In the past 10 years, Kenyan teams have been pitted against Egyptian teams in continental football. According to this article, Kenyan teams have been slated to play Egyptian teams almost a dozen times in the 1st round. Teams like Gor Mahia, Tusker, Ulinzi, Nzoia, Chemelil have all been dispatched with relative ease. Whether this is due to zoning or due to a conspiracy at CAF, it is a given that Kenyan teams will continue to match up with Egyptian teams. It is also a given that Egyptians are way ahead in terms of player quality, finances, facilities, tactical approach and other critical aspects.
What can Gor Mahia and other Kenyan teams do to close the gap on Egyptian teams ?
Restructure and professionalize the club
In organizational terms, the gap between Egyptian teams is tremendous. Currently Gor Mahia has 3 Vice Chairmen, a secretary general and an assistant secretary general, an organizing secretary as well as a treasurer and an assistant treasurer, . It is not clear to anybody what their role is. It is not clear what each of them does. The only clear thing is that they are all on the club’s payroll and draw a monthy allowance or salary, whichever way you think of it.
These positions were created when the club’s constitution was created decades ago. They were created out of self interest because many people in the room at the time wanted a position at the high table. These positions have nothing to do with making the club better. Its time to modernize the club. Rather than have positions with no clear role, the club should replace these elective positions with positions where people are hired with specific roles and are on performance contracts.
You can replace all four secretary positions with the position of General Manager. This will be a person with knowledge about sports marketing, who understands FIFA, CAF and FKF rules and regulations. This person will have clear targets and his or her remuneration will be payed based on metrics such as how much attendance increases, how much membership increases, merchandize sales and sponsorship.
The two treasurer positions can be replaced by an accountant who task is to maintain the clubs accounts efficiently, and publish audited club accounts.
Some of the elected officials at Gor Mahia are indeed hardworking. But there is no accountability because their roles are not clearly defined. An elected official could go through his or her entire term without ever lifting a finger to do anything. This gets the club nowhere.
The only elected positions should be the positions of Chairmen and Vice Chairman. The rest of the positions should be advertized in the papers. An external auditing company such as KPMG should then be tasked with hiring the most competent candidates who should be on performance based contracts.
Instead of 3 Vice Chairmen, there should only be one. The second and third Vice Chairman should be replaced by the position of YOUTH DEVELOPMENT COACH. This brings me to the second and most critical issue.
The goal of the youth development coach will be to traverse the country to recruit promising young players. He will then be responsible for grooming these players through their teen years and turning them into top tier players. Youth coaches all over the world are measured based on how many of their products become regular first team players. Thus the Manchester youth coaches (Brian Kidd and Eric Harrison) who produced Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Nickey Butt, Gary Neville, Robbie Savage etc during the 1990s were well regarded by fans and by Sir Alex Ferguson. The ones who replaced them were soon fired for not producing first team regulars. The performance of the Gor Mahia youth coach should also be measured as such.
The biggest complaint that coach Logarusic had on Saturday was that the club did not have the quality of strikers needed to beat teams like ENPPI. In his mind the club created many scoring chances and only poor finishing let them down. It is no accident that scoring is scarce in the Kenya premier league. Kenyan strikers lack the poise, accuracy and tactical ability needed.
In terms of tactical acumen, the Egyptian teams are way ahead of their Kenyan counterparts. When Logarusic first came to wKenya, he noted that he has to teach Kenyan players tactical ideas that are well known by 14 year olds in Europe. Thus whereas Egyptian players have been applying modern team tactics since their teens and enhancing their knowledge with each season, their Kenyan counterparts only started recently and often too late. It is like the Egyptians are using PhD level mathematics to solve technical problems while Gor Mahia are using Form four levels mathematics which are rudimentary in comparison.
As noted, Gor Mahia also lacked midfield playmakers who can carry the ball from defence to attack. This often forced them into using long balls which are a waste when the team has short strikers.
A third factor which caused Gor Mahia to loose and which will continue to haunt them is their inability to convert set pieces. When ENPPI beat Gor Mahia 3-0, two of their goals were from set-pieces. And how often does Gor Mahia score from set pieces ? On Saturday Gor Mahia forced 7 corners, none of which resulted in a decent a attempt at goal.
When Gor Mahia achieved continental glory in 1987, they had a very good team. But their ability to score on set pieces is what ultimately allowed them to win the title. In Peter Dawo they had a striker able to convert indirect freekicks, corners and throw ins that were delivered with laser like precision by Abbas Magongo, Sammy Onyango and Tobias Ocholla respectively.
Sammy Onyango’s ability to deliver corners to precisely where Dawo wanted was borne out of the fact that he was one of the few Kenyan footballers of that era lucky enough to attend the Olympic youth talent development centers established by German coach Bernard Zgoll whose work was later sabotaged by self centered officials. Through constant practise during his youth years, Sammy Onyango became not only a superb corner taker but perhaps the most precise crosser in the history of Kenya football. Those who watched the match between Al Ahly and Tusker at Nyayo will remember the precise cross that resulted in Al Ahly’s second goal. Those skills do not happen by accident. They do not happen when young players grow up playing with ball ya jwalla hapo Jericho as is the case with most Kenyan players.
Speaking of set pieces, one had to marvel at Francis Kahata’s strike against Nigeria two weeks ago. It just so happens that Thika United and perhaps Mathare United (in the past) are the only teams in the Kenyan premier league that ever made a serious attempt at youth development. Both Kahata and pass master Peter Opiyo joined Thika at age 13 and both were in Thika United’s scholarship system that allows players to attend Chania high school free. Thika has recently also produced national team players like Abdalla Juma, Kepha Aswani, Moses Arita etc. Gor Mahia has the capacity to produce better players and thus should not have any excuse. When one or two of these players are sold overseas, the money can be injected back into the club’s youth development scheme.
Yet Gor Mahia have no inclination towards any kind of youth development. Recently Peter Orero the Upper Hill headmaster made overtures to the club for some kind of partnership but the response from the club has been lukewarm. Logarusic has not shown interest in developing young players. Fans will remember that it was Len Julians who built the team that finally became Africa champions. He was keen on signing young players and grooming them into top calibre players.
Start building the club’s assets
The club must have a sound financial base in order to compete with the likes of ENPPI. Which means they must start building an asset base.
The first step in this regard is to enlist the help of the newly elected governor for Nairobi, Dr. Evans Kidero to help the club reclaim land that was donated to it at Kasarani or at Embakassi. Having successful sports teams in Nairobi is beneficial to city because it can help generate employment for youth.
Once the club has reclaimed its land, they can use it to build facilities such as playing fields, gyms, social halls each of which can be rented out to generate money for the club. Remember that Gor Mahia now occasionally uses gym facilities that are owned by Mathare United and pays Mathare a handosme amount for the use of those facilities.
The point here is that Gor Mahia will have to start thinking of creative ways to raise revenue for them to be competitive with the best.
By modernizing the way the club is run from a business standpoint and from a technical standpoint, the club can start to close the gap on the top African teams especially Egyptian teams. And since Kenya is doomed to face Egyptian teams in the first round every two years or so, we have no choice but to work towards that goal unless we are content with a swift first round exit.
What are the fans views on where the club must go from here ?