Gor Mahia's 2023: Transfer ban reprieve, historic title win and Champions League abolishment


FOOTBALL Gor Mahia's 2023: Transfer ban reprieve, historic title win and Champions League abolishment

Mark Kinyanjui 08:30 - 23.12.2023

From having to endure transfer bans to win the league to getting stripped of their 2023/2024 CAF Champions League ticket, this is 2023 that was for Gor Mahia.

It has been a rollercoaster year for Gor Mahia, who went through what you would categorise as the extreme high and low in football.

Head coach Johnathan McKinstry took charge of the club back in October 2022 with what he said would be a two-year project to try and revive a sleeping giant that had lost its mojo since the 2019/2020 season, when they last won the league title as the season had to be brought to a premature end due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

McKinstry made it clear that his first season was about rebuilding the side in his image, before going for the kill in his second season at the club considering he took over from Mark Harrison at a time when the club could not sign players due to a transfer ban.

He took charge of a team with a squad of just 18 players and managed to manage the best of what he had until March this year, when FIFA lifted the transfer ban on the club after the record Kenyan champions completed payments owed to former players.

The world football governing body issued Gor with a two-window ban in 2021 for failing to pay Ghanaian Jackson Owusu and later goalkeeper Adama Keita.

The development allowed the club to bolster the squad with new additions, with Emery Bayisenge, Uganda pair of Patrick Kaddu and Shaffik Kagimu and former Kakamega Homeboyz defender Sylvester Owino.

However, it took a while for the three players to be allowed to play, something that frustrated McKinstry. Nonetheless, all players were eventually allowed to feature for the club after the registration issues were resolved

Bayisenge and Owino added steel to the bakline, Kaddu was to compliment golden boot chaser Benson Omala and Kagimu brought control to the midfield.

Gor then went on to see out the season fighting for top spot against Tusker,  at one point being seven points clear on top of the table, but a string of some inconsistent results saw their title challenge on the brink of suffering a massive collapse.

This included losing the first Mashemeji Derby since 2016 when they lost 2-1 to AFC Leopards in May, something that did irk alot of fans.

Their underwhelming results in May coincided with Benson Omala going on a goal drought, which allowed Kenya Police’s Elvis Rupia to catch up to him and beat him to the golden boot award by scoring 27 goals, one ahead of Omala who finished on 26. 

Kakamega Homeboyz, who went on to win the FKF Cup, had bundled them out at the quarter final stage, and repeated the same thing in Kasarani on the penultimate game of the season, shocking them 3-2. Fortunately for them, Tusker drew with Posta Rangers and were unable to leapfrog them,  meaning Gor headed into the final day on 67 points, with Tusker on 66 points.

All Gor Mahia needed to do was win against City Stars and the title would be theirs. Although they conceded the first goal, they managed to score four goals to outclass the Simba Wa Nairobi and clinch a record 20th title.

An emotional McKinstry could not hide his joy afterwards, claiming he had corrected “a mess” and even overachieved by winning a league title too early.

“My focus is to stay and help the team to win the league title yet again and have a successful campaign in the Champions League. 

“I have told my technical bench not to celebrate for too long, we have a huge season coming up and that is where we need to shift our focus to. It was not an easy season; I arrived here when everything was in a mess.”

Just as Gor thought they were back,they were about to be given a rude shock as they were stripped off their CAF Champions League license in July for failing to settle the dues of some former players.

 Sando Yangayay, Jules Ulimwengu and Keita are the players who took the club to FIFA and CAF over dues owed to them, totalling to close to Sh5mn. 

However, the club failed to meet the deadline and consequently, were denied a club licence by the Federation.

It was a massive blow for the club who aimed to reach the group stages of Africa’s elite competition as they would have to wait another extra year to participate in the competition.

As a result, Shaffik Kagimu left the club as they could not offer him continental football, and it forced the club to re-astrategise, saying they would not be signing foreign players moving forward.

“It looks like many of the foreign based players we have been signing only come here to cause us problems and take money without giving us value. 

“We have had a discussion as the top leadership of the club and for now, we are not going to sign any foreign player,” Chairman Ambrose Rachier said in an interview with Radio 47.

It was time to dust themselves and try to win this year’s competition in order to get back to the big time, which is exactly what they did.

All the signings they made were Kenyan. In came Kevin Omondi (Sofapaka),midfielders Kevin Juma (Nzoia Sugar) and Lawrence Juma (AS Kigali),defenders Kennedy Onyango (Nairobi City Stars), Rooney Onyango (Wazito) and Alvin Ochieng (FC Talanta) to help Gor Mahia retain their title in the forthcoming campaign. 

As of matchweek 15 of the current campaign , Gor are first on 31 points. They will be hoping they can win the league back to back  and finally get back to the promised land of playing CAF Champions League football, something they have not done since 2019.

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