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Gor Mahia: Does Muguna, Onyango & Ojwang debacle prove internal turmoil?

3:01 PM WAT 22/10/2019
Kenneth Muguna of Gor Mahia v RS Berkane.
Is the K'Ogalo regime crumbling just when the new Kenyan season is taking shape amid financial problems in the top flight?

Six gameweeks into the new Kenyan Premier League season, and five matches in for Gor Mahia, it's clear that all is not well with the reigning champions.

K’Ogalo are currently battling to make ends meet following the exit of title sponsors SportPesa, but the latest news from the club indicates a team struggling to hang on to their KPL title and also make a good impression in the Caf Confederation Cup.

Two senior players – captains Kenneth Muguna and Joash Onyango – have not led by example; they have not reported to training since they featured for Kenya’s national team the Harambee Stars during the friendly against Mozambique played at Kasarani Stadium during the international break.

As if not enough, another player – defender Maurice Ojwang – has also missed training for the last week, raising the big question; what is going wrong at Gor Mahia?

For example, Muguna and Onyango ought to be the role models of the club, they are the players the rest of the squad look up to as the team's captain and assistant.

The decision by the two senior players to skip training and fail to respond to the telephone calls from Gor Mahia team manager Jolawi Abondo further reveals there is a huge problem within the record 18-time KPL champions.

Gor Mahia coach Steven Polack is already unhappy, and has gone ahead to explain that the level of discipline within the team’s playing unit is now worrying and needs urgent attention to be solved before it brings the club down.

The British coach, who is handling the club for the first time after arriving from Ghana to replace Hassan Oktay, has also made decisive changes, with defenders Joachim Oluoch and Charles Momanyi taking the armbands at the expense of Muguna and Onyango.

“I am a little disappointed when it comes to disciplinary issues because I have rules and regulations [which I set up when I joined the club], and which the club agreed to, but the players seem not to be following the same,” Polack told Goal.

“When I see players who are supposed to be the role models of others behaving like this, I am left disappointed.

“My team captains [Muguna and Onyango] have not been here since the international game they played for Kenya,” Polack continued. “They have never been in training since they featured for Kenya against Mozambique, I haven’t seen them, nobody has seen them and we don’t know what the problem is.”

Asked about the absence of former Western Stima defender Maurice Ojwang against Kariobangi Sharks, Polack responded: “[Maurice] got injured when we played in the last game [against Zoo Kericho] but again he is another player who is yet to report to training or explain his absence,” Polack told Goal.

“We have a rule in our club if you are injured you must come to training and he has not reported to training and has not been training with us.”

While Muguna has rubbished reports indicating he deliberately stayed out of the team's training sessions ahead of Sunday’s game against Kariobangi Sharks, his counterpart Onyango reportedly missed training because he did not have enough fare for transport.

“Whatever is being said about me is not factual, some things are exaggerated," Muguna told Goal on Sunday. “I missed the entire week because of personal issues and the team manager [Jolawi Abondo] is aware of that.

“Leaving without informing anyone would have been irresponsible for me. On Sunday, I will be at Afraha Stadium supporting the team.”

A close friend of Onyango, who did not want to be named, told Goal: “[Onyango] has skipped training just because he doesn’t have money for transport. It is not that he doesn’t want to train with the team…no, he is broke and without a cent.”

However the question many pundits are asking is why out of over 25 players in the Gor Mahia squad, why did these three decide to skip training, in the same week, without permission?

A former AFC Leopards coach Vincent Ombiji has acknowledged there seems to be a huge problem within the team that should not be ignored.

“It means there is a big problem within the club that needs to be sorted out as quickly as possible,” Ombiji told Goal. “If it was about delayed salaries, then I expected the entire squad to protest, but when only three players are unhappy, don’t you think there is another problem to the whole saga?”

His sentiments are echoed by a Gor Mahia fan – Jababa Kadiero – who says players going for three months without salary can also cause trouble in the dressing room.

“Those players have families who depend on them and if they cannot get money from the job they do what do you expect?” Kadiero asked Goal. “I know the players are suffering and the truth is they have not been paid for the last three months since SportPesa withdraw support.

“No one will be happy working for free, and what you need to know is that football nowadays is a form of employment and when you go home, your family wants food on the table, not your face or anything else.”

Others now feel that a true captain like Muguna should not have skipped training to demonstrate his anger at the club.

“What [Muguna} did was wrong, he is the leader of the club and should lead by example,” former Gor Mahia goalkeeper Mike Kisaghi told Goal. “If your captain downs tools, then it means everyone should follow suit and what [Muguna] did was wrong, he should have the chance to speak on behalf of the players and send the message to the club officials.

“When appointing a captain, Gor Mahia should have looked at so many characters and even vet the players in the squad, I don’t think [Muguna] was ready for the role, he was not prepared to lead the club the way Harun [Shakava] did or even Jerim [Onyango]. He has failed already in the role.”

While Polack is not ready to blame the players, he has pointed out that he will have no problem pardoning them if they get to him with reasons for skipping training.

“No…I haven’t heard anything yet from [Muguna and Onyango] but anything can happen on [Monday], maybe they might get in touch but I don’t know,” Polack continued. “Let’s see, we will sit and chat them down, I am a very open-minded person when it comes to players, and you know I need to listen to why they were not here and then we can go from there.”

All said and done, the move by the players demonstrates clearly that all is not well at Gor. The team is struggling, and even their performance against Sharks was not up to scratch, but was it just because they were missing the three key players?

Coach Polack does not think so, and is already putting on a brave face: “I don’t think their absence played any part, only that we are not playing the game that we are used to playing and it comes down to winning matches with luck.

“Sometimes in football, you can score in the first minute or the 93rd minute or whatever minute, but still win a match and sometimes, when you are not playing the same way you always play it becomes difficult to kill off the game. We didn’t play the same way we usually play, and we didn’t lose the game, so the most important thing is we didn’t lose the game because we won.”

As they shift their attention to the Caf Confederation Cup, where they will face Daring Club Motema Pembe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the play-off stage on October 27, Gor have to move quickly and decisively to re-integrate these three important players back into the fold, and solve the problems that continue to bubble under the surface.