Of all the players who have played for Gor Mahia in the past 10 years, George Odhiambo “Blackberry” is the one who has most captured the imagination of the Kogalo faithful. He literally lit up the terraces with his skills that left defenders mesmerized, bewildreded and confused defenders and turned the terraces into a near delirium. Tusker and Ulinzi defenders can attest to this because Blackberry scored what is perhaps the two most memorable goals in the history of the Premier League against these two teams.
Gor Mahia Years
He joined Gor Mahia while still a student at Kamkunji secondary school. In his first year (2009), his impact was immediate. He was voted as the best newcomer in the premier league. A year later he was voted the best player in the premier league, having finshed as the second leading scorer. Aside from winning a myriad of accolades locally, he was also named among the 100 most promising players in the world by goal.com, a leading football website. He was the first Kenyan to achieve this feat. Not even Dennis Oliech accomplished this feat.
His stellar performances saw him earn the nickname “Blackberry” after what was then the most popular smart phone. It was against this backdrop that Randers FC of Denmark offered him a 4 1/2 year contract. The sky seemed to be the limit for Blackberry. Kenyans expected him to go to Denmark and set that league on fire as he had done during his two years in Kenya.
However Odhiambo’s career now curiously mirrors , the Blackberry phone, which was the hottest phone available in 2009 and has now been surpassed by other phones such as the Iphone, IDEOS and the Nokia Lumia.
Things started to nosedive soon after his arrival in Denmark. After playing in a few friendly matches, he soon found himself confined to the bench. Worse still the coach would not tell him why. Blackberry played well anytime he was given a chance. Things got so bad that he was excluded from the Randers squad that travelled to Turkey for pre-season training. “I am very disappointed, and it’s really hard for me. I have not been given an explanation of why I do not play. I think though, that I have done well in the few games. Since I am not playing, there is no reason to stay in Randers” said Blackberry at the time.
Blackberry thus left Randers briefly to try and obtain a loan spell with Finnish club KUPS. Despite playing well, he did not make it into the team who said that he was not a good fit. He thus returned to Randers where things did not get any better. It is reported that at one point he got into a shouting match with the coach as his frustrations boiled over.
Potential $28 Million price tag
When Randers signed George Odhiambo, it was stated that in 4 years, his transfer value would be $28 million. This information was garnered from the German website transfermarket.de. The information was based on his stated age at the time (18) and the fact that he had shown significant potential. This would explain why Randers FC were willing to give him a lengthy contract. It is probable that when Randers realized that the $28 million was never going to happen, they started to plot how they would get Blackberry out of their books. This is when they started to frustrate him by completely leaving him out of the squad. This ought to be a cautionary tale for future Kenyan players.
Days later, his contract was terminated by mutual agreement. He then joined big spending Tanzanian side, Azam on a two year deal. There he was unable to crack the starting lineup. After a few months, Azam offloaded him.
Azam FC team manager Patrick Kahemele said the talented attacking midfielder was shown the door after failing to honour his part of the deal. “George Odhiambo is no longer our player. We terminated his contract after he demonstrated a great deal of unprofessionalism,” Kahemele said.
“He failed to show up for training for five days and the terms we agreed on with him don’t state that, he went against them and the ultimate effect is for him to cease being our player,” he explained. Kahemele added: “We brought him to Tanzania to play for us and work hard and he didn’t do the latter, we had no option but to let him go.”
Kahemele said the player had even had several run ins with the coach.
“He also had problems with the previous coach. His attitude was an issue in training and he also complained a lot when benched. He did not corporate with the club. We have overlooked these shortcomings for sometime believing the player sould change his ways. But this has not happened and we have had enough,” the official said.
Blackberry was then reported to be joining Mtibwa Sugar of Kagera. However this was refuted by his then agent Ed Stoner. “George Odhiambo still has a valid contract with Azam, which they must respect, and has not joined Mtibwa Sugar as reported.” “George missed three days of training due to illness, which Shikanda told the Head Coach and Doctor about on the first day of absence.” said Stoner.
Kahemele for his part refuted Stoner’s claims. “We asked George to see the club Doctor but he declined“, said Kahemele
Odhiambo has now teamed up with Ken Joseph, British – born Fifa players’ agent and qualified financial adviser who works for ETSM – a London based sports agency; ending his relationship with adviser Ed Stoner.
Odhiambo made it clear that he wanted a return to Europe, where he last played this year. He said that it was now time for him to make an informed decision that supports what is most important for his individual
Where does he go from here ?
He is clearly not used to spending time on the bench. It is something he never did at Thur Gem or at Kamkunji secondary or at Gor Mahia. However it is time for him to show some patience and be willing to fight his way from the bench to the playing field. Constantly complaining about playing time will not endear him to potential clubs in Europe.
Blackberry should have a sit down chat with a player like Mike Okoth Origi who had a succesful 10 year career in Belgium. He knows what it takes to make it in the top European leagues. It is going to be difficult for any Kenyan to make it to the top leagues and learning how Origi did it is a good starting point.
His focus should now turn towards returning to the national team. By excellling at the national team level, he has a better chance of impressing foreign scouts. To do this he will need to put himself in position to be selected. Playing in the Kenyan league gives him a better chance of achieving this goal than if he were to go to Europe and end up in a 3rd division team as many Kenyans do nowadays.
Blackberry is the one Kogalo player from the past decade who comes closest to becoming a club legend. A return to the club could cement his place as one of the club’s all time greats alongside the likes of Peter Dawo, Nahashon Oluoch “Lule” and Allan Thigo. These guys became Kogalo legends because they helped the club win major trophies. Blackberry could join this pantheon of legends should he return and help the club win a major competition. Current assistant coach Bobby Ogolla knows a thing or two about becoming a legend. He is amongst the players who has received the highest number of votes in Gor Mahia’s hall of fame which can be found at this page.