sofapaka  became the last Kenyan outfit to qualify for the third round of the Confederations Cup, a step away from the group phase, club President, Elly Kalekwa, is reported to have spent in the upwards of Sh50m.

With little support from Government, Football Kenya Federation and KPL Limited, Gor have often fallen back on their wealthy supporters to raise funds for engagements outside the country, the recent being their run to the final of the 2015 Cecafa Club Championships in Tanzania.

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