For 30 years fans of Gor Mahia have held a distant hope that their beloved club will one day reclaim the Cecafa Club Championships aka Kagame Cup title.
Well the club’s winless streak in this particular tournament has now extended to 31 years after they lost 2-0 to Tanzanian side Azam in the final on July 2, but their good run in the tournament certainly commanded some level of attention.
Here are seven reasons why K’Ogalo, eliminated at the 2014 edition without winning a single match, made it to the final stage this year.
1. Frank Nuttall the pragmatist
Scottish coach Frank Nuttall is a cunning man who plays the game in his mind and with the aim of winning from both sides.
Forget the tales about him flashing a one-finger salute at Yanga fans. Forget also his tendency to utter loud curse words at anyone (and anything) that may have annoyed him in the heat of battle.
Nuttall is focused, pragmatic, unflappable, professional…tactical; a coach who carries out his duty with playful arrogance and a dash of cockiness.
Throughout the tournament, the fitness instructor (for that is his correct title) gave concise and level-headed interviews, insisting that he and his team had come to get past the group stages even when it was clear that was just the least of their ambitions in the tourney.
This turned out to be a strategy directed to the public. He clearly did not want anyone thinking that his team was taking the tournament seriously.
He didn’t want them to appear cocky and in the end, he and his squad walked away with heads held up high. According to their pre-tournament ambitions, they had overachieved. Nobody got hurt. How clever.
2. ‘Engineer’ Michael Olunga
He hasn’t qualified to be called an engineer yet but he is a real engineer of goals. Olunga, an undergraduate geospatial engineering student at a Nairobi university, is a human goal-scoring machine with the requisite skill, ability and physique to score at will on a good day. He managed a brace against Zanzibar’s KMKM and he was the tournament’s top scorer with five goals.
Say what you will about the youngster, but Olunga is a world class striker and to confirm that, you only needed to observe the things that he did with his dangerous left foot.
3. That defense
You don’t concede, you don’t lose.
For any team that thinks of itself as a title contender, defense is a crucial department, and for this year’s Kagame Cup tournament, Gor Mahia had it.
The signing of full backs Abouba Sibomana and Karim Nizigiyimana has proven to be a masterstroke. The duo, together with central defenders Musa Mohammed and Harun Shakava, continue to be the most ideal shield for goalkeeper Boniface Oluoch.
Statistics reveal that Karim provided so many assists that it was difficult to tell that he was a defender.
Well, many will argue that the K’Ogalo defense is porous to a large extent judging by the fact that the team conceded at least a goal a match, but these four players remained influential in Nuttall’s squad.
4. It was time the team made an international statement
The K’Ogalo class of 2015 wanted to win the tournament so badly not just for themselves, but for the role the victory would play in the history of the club.
The team had achieved so much at home and their dominance in the Kenyan Premier League (where they are yet to taste defeat this season) had gotten boring.
They needed to take on a greater challenge in order to feel whole. To prove o themselves that they are good enough. Strong enough to measure up with the best teams in the region. That, together with a profound hunger for continental success, propelled them up until the final stage of the tournament.
5. Witch craft(?)
The story of Gor Mahia players refusing to use the locker rooms and entrances reserved for them in some of the matches in this year’s tournament was retold several times.
In the end, a door was broken for the team to gain entry, but deep sources within the club clarified that this was not to spite the tournament organisers or stadium staff, but only a desperate attempt to evade the “traps” set for them by their enemies.
Whether this fear of witchcraft was real or perceived, avoiding those areas definitely had a psychological effect on the players and it showed in the fearless fashion in which they faced home team Yanga and their screaming fans in the opening match, and won.
6. The opposition’s state
Before anybody castigates a team like Yanga for failing to provide a worthy challenge to the Kenyan champions, they should understand that the Young Africans of Tanzania, and several other teams in the tournament were in preseason.
They may have enjoyed tremendous home support but for many clubs in the region, the tournament had come just before the commencement of their national premier league and smack in the middle of their end of season transfer period.
The result was that many teams struggled with fitness issues, and that formed a great part of the reason why K’Ogalo swept many of them aside with relative ease notwithstanding that Tanzania’s Azam eventually beat them in the final to win the title. Five days before they left for Dar es Salaam, the Kenyan champions had played their 18th unbeaten match in the Kenyan league. Which brings us to the next point.
An unbeaten run stretching 18 matches plays wonderfully to a team’s mental strength. It invariably shakes up your mindset and provides a strong, external belief that you are a conqueror.
This statistic added a winning mentality to a quality squad, and their performance in the group stages summed up the potential that the team had.
They knew how it felt to win together and with the backing of their numerous, outspoken and partisan fans, they kept pushing for victory match day in, match day out.
By Cellestine Olilo