19 November 2017

Kenya: Coach Kerr Brings Familiar British Winning Touch to Gor Mahia

At Gor Mahia, British coaches are nothing new.

There was Englishman Len Julien who coached the mighty Gor to three successive Kenyan Premier League titles in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

What of Scot Bobby Williamson, who came in 2013 and guided Gor to their first league win in 18 years, won in impressive fashions as the club finished 10 points ahead of their nearest rivals - incidentally the team was their bitter foes AFC Leopards?

Then came Frank Nuttal midway through the 2014 season. The Scottish professional football manager quickly steered Gor to the Kenyan championship and did a double the following year. In fact, Gor won the 2015 title unbeaten.

Now the club has Dylan Kerr of England who signed up in July this year, taking over from the underperforming - at least in the eyes of to glory-hungry Gor Mahia fans - Brazilian Jose Ferreira.

Almost like a ritual for any Briton who handled Gor, Kerr confirmed his championship status with K'Ogalo a few weeks back.

Gor were officially bestowed with the 2017 SportPesa Premier League trophy yesterday in Kisumu as they and Kerr wrote history with an unprecedented 16th title.

So, just who is Kerr? The Maltese-born Englishman won the Vietnamese Cup as head coach of Hai Phong in 2014. He had an unsuccessful one-year stint with Tanzanian giants Simba on his first taste of East African football.

The first-born in a family of three narrates how he found himself in Kenya.

"I had never stepped in Kenya before but I came to love everything about the country within a week. I now know every street in town (Nairobi), credit to coach Iddi (Salim) with whom we worked together at Simba.

"He asked me if I would like to coach Gor and I responded 'why not?' He then gave me a chance to speak to (Gor Mahia) chairman Ambrose (Rachier). The board offered me a two-year contract with a fixed salary but I never bothered. I instead looked at the big picture of coaching a massive club in Gor and the enormous demands ahead," Kerr says.

In the period leading to his appointment at Gor to take over from his Brazilian predecessor Jose "Marcelo" Ferreira, Kerr had an 'appealing' option in Europe but preferred K'Ogalo.

"I made a sacrifice, left my mother, my brother and a Chesterfield academy job because of my love for African football that I used to watch every weekend

"This is where I work from now. I love the service here and it's just 10 minutes' walk from my house. I love walking, I love the people I meet along the way," said the tactician with enthusiasm.

He continued: "I could have succeeded at Simba but I wasn't given enough time, just because I decided to overlook a miscellaneous tournament - Mapinduzi Cup. My contract clearly stated I either win the league or finish in the top three and by the time we left for the competition, we were second on the log.

"I fielded fringe players but after the semi-finals, one of the board members confessed to me it was the worst game he had seen Simba play and the rest was history."

By leading Gor to an unprecedented 16th title, Kerr went on record as the third coach from the United Kingdom to win a title with the club in the past four years.

He attributes his incredible run in the league albeit his unfamiliarity with it to his mastery of the art to inspire teamwork and support from all quarters.

"Of course my immediate task was to reclaim the league trophy. The secret was my close relationship with the players. Any success lies within the playing unit. It's not about me or Ze Maria's team, it's about the players and their families. I accomplished an immediate mission.

"The expectation to clinch the title came with a lot of pressure but I had faith in my players and the technical staff. Psychologically, we were ready to maintain our winning run and credit to everybody from the supporters down to the staff, security and the chairman," adds Kerr who beat Italian Stefano Maccopi to the hot seat.

Going back in time, Kerr was an accomplished player in his own right.

He won six medals as a player, turned out for 18 clubs as a player. Initially, he was a box-to-box midfielder and later shifted to left back, featuring for then English Premier League side Reading and Scottish top flight side Kilmarnock among others.

He lifted the Football League Second Division title and Scottish Cup with Reading and Kilmarnock in 1994 and 1997 respectively.

"My father was a Leeds United supporter; he would take me to the stadium although I was a Manchester United fan. At 17 years I got my first contract, faced some challenges as a box-to-box midfielder but the coaches later found I was good at left back because of my athleticism."

What of his thoughts on the Kenyan Premier League and his campaign?

The eloquent tactician points out Posta Rangers as the toughest team he faced in the 2017 season, terming the mail men as hard nuts to crack.

"The team was second on the log at that time and their coach (Sammy "Pamzo" Omollo) was determined to beat us. We practiced a lot on their strengths, defending, and fortunately we got a chance, scored and won the game at Kasarani. The rest of the teams normally came energized to beat Gor in vain.

"I have an amazing deep squad with every player ready to deliver when called upon. The listen to instruction and follow them well. They can also adopt in the game which makes them very special players. And you have seen their ability."

Apart from winning the CAF Cup Winners' Cup (now Confederation Cup) in 1987, Gor,formed in 1968 following the amalgamation of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga's Luo Union and Luo Stars, has not impressed at the continental stage lately.

They have regularly bowed out at either the preliminary or second round stage.

Kerr wants to change the awful trend starting in 2018.

"My aim is to try to put Gor Mahia back on the African map. It has been missing for a few years now. This time round we've to make due diligence in our pre-season plans. There are a lot of strong clubs in south, north and west Africa hence we've to be mentally strong and prepared for the task.

"We also have to give fans an opportunity to see some of the so called big clubs coming to Kenya. I watch much of African football every weekend and I don't think we are any less good than any of the teams. I am confident with the right players we can go far. I have a plan to implement over the next year, from signings to training programmes," said Kerr.

The jolly Englishman is keen to add to his playing unit some players he says he has been tracking.

He also intends to research thoroughly on his opponents and implement a plan of winning all home games to stand in good stead of advancing far in the tough Champions League.

Interestingly, a look at coaching history at Go shows that they have not kept a coach for more than 18 months.

Croatian Zdravko Logarusic served for 15 months, Nuttall quit after an 18-month spell despite both signing two year contracts.

Others include Ferreira (15 months) Bobby Williamson (13 months), Cameroonian Anaba Awono (five months), Gideon Ochieng' (nine months), James Siang'a (12 months), Pamzo (10 months) and Raphael Auko who worked for only 20 days.

But the cool, calm and calculated Kerr is unperturbed. All he is now thinking about are his future plans for K'Ogalo and the Green Army.

"In Africa when you sign a contract, work starts there and then. This is something I learnt in Tanzania. I want to win; I want to succeed at Gor. The football fraternity is fantastic here. I am here to give as much information and also listen to advice, whatever happens after, let it be."

Kerr called for unity among football bodies for the progress of the Kenyan game that has deteriorated alarmingly with legal battles between Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and league managers, the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) the order of the day.

"It will be prudent for the federation to organize a meeting with all stakeholders at the end of the season to iron out some of the wrangles bedevilling the game in Kenya. Kenya has about 18 months to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals and four and a half years to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

If they need to qualify for these competitions, they have to work as a unit with attainable plans," advised the Briton.

According to Kerr, playing venues and sporting infrastructure has to be in place if the sport is to make progress.

He singled out the artificial surface at Moi Stadium Kisumu as his best, describing Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani and Nyayo National Stadium as bumpy and below international standards.

"Africa needs more artificial pitches because of the maintenance challenges of natural grass. Bad pitches predispose players to career threatening injuries, like the case of my full back Karim (Nizigiyimana) at the Thika Stadium," he underscored.

Outside football, Kerr loves cooking. Within the relatively short stint in Kenya, he has learnt to prepare Ugali and fish sauce. He shares much love for his mum Gloria, second born Scott and last born sister Kerry.

"If I wouldn't be a footballer or a coach, I would be a pop star. I love music, I love singing. I do it on the road while walking and everyone is like, what's wrong with this mzungu but I tell them, guys, I'm Kenyan, not mzungu," Kerr said with a beam.

To show he love for Gor, Kerr has gone ahead and acquired a tattoo of the Gor Mahia emblem on his leg. Now that's permanent love for club.

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