The return of prodigal son Harun Shakava to the Gor Mahia defense has turned around a season that seemed lost at the beginning to place the 19 time champions back on track for an unprecedented 20th title.
Gor Mahia was out of sorts at the start of the 2020/21 season losing six times and at some point, they were 13 points from leaders Tusker and nine points from their arch rivals AFC Leopards.
Loses to minnows Vihiga United and Nzoia coupled with other losses to Tusker FC, Kakamega Homeboys, Posta Rangers and Kariobangi Sharks left Gor Mahia on the lower reaches of the league table.
Add that to the deduction of three points they had collected from their win over demoted Zoo FC and all seemed lost for K’Ogalo.
There was talk of the players engaging in match fixing, but the office allayed those fears.
Enter Shakava, the former club captain who won the league title in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and all of a sudden Gor Mahia are back to their best form.
Shakava had left Gor Mahia in 2019 to pursue his career in Zambia with Nkana FC, but he parted ways with the side at the end of last year.
Gor Mahia quickly signed him back and immediately reappointed him as captain taking over from Kenneth Muguna.
His return has coincided with return to form of Gor Mahia.
Since his arrival in February, Gor Mahia has moved from the second half of the table to the top four, just five points behind current leaders Kenya Commercial bank and with a match at hand.
His return to the squad has also seen Gor Mahia going five matches unbeaten since losing by a solitary goal to Posta Rangers on March 10. In the five games, K’Ogalo has conceded only one goal in the 2-1 away win over Sofapaka as compared to 17 goals they had conceded before this.
On Wednesday, Gor Mahia beat Mathare United by a solitary goal to move to 34 points. Their run has left their title opponents shaking.
While Shakava is quick to downplay his influence in the squad since his return, coach Vaz Pinto says the captain has offered leadership from the back.
“Shakava has brought stability in our defense. His experience has been very vital in our resurgence,” the Portuguese coach says.
“You can see how many goals we shipped in in the beginning and how many we have conceded since his arrival. He has offered leadership to the your players in defense and brought in some confidence in the entire team,” adds the coach.
Shakava meanwhile says the most important thing is working as a team.
“I came back when the club was not performing well. You could see the players were down in confidence. What we have done as a team is to lift ourselves and focus on a game at a time,” says Shakava.
“We have young players most of who have not played at the big stage but they are picking up very fast and that is also one of the reasons for our rise to form,” he adds.
Thanks to Shakava’s leadership, teenager Frank Odhiambo has emerged as strong defensive partner relegating veterans Charles Momanyi and Joaquim Oluoch.
“Odhiambo is a young player always willing to learn. He has a great future,” Shakava said in a previous post match interview.
Odhiambo himself says he is learning from Shakava.
“When I am with him in defense, I am under no pressure. He has guided me so well and I am very comfortable working with him in the central defense,” says Odhiambo.
With the league title race thrown wide open thanks to loses by Tusker (to Posta Rangers) on Tuesday and the two all draw between AFC Leopards and Sofapaka, Shakava believes Gor Mahia can go all the way and win their 20th title.
“This is where our experience should count. We are still behind, but not out of the race. We will give our all to lift the league.
Gor Mahia is also in the finals of the FKF Cup where they meet rivals AFC Leopards.
Should Gor Mahia go all the way and lift a double, Shakava will become the first captain since Austin Oduor in 1987 to lift both the league and cup title.