9 April 2019

Kenya: Here Is Why Things Fell Apart - Gor Players Speak Out

You reap what you sow. This age-old proverb aptly describes the conclusion of the Confederation Cup quarter-final match between Kenya champions Gor Mahia and RS Berkane of Morocco on Sunday at Moi international Sports Centre in Nairobi.

Boasting an eight-match unbeaten run in this competition Gor were expected to cruise through this fixture. Instead, a disjointed performance from the Kenyan representatives saw them succumb to an expensive 2-0 loss to the Moroccan side.

With Berkane carrying home an away goal, even the most diehard of Gor Mahia fans know it will be next to impossible to score three clear goals in North Africa that would hand the staggering Kenyan champs passage to the semi-finals.

FURORE

As expected, the result was greeted by furore from the club's vocal supporters, but what many did not know is that the Gor players played under distress.

As thousands spectators made their way to the Moi International Sports Center in Kasarani, very few of them knew that the Gor players had threatened to boycott the match. In fact, that dire action was only averted hours to the 4pm kick-off.

"We had a brilliant training session on Friday. For the first time in a long time the players were quite fired up. I left that session knowing that we would beat them (Berkane) 4-0," said Gor coach Hassan Oktay.

In an exclusive interview with Nation Sport Oktay poured his heart out: "On the day of the training I was sick and shivering because I had stood in the rain in Kericho and later travelled to the sweltering heat in Kisumu, but I was up by 6am so that I could make the final training session at Camp Toyoyo. I wasn't feeling well but the last session is very important because that is where a coach gets to give his players the magic touch.

NO PLAYERS

"I got to the pitch and realised that there were no players to train. There was a strike. I was so disheartened when my assistants told me that the players would not be coming. And indeed none of them showed up. And they didn't come for night time camp either, meaning that we couldn't monitor their sleeping schedule or their night activities.

"On the day of the game I was relieved to see them. But the moment we started warming up, I knew we were in trouble. The players were just not in the game. Mentally, they were unprepared. For some reason you could see that they had just come to get the game out of the way. We lost that match on Saturday in Toyoyo."

Indeed, a lot had happened in the days leading up to Sunday's fiasco.

TRAINING SESSION

When Nation Sport arrived at Camp Toyoyo to cover the team's final training session on Saturday, they found Oktay and his assistants sharing breakfast of chapati and porridge sold to them by a street food vendor. They remained idle way after their breakfast until 10am when they left for Kasarani for the pre-match press conference.

Later that afternoon, team organising secretary Judith Anyango in a Facebook post pleaded with the players to appear for training: "My boys I know you are in this forum. Rudini grao mupige shughuli. Dess Kachii Philo bongeni na team warudi janta tutapambana na mambleina next week." -- My boys, I know you are in this forum. Dennis Oliech, Philmon Otieno, Francis Kahata speak to the other players to go back to training. We shall deal with the issues next week)

Her words fell on deaf ears and throughout that night Oktay and team manager Jolawi Abondo desperately pleaded with the players to attend the mandatory one-day camp. But by 10pm on the eve of the match, only strikers Francis Mustafa and Erisa Sekissambu turned up for the residential stay at the Sports View Hotel.

BEGGING

Come midday on match day and it was not yet full house at Sports View. From the account of players who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, those who had reluctantly presented themselves at Kasarani, captained by former Kenya ace striker Dennis Oliech, frantically called their team mates begging them to show up, as the possibility of them not making the number for the game loomed large.

They finally heeded the advise with some players arriving at Kasarani on motorbikes. It was not until minutes after 1pm that the entire team assembled at the match venue for the 4pm kickoff.

The match itself attracted a fair crown that included Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, business man Maina Wanjigi, former FKF president Sam Nyamweya, Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.

The player's action so angered club chairman Ambrose Rachier he promised drastic action against them, and those close to him say that he is thinking of disbanding the entire team.

DUES

"These players were on strike about something else that we don't know. It is not about their dues. And it is something that has been going on for a while. Now I will be forced to take drastic action and I have told them already. I know the culprits," he said yesterday.

So even as they entered the pitch for the match against Berkane, the importance of playing in a CAF Confederation Cup quarter-final was lost on the players, with their minds occupied with thoughts of allowances and winning bonuses they say the club owes them.

The players have vowed not to train nor play until their payment matter is resolved.

But a deep look at the issue reveals an simmering underlying problem thatnow threatens to destroy the very fibre of Kenya's most widely followed club.

Six senior players who spoke to this reporter in confidence revealed details of what they feel is ill treatment and lack of respect from officialdom in the course of this year's CAF competition.

Apart from the non-payment of allowances and winning bonuses, the players feel unappreciated, and have highlighted a number of issues ranging from unfulfilled contractual agreements, empty promises and poor travel plans which have twice resulted in them spending nights on cold floors in airport lobbies.

POCKET MONEY

"Twice this year we have slept at airports while on transit to North Africa. Once we were in Dubai for about nine hours and the officials present did not even give us any pocket money nor did they organise for us to have any meals.

"We were left to fend for ourselves in those expensive airport eateries. Yet they owed us money.

"It was even more humiliating when Simba (a Tanzanian club) players were also on transit in the same airport and they passed by us on their way to a hotel that had been booked for them and saw us sleeping on the floor," one of the players revealed.

"During travel, we are usually given just one tracksuit and one jersey for use in the entire trip and you're expected to be in uniform throughout. So imagine how shaggy we all looked at the airport."

BONUSES

Rachier admitted the players were owed winning bonuses and training allowances. He, however, quickly added that those dues would be paid when the money became available, and not when players used unorthodox means to arm twist his secretariat. "I will not listen to blackmail. These players are on contract. If there is a dispute they have a captain who can reach me so that we can discuss. In fact, according to employment law, bonuses are paid at the discretion of the employer. There is no fixed date to do so. We shall pay the allowances when the money is there," he said.

Rachier's statement now pits the management at one side and the playing unit on the other, with the players claiming that they are tired of being lied to by the secretariat.

"Those are just lies we have heard for years. Can you imagine that the league prize money hardly ever gets to us. We are usually just taken round and round in circles with empty promises until you realise the season is over and you have no money in your pocket.

"The whole of this season we have not seen a shilling in winning allowances and bonuses be it in league matches or CAF matches. And that is Sh10,000 for CAF games and Sh5,000 for local games.

NO MONEY

"We can understand that the club dos not have money. But there are people who cannot understand that. Like our parents, our children. our dependents, and people whose bills we have to pay," one player said.

Gor have a Sh65 million sponsorship with betting firm SportPesa. And reaching the Confed Cup quarters entitles the club to Sh35 million in prize money.

"Most of the team members see no reason of going any further in this Confed Cup when they will not feel the benefits in their pockets. Most of them are looking outside and they feel they have marketed themselves enough," the same player said.

NEGOTIATE

Meanwhile, the contracts of five key players, namely Jacques Tuyisenge, Joash Onyango, Philemon Otieno, Francis Kahata and Shabaan Odhoji are expiring this year, yet none of them has been approached by the club regarding a contract extension.

"Those are key players but once they start to negotiate with a potential suitor, the management will start spinning stories that they are indiscipline or have ran away from the club. That is not fair," our sources said.

Gor Mahia will face Berkane in their return match on Sunday, and with the current state of affairs at the glamour Kenyan club they are in for a heavy hiding.

Gor's quality is not in doubt, but not their management.

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