Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards are you watching? How Yanga was transformed into a football powerhouse

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FOOTBALL Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards are you watching? How Yanga was transformed into a football powerhouse

Joel Omotto 05:00 - 26.05.2023
The Tanzanian giants are one step away from claiming a historic continental title but their success is a culmination of a well-calculated plan from one man who had the club’s interest at heart

Yanga are one step away from making history by becoming the first Tanzanian side and just the third in East Africa to win a continental title as they are in the final of the CAF Confederation Cup.

The newly-crowned champions will face Algeria’s USM Alger in the first leg of the final in Dar es Salaam on Sunday with the return match in Algiers a week later.

If they win it, they will join Kenya’s Gor Mahia (1987) and Al-Merrikh SC of Sudan (1989) as the only teams from East Africa to have won a continental title.

Yanga’s brilliant season, that has also seen them retain the league title, is a culmination of a well-calculated plan from one man, the club’s president Hersi Ally Said. It is something that Yanga fans could not even dream of just three years ago when the club was plunged into deep financial problems.

Problems of one sponsor

Yanga’s Nadir happened in 2015 when billionaire Yusuf Manji, who had been bankrolling the club, was arrested and even after his release three years later, he fled to the United States.

By then, Yanga found themselves in a big hole, unable to finance the club activities, pay players or even provide decent transport to matches. The top players they had assembled fled, leaving them with a shell of a team and club before Said stepped in.

A boyhood Yanga fan, Said used his connections to good effect while laying down the foundations that have paid dividends earlier than projected.

“It was unsustainable. The club was living on donations, and we had to call fans to hire transport, air tickets, and sign players. I happened to be the chairman of the Yanga Family, whose responsibility was to solicit funds,” Said, who started Yanga’s transformation in January 2020, told South Africa’s FARPost last week.

“We signed an agreement to produce kits for the club. It solved two issues—they got money, and it resolved the kit issue,” he added.

Members given controlling stake

The kit deal started the journey for the club’s transformation but there was more. Having seen their fingers burnt by the approach of having one man bankrolling the club, Said wen for the Bundesliga model of 50+1.

It means the community or members have a 51 percent stake in the club while 49 percent is left to the private or would-be investors. The community or fans, therefore, have a controlling stake and final say on the club’s decisions.

“In phase one, we had to relook the Club Ownership. In phase two, we set up a company – Young Africans Sports Company, with a board of the club – 51 public and 49 private in terms of composition. Phase three was fan engagement. We devised a fan engagement model through which they could register and pay registration fees,” he said.

Fans backing the team

The Yanga community took the approach to heart and backed the club in large numbers. Fans pay an annual subscription of equivalent to Ksh691 and members Ksh1,383 and their backing has greatly boosted the club’s coffers. To date, they have up to 900 branches across Tanzania with fully paid-up subscribers.

“In six months, we’ve collected US$500 000 (Ksh69 million) from fans’ membership subscriptions. It’s a record. Last season, we collected US$10 000 (Ksh1.38 million),” revealed Said.

With money flowing in from fans, Yanga were able to start singing top talent from across the continent again and at the moment, they have Congolese goal machine Fiston Mayele, his compatriots Yannick Bangala and Joyce Lomalisa, Ivorian striker Aziz Ki, goalkeeper Djigui Diarra (Mali), Ugandan Khalid Aucho, as well as Zambian international Kennedy Musonda among others.

Those major signings led them to a treble last season, reclaiming the title after watching bitter rivals Simba win it for four straight years, and they did it in style, going the whole season unbeaten.

Lessons for Gor & Leopards

This season, they have retained their league title, won Community Shield and are in the final of the FA Cup and the Confederation Cup. Said’s blueprint may have been for long-term success but the results have been immediate.

It is a model that Gor Mahia and rivals AFC Leopards can employ given they enjoy huge support from the community who can be their driving force.

For years, the two Kenyan giants have endured financial struggles owing to lack of structures, mismanagement and corruption. The two, who are currently backed by betting firms, are always a sponsorship termination away from going back to paybills and begging bowls.