2012 was a year with plenty of ups and downs for Kogalo. The club came close to pulling of a miraculous win the Tusker premier league after most had left the club for dead in mid season. However the club was able to clinch the Super 8 trophy and the FKF cup thus earning a ticket to the 2013 CAF confederations cup.
January : A month of player turnover
Before the season started, Gor Mahia advertized for a coach. There were dozens of applications including from foreigners. Gor Mahia took the safe route and settled for Anaba Awono. In hindsight this was a mistake because Awono with his poor communication skills was unable to command the respect of players and enforce discipline. Plus he had no control over club activities including the recruitment if players.
Long time fan favourite Eric Masika shocked fans when he decided to leave Kogalo to join rivals Ingwe. After plenty of tug and pull between the two clubs, they finally settled on a transfer fee. Also leaving the club was Wycliffe Ochomo who joined Ulinzi. In a bid to make amends and to strengthen the club for continental football, club officials went on a signing spree. In came Rama Salim, George Midenyo, Ali Abondo, Wycliffe Kasaya, Yusuf Juma, Ivo Mapunda, David Owino, Ibrahim Kitawi, Hugo Nzoka from SoNy Sugar and most notably Felix Nwosu “Felixinho”, Donald Mosoti and Anthony “Balotieno”. Felixinho soon ran afoul of the club after he sent threatening text messages to coach Anaba Awono who had posited that Felixinho was simply an average player pausing as a superstar. Felixinho soon apologized to the club and fans via online posts. But only days later he was dropped by the club and supposedly demoted to the non existent B team. As for Balotieno, much was expected from him. Many thought he was going to be the next superstar after he gave Gor Mahia defenders a torrid time when the club toured Kisumu in December of 2011.
Meanwhile Gor Mahia offloaded several players. Most notable was the flashy Hajji Mwachoki and long serving skipper, Julius Owino. After much hue and cry, Owino was reinstated to the club as the chief scout. After pursuing Rwandese sensation, Meddie Kagere for several weeks, Kogalo finally gave up after his club demanded KSH 4 million. Still Gor Mahia seemed content with the return of Camerounian Baldwin Ngwa.
And when Gor Mahia held El Merreikh 1-1 in a friendly, it looked like they were on their way to success. After all this was ateam that only 2 years earlier had whitewashed Kogalo 5-0. It did not quite work out. Perhaps the greatest lesson from this is that signings should be done by a qualified technical bench and not by members of the Executive Council.
February: Things start to unravel.
In the 1st week of February, Gor Mahia went down to Tusker on penalties in the 2012 Super Cup. Loosing to Tusker on spotkicks on its own was not bad. But Kogalo fans weree befuddled as to why only one player (Rama Salim) scored his penalty as 3 others missed.
Soon Gor Mahia faced an injury plague. No less than 10 players had suffered stress related injuries : Edwin Lavatsa, Demonde Selenga, Hugo Nzoka, George Midenyo, Solomon Nasio, Kevin Omondi, Baldwin Ngwa, Ivo Mapunda and Dan Makori ). Something was clearly wrong and it came at a time when the club was preparing for their first league match and for the 1st round tie with Ferroviario. Gor Mahia much later remedied this by hiring a qualified physiotherapist.
March: Matters come to a head
Matters finally came to a head when Gor Mahia went down 0-3 to Ferroviario in Maputo. Yet this was a team that many though Gor Mahia could overcome. It was then that it started to sink in that that the club was in crisis. The disciplinary problems of defensive midfielder Collins Okoth “Gattuso” started to bubble to the surface after he was sent off by the match referee.
When newly promoted Muhoroni Youth beat Kogalo 1-0 in a midweek match, the fans were up in arms and demanded answers. The club reacted by sending the entire technical bench including Awono, Ouma Ole Tunda, Julius Owino and Zablon Otieno “pro”, as well as team manager Jolawi Obondo packing. In came club legend Bobby Ogolla as head coach assisted by former harambee stars striker Tom Ogweno. It later emerged that there was plenty of infighting amongst the bench and hidden agendas amongst EC members some of whom sought to dictate who should play. The infighting had seeped into the playing unit with players picking sides.
But before the new technical bench could settle, Tusker inflicted more pain when they beat Kogalo 2-0. Next up was rivals AFC Leopards and fans expected the worst. But Kogalo gave a good account of themselves holding the then high flying Leopards 0-0. That match will of course be remembered for the fracas that ensued when Ali Abondo was sent off for a clumsy challenge. The match was held for 10 minutes. Embattled AFC chairman played to the gallery by demanding all points from the match and even vowing never to play Gor Mahia again. Gor Mahia were now barred by Supersport as well as Nyayo stadium. The next matches vs SoNy and Rangers also ended in disappointing draws.
As if things were not bad enough, combative midfielder, Collins Okoth announced he was quitting the team citing threats from fans after he missed a crucial penalty. By then however most fans were fed up with his antics and no one lost a wink of sleep at his departure.
April: In comes Loga
With Bobby overwhelmed, Gor Mahia recruited Zdvarko Logarusic who had been coaching in the Ghanaian league. However even with the arrival of Loga, the clubs fortunes did not turn around immediately. Meawhile arch rivals AFC were flying high under coach Koops. Carol Radull the famous TV personality poked fan at Gor Mahia saying “I guess not all foreign coaches are as competent as Koops“. Logarusic soon indicated that club officials were hindering him from making much needed changes. When Ulinzi beat Gor Mahia at Afraha, the club was left with no option but to listen to Logarusic. The club now had 1 win 4 losses and 4 draws and was in the relegation zone. Players grumbled about unpaid signing bonuses.
Logarusic soon stated that he planned to purge the club of several players whom he termed rotten potatoes. “Some of them give their best but their hundred percent is not enough for a big club like Gor Mahia” said Logarusic. Little did he know that most of these players were recruited by EC. He had also introduced much needed discipline including a gag order forbidding players from talking to the media or calling officials many of whom were responsible for the disunity in the playing unit. Finally after a long drought, Gor Mahia beat former league champions and later beat City Stars 2-1 and it seemed the stormy waters were finally calming down.
As the mid season transfer season arrived, Logarusic finally made good his threat to overhaul the team. Gone was Fan favourites Ibrahim Kitawi, Joseph Kiplagat, Duncan Owiti and Baldwin Ngwa as well as Hugo Nzoka, Demonde Selenga, Dan Makori, Tony Nyang’or, Collins Okoth, Collins Omondi, Peter Juma and Felix Nwosu. Some players reacted with shock ; “If it is based on performance, I should not have been targeted because there are some strikers in the team who are yet to score even one goal,” said Hugo Nzangu. To replace them, Gor Mahia targeted Dan Sserunkuma of City stars and another Ugandan striker Eddie Mubiru who had been training with the club. In the end they could not sign Mubiru. But in came Itubu Imbem.
July: The sun rises
The second leg started on a sound note and by the end of July Gor Mahia had gone 6 games without a loss including wins over Chemelil, KCB, but the empahtic 4-0 win over City stars is what announced to the league that Gor Mahia had fully recovered from their abysmal start. The forwardline combination of Rama Salim and Dan Sserunkuma was sending shivers down opposing defenders. Gor Mahia went on to win 7 consecitive matches.
An interesting moment came when Logarusic stormed the Kenya U-23 training camp to remove Rama Salim after he had been ordered to report to camp. Coach James Nandwa was not amused. But Logarusic was trying to keep Rama who was still nursing a sligh injury from re-injuring his foot. Further drama occurred when AFC refused to play Gor Mahia in the opening round of the KPL top 8 tournament. Perhaps they were apprehensive about meeting a Kogalo team that suddenly was in fine form.
August: key wins in FKF and top 8
If anyone doubted Gor Mahia were back at full strength, those doubts were disposed of when Gor Mahia beat Tusker 4-0 aggregate to eliminate them from the FKF top 8. It was ample revenge for having lost the Super cup to Tusker. They also trounced Borabu Chiefs 5-2 in the opening round of the FKF cup. And on August 19, Gor Mahia wrested the KPL top 8 tournament by beating Ulinzi 2-0 in extra time.
September : Kogalo in cruise control
In the beginning of September Gor Mahia fought gamely to beat Western Stima to progress to the next round of the FKF cup. A week later Gor Mahia beat Ulinzi 1-0 thanks to a goal by Victor Ali. The club had now gone 12 games unbeaten. Gor Mahia had now leaped to joint second place much to the surprise of pundits who had written the club off after a disastrous start. Rama Salim and Dan Ssserunkuma had now established themselves as the top striking duo in the league with 22 goals between them,
The moment to remember in 2012 came in September 23 when Gor Mahia beat arch rivals AFC Leopards 2-1 thanks to goals from you know who; Rama and Sserunkuma. The win erased the gap between league leaders AFC and Gor Mahia. Prior to the game, Logarusic had gone home to Croatia for a week and only arrived a day before the match.
October : Crunch time
The race for the league was now tighter than ever with the top three teams all within 2 points of each other. Playing 4 matches in two weeks almost took its toll in Gor Mahia as they struggled to beat Muhoroni youth on penalties in the quarter finals of the FKF cup. In Mid October there was disquiet between the club and sponsors Tuzo. It emerged that Tuzo had not released funds in months and players were going without pay. After Gor Mahia drew with Mathare, a furious Logarusic lashed out at Tuzo. It turned out that the ill advised jacket deal which Gor Mahia reached with nation newspapers was in violation with the sponsorship deal with Tuzo. Then came a crucial win over Karuturi sport that kept Gor Mahia in the hunt. A week later Gor Mahia beat Tusker 1-0 and and suddenly their destiny was in their hands.
With Gor Mahia in pole position, Gor Mahia trounced Muhoroni 4-0 to set the stage for the final match of the league. It was the most anticipated weekend in the history of the Kenya Premier league. Unfortunately Gor Mahia did not rise to the occasion, drawing 1-1 with Thika United. The title had slipped away at the last moment.
However a week later Gor Mahia fans had a reason t celebrate when they beat archi rivals AFC 2-1 in the semi finals of the FKF cup. Goals came from Kevin Omondi and Moses Odhiambo. In the finals , Gor Mahia beat Sofapaka 3-0 on penalties with keeper Ivo Mapunda providing a penalty saving clinic reminiscent of the legendary Mahmoud Abbas.
Dan Ssserunkuma was voted Footballer of the year. Logarusic was voted coach of the year and Anthony Akumu midfielder of the year. Thus there was much to celebrate despite the fact that the league slipped away at the last moment.
Had it not been for the poor start, Gor Mahia would have won the league by a significant margin. In fact over the past 4 years, poor starts have put paid to Gor Mahia chances of winning the league.
Zdvarko Logarusic will go down as one of the best coaches ever to coach Gor Mahia alongside Len Julians and Vojo Gardasevic.
Lessons from 2012
1. The club must have an established coach in place before the season to avoid poor starts.
2. Signings must be vetted by the coach to ensure the signed players can fit into his system.
3. A qualified physiotherapist is critical in order to avoid injuries.
3b. Injuries can be reduced by giving players plenty of off season rest. If the annual tour of Nyanza is undertaken, use second tier players who played limited minutes.
4. If a qualified coach is not available locally, the club must not hesitate to look overseas.