Why Kenya's biggest clubs AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia are ailing

AFC Leopards fans react after they lost 1-0 to Gor Mahia during their KPL Derby at Kasarani Stadium on Sunday March 8, 2020. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

Poor management, wrangles, confusion and uncertainties are threatening to bring down Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards barely two weeks into the new season.

Though their financial struggles in the recent past have been well documented, the two Kenyan giants have witnessed some unpleasant activities in the last few days and mismanagement appears to be literally hurting them.

On various occasions, some officials have been thriving in the self-inflicted crisis within the clubs as they do businesses with them.

Unlike Gor Mahia, who have defied the odds to win a record 19 Premier League titles with six of the titles coming in the last seven years, AFC Leopards are staggering into oblivion.

Since unceremoniously firing former Tanzanian coach Sunday Kayuni in 1998, the year they last won their league title, leadership wrangles coupled by high coaches’ turnover, inconsistency and instability in the playing unit has bedeviled the club that once sent shivers among opposition teams and produced some of the best players for the national team, Harambee Stars.

Despite being the biggest and most successful clubs in the country, the two clubs don’t have their own stadiums.

But even as both K’Ogalo and Ingwe have been trying to put on a brave face to mask the serious problems within them, it is the status of their coaches that seems to have opened a can of worms at the two teams.

While Gor Mahia’s new Brazilian coach Roberto Oliveira was disqualified from the CAF Champions League matches due to lack of ‘proper’ documentation two weeks ago, his AFC Leopards counterpart Tomas Trucha resigned abruptly on Thursday barely one match into the season.

Unlike Oliveira, the former Township Rollers coach in Botswana holds a Uefa Pro license.  

However, it now appears the Czech, who has already been unveiled at a Malaysian club Penang used the alleged interference of his job and threats on his agent Prince Channis as a scapegoat to exit the den. Trucha was appointed Penang coach barely 14 hours after throwing in the towel at AFC where he had signed a two-year deal in October.

This is not the first time a coach has parted ways with AFC Leopards, who have so far hired over 25 coaches since 2009, in a huff. And for a club targeting to end their 22-year title drought this is not a good record for them.

Why Kenya's biggest clubs AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia are ailing

Gor Mahia FC chairman Ambrose Rachier during the introduction of new coach Roberto Oliveira Goncalves from Brazil to the team at the Two Rivers training grounds in Nairobi on October 12, 2020.[Stafford Ondego, Standard]

In 2018, Serbian coach Nikola Kavazovic left AFC for South African side Free State Stars under unclear circumstances barely two months after joining Ingwe. A year before, Romanian coach Dorian Marin had been sent packing hardly a week after being hired.

And just when many thought the Dan Shikanda-led National Executive Committee (NEC) had won the trust of many fans with their professionalism barely two years after assuming into office, it appears things in the den are going back to default settings.

But Trucha’s situation is somehow unique as it looks like he orchestrated his own departure with the help of a few individuals after landing a better offer in Malaysia.

His Nigerian agent Channis, who apparently is on a two-year deal with AFC Leopards, has been at the centre of the storm with a section of fans accusing him of pushing Trucha to sign more foreign players against the required quota of five players. Amusingly, Channis who was allegedly threatened has not resigned.

“I’m sorry that we are in this situation right now. There are a lot of twists on this issue more so on social media, but I would like to make it clear that my agent (Prince) never forced me to field the players,” said Trucha moments after his resignation.

“But even if he did it, we won. Did he do something wrong? So why are some people attacking him that he forced the coach to field some players yet we won?

“I don’t see the sense in it unless there is something personal and somebody wants to hurt him. I only used players who worked hard in the pre-season.”

Trucha’s exit saw his immediate deputy Anthony Kimani elevated back to the head coach role ahead of today’s match against Bidco United at Kasarani Stadium.

However, it is evident his resignation may just be a tip of the rhinoceros’ horn surrounding player signings, alleged inflated transfer fees, division in the management and multiple agents claiming to be working for the fallen Kenyan giants.

Caught in crossfire

Interestingly, two of the Ghanaian players Channis manages, Ibrahima Ganiu and Gideon Waja were caught in the crossfire in last weekend’s opening match of the season against Tusker which AFC won 2-1.

Though he showed some glimpses of his tactical nous on his debut last Saturday, the Czech had a confrontation with one of the technical bench members, who had questioned the inclusion of an unregistered Ibrahima Ganiu in the match day squad.

Prior to that, Gideon Waja had failed to show up for the Tusker match claiming to be ill despite being in the final squad.

This complicated the technical bench’s plans as they had to play with a player less (six instead of seven) on the bench after the late inclusion of youngster Omar Somobwana who had gone to watch the match.

Why Kenya's biggest clubs AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia are ailing

Coach AFC Leopards Tomas Trucha after announcing his resignation from the club in Nairobi. Dec 3, 2020. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Just like Trucha, Kenyan international Duncan Otieno had left AFC for Zambian side Lusaka Dynamos under unclear circumstances barely a fortnight after rejoining the club from Nkana Red Devils.

AFC Leopards chairman Dan Shikanda was at pains to explain Otieno’s controversial move to Dynamos as well as to address the alleged issue of inflated transfer and sign on fees of players in the recent transfer window where the club spent Sh Sh7million.

“We read in the social media that NEC is divided and not working together. We are only three in the office, what makes them think we are divided? Those are wishful thinkers and they are doing more harm to the club,” said Shikanda.

“But it is unfortunate that some people who masquerade as our fans are trying to destabilise the team. They have seen us doing well and they are not happy about it. What they are doing to the club right now is to kill it and the work NEC has done.

He continued: “The same people who threatened the coach’s agent are the ones who lured Duncan back to Zambia and now they want to shift the blame to NEC and the board.

“Actually the matter of threats on the agent and the coach has already been reported to the police.

“We cannot bring Duncan back to Kenya to play for us then send him back to Zambia before playing for us. We are not crazy to do that. When you go to social media, the distractors are saying this team is all about buses, what’s wrong with our team bus.  It’s something that is being done from within and these people claiming to be AFC Leopards members.”

On the alleged inflated transfer and signing fees, he said:“I can tell you, propaganda, rumours and hearsay should not be the order of the day here. Four of us ran the club for eight months last year and used Sh55.7 million. The branches gave us Sh600,000, so I don’t see why buying a player at Sh2m is inflating the price. For what reason can I do that?”

“If you have a problem and you think any player’s transfer fees has been exaggerated just come and tell us.”

Just like AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia have had their share of problems ranging from bungled travel arrangements for last week’s CAF Champions League preliminary round first leg match against APR of Rwanda to players’ go slow over unpaid salary and Secretary General Sam Ochola’s suspension due to gross insubordination.

But to avoid sanctions from continental body over lack of a qualified coach, Gor temporarily hired their former defender and current Posta Rangers coach Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo to lead the team in the continental matches.

Oliveira, who is now facing an uncertain future at the club, is reportedly set to go back to his native country to clear the course as per Caf’s requirement.

While apologising to their sponsors Betsafe for travelling to Kigali without their branded tracksuits (donated by the Football Kenya Federation), Gor Mahia chairman Ambrose Rachier urged more sponsors to come on board and support the team.

“We have disappointed you on certain occasions like last week when we went to play in Rwanda without Betsafe-branded tracksuits. But I’m grateful to our partners and it will not happen again,” said Rachier.

“The money we are getting from our current sponsors is not sufficient. If you have eight months without playing and you are not getting any money it will take a long time for the arithmetic to balance.

“Even if Betsafe gives us the balance, it will not take us very far. We need another source to come on board.”

But the recent incidents at AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia have not gone well with former Kenyan international Boniface Ambani.

Ambani, who was in the AFC Leopards team that last won the title in 1998, has accused the two clubs’ officials of creating crisis to enrich themselves.

“Honestly, these two biggest community clubs need to restructure the way they manage football. For example, Gor Mahia cannot be planning to play continental matches without catering to the welfare of players.

“For AFC Leopards, the management knows exactly what is happening at the club,” said Ambani.

“Most of these people have never been on the pitch to know that the small things they take for granted are very important for a player. How can you give a player a national team track suit for a continental match?

He continued: “Bad leaders always create a crisis to enrich themselves. That’s exactly what is happening at Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

“In the first place, this crisis is not supposed to be there. How can a club of Gor Mahia calibre lack tracksuits? That’s really embarrassing.

 

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