One of the trends that has become prevalent in the past 2 years at Gor Mahia is their penchant for signing only established players. This year for example, the new players at Gor Mahia were Innocent Mutiso, Abbey Nattey, Zachary Onyango, Israel Emuge and Paul Kiongera. Its bad enough that Gor Mahia has no coherent youth development policy. But the lack of interest in signing young players is a trend that needs to be addressed.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with signing established experienced players. In fact established players are useful for plugging immediate needs especially when the club is aiming for success at continenta level.
But there is something to be said about blending youth with experience. Coach Logarusic recently indicated that he has to teach his players basic tactical lessons that 14 year olds in Europe already know. Such things are best taught to the youth. It is easier to instill such lessons to young players. Older more established players find it harder to absorb such lessons. They have been playing for so long and the bad habits have been ingrained in them such that it is much more difficult for them to learn.
With a knowledgable coach like Logarusic, young players can pick up these lessons quickly and become good players.
Throughout its history, Gor Mahia has always been known as the club that identifies young players from the grassroots and turns them into superstars. In fact throughout the glory years, almost all the star players at Gor Mahia were signed from obscurity. Charles Otieno, Allan Thigo, John Okello Zangi, Bobby Ogolla, Peter Otieno “Bassanga”, Hezborn Omollo, George Onyango “Fundi”, Dan Ogada, Allan Odhiambo etc all came from obscure clubs and in no time were national team players.
Gor Mahia also often identified players directly from secondary schools and instantly turned them into superstars; Sammy Owino, Kempes, Nahashon Oluoch “Lule” , Sammy Onyango “Jogoo” , George Nyangi etc all joined Gor mahia while in secondary school and became superstars.
Len Julians in particular was very good at moulding young players into excellent players.
In this regard, Gor Mahia became a key provider of talent to the national team by identifying young talent and moulding them into international calibre players.
The club also benefited by having a more cohesive unit since some the players had been playing together since their late teens or early twenties. The players had been playing in the same system learning from the same coach and thus had a very good understanding.
By 1987, this group had matured and gained a lot of cohesion. Coach Jack Johnson came and was able to mould this team into a formidable unit that provided almost half of the national team that qualified for 3 succesive Africa Nations cups and won the continental diadem in 1987 along with the league and the domestic cup.
Even after the success of 1987 Gor Mahia were still not satsified. In 1988 they went to the grassroots and brought a new generation of young talent to challenge the established players. This is when players like Paul Ochieng, Mike Otieno, Ignatius Khaduli, Hezron Osuka arrived from lower division teams and became stars at the club. The club was always infusing young players into the playing unit to keep the established players on their toes and to regenerate.
In those days Gor Mahia had a network of scouts all over the country. These scouts would identify grassroots talent and recommend them to the club for trials. And there were some teams that were in effect feeder clubs for Gor Mahia. Such was the case with Kisumu Hotstars which produced Allan Thigo, Bobby Ogolla, Charles Otieno, Anthony Ndolo, Tom Odhiambo and others.
In recent years, Coach James Sianga who was very adept at identifying talent from the grassroots, plucked players Anthony Akumu, Ibrahim Kitawi and Eric Masika from obscurity and making them useful players. Others like George Odhiambo “Blackberry”, Edwin Lavatsa, Musa Mohammed and Kevin Omondi were identified while still in secondary school and became very good players for the club. Sianga even saw something in Peter Opiyo who had been ignored by Thika United and brought him to the club. From virtual obscurity, pass master Opiyo became a national team player.
It is also true that some players do not pan out. But the neat thing about young players is that you do not have to pay a King’s ransom for them. They are not in high demand which means you can offer them an apprentice salary. If they become good players then you can offer them a better full time contract. In other words, young players come cheap but a club can reap very high rewards from them.
Coach Logarusic will find that instilling lessons in young players is much easier than in established players.
The last two years Gor Mahia has shown no interest in unearthing the rough diamonds from the grassroots. And worse still, they have shown absolutely no interest in signing players from schools who have shown great potential.
Case in point, at the national schools championships various coaches expressed admiration at Michael Olunga of Kakamega high school. The player himself publicy stated that Gor Mahia was his first choice. There is no sign that Gor Mahia showed interest. Olunga is now at Tusker. There is also the case of Pattilah Omoto who received rave reviews while at Kariobangi Sharks and is now at AFC.
There is a lot of budding talent at the grassroots and at schools. At this point I am not sure if Gor Mahia has any scouts or whether they have assigned anyone the responsibility of identifying young talent. This would be a grave mistake.
Once again there is nothing wrong with signing established players. But blending youth with experience yields better results. And Barcelona have shown us that there is no substitute for a coherent youth policy. Almost half their players are products of their youth system.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a coherent youth policy for a club like Gor Mahia is the fact that it is much easier to sell a player to Europe for good money if he is young. European teams are typically interested in buying players below 23 years of age. In 2010, two of Sianga’s products, Akumu and Blackberry garnered the interest of a European team. And even though Blackberry’s career at Randers was a washout, the club made a good amount of money by selling him to Randers. A well run youth program can pay for itself many times over. Clubs in South America earn most of their revenue by selling young players to Europe. A club like Gor Mahia with a coherent youth policy can sell 1 or 2 young players to Europe each year. This kind of money can be used to bolster existing structures to make the club better and perhaps even build a permanent training ground for the club.