Johnathan McKinstry: Why Gambia’s appointment of ex-Gor Mahia coach is bad news for Kenya

New Gambia coach Johnathan McKinstry

Johnathan McKinstry: Why Gambia’s appointment of ex-Gor Mahia coach is bad news for Kenya

Joel Omotto 07:40 - 25.05.2024

The Gambia finally appointed Gor Mahia’s title-winning coach Johnathan McKinstry and with matches against Harambee Stars in 2025, here is why Kenya should be worried.

Departed Gor Mahia head coach Johnathan McKinstry was finally confirmed as the new tactician for The Gambia national team this week, ending days of speculation.

McKinstry takes over at a time when morale is low within The Gambia camp after failing to win any of their last six matches, including five straight defeats in all competitions, and he is tasked with the job of turning around their fortunes quickly.

The Gambia suffered a group stage exit from the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations after defeats to Senegal, Guinea, and Cameroon, having reached the quarter-final of their maiden AFCON in 2021.

That came after they had lost to both Burundi and Ivory Coast in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and this is where McKinstry’s immediate task lies as he is up against Seychelles and Gabon next month.

Like Seychelles, The Gambia have not recorded a win in Group F and the June 8 clash will be crucial for both while Ivory Coast and Gabon have six points each as Burundi and Kenya sit in three points apiece from two matches.

While McKinstry plots a route back for The Gambia, he could potentially be a stumbling block for Kenya’s quest for World Cup qualification as Harambee Stars will face his side twice in 2025.

The first meeting between the two teams will be in The Gambia in March 2025 before the return leg in Nairobi in September.

A section of Harambee Stars fans fear McKinstry’s ‘inside information’ on Kenya could give him an edge over Harambee Stars when the two teams clash given his two successful years as Gor Mahia coach.

The Northern Irishman was the man who brought out the best in striker Benson Omala, Austin Odhiambo, and Rooney Onyango, who could be key players for Kenya by the time they meet his side, and will know how to stop them or exploit their weaknesses.

Having also faced a number of Kenyan players in the FKF Premier League, his scouting mission will likely be less tedious against Kenya, since he understands how they play which could play to his team’s advantage.

Harambee Stars head coach Engin Firat is, however, among those who do not feel the Gambia pose an extra threat now that the former Gor Mahia coach is in charge.

“They have really a strong team, they showed in the last AFCON, and the AFCON before they were in the quarter-finals, so he is going to a very good team and the expectations are very high because it is the reason they changed the coach. So, we will see next year, if he is still there, and he can show what he can,” Firat said during a media briefing on Wednesday.

McKinstry has an impressive coaching record, having been the youngest international manager in the world at 27 when he took over Sierra Leone and guided them to their highest FIFA ranking to date.

At Rwanda, he led the team to the final of the 2015 CECAFA Championship and the quarter-finals of the 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN), which was their maiden knockout stage appearance in a major competition.

He also managed Uganda for 18 months, leading them to the CECAFA title within three months of his appointment, before his back-to-back league wins with Gor Mahia.

That should put him in good stead for The Gambia job but whether it will be detrimental to Kenya’s World Cup qualification only time will tell.

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