Football Football

‘Luo Inside’ Croat inspires Gor’s revival


NAIROBI, Kenya, November 21- He proudly proclaims himself ‘Luo Inside’ although he hails from an Eastern Europe nation located approximately 12,073.7 km from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The 50 year-old who arrived from Ghana in June has managed to transform Gor Mahia from relegation fodder to a team that has won two out of the three trophies up for grabs this season.

He is Zradvko Logarusic, a man of few words but never afraid of stating what is in his mind, whether it will tick the right boxes or not and on Tuesday, his command over the Green Army faithful attained levels of second to none.

His charges that had lost the league title only ten days before rallied against a strong onslaught from Sofapaka to triumph 3-0 on penalties and defend their Football Kenya Federation Cup thus guaranteeing participation at next season’s CAF Confederations Cup.

“Give me breakfast tomorrow (Wednesday) morning and some nice Kenyan good lady tonight just to celebrate and tomorrow, I will start to think about other things,” Logarusic a holder of the Pro-Lizenz coaching badge quipped when queried on his future.

Despite the outpouring of grief and subsequent rampage that hit the Gor faithful when they lost the league title to Tusker, the Croat lifted his players for two testing cup games beginning with the 2-1 semi final victory over archrivals AFC Leopards on Saturday and Sofapaka three days later.

It is this ability to craft the best from ruins that has endeared him to his players and by extension the fans who have been quick to express their adulation with abandon.

“He is important to us because of the discipline and commitment he brought in. You have to work hard to play for Gor and that is why he trimmed the team to 25.

“We can finish what we did not achieve if we have him here next season and we want him to stay,” Moses Odhiambo, who captained the team against Leopards and Sofapaka, gave his seal of approval.

His no holds barred approach saw popular Gor players led by former captain; Collins ‘Gatuso’ Okoth shunted out of the team and in the final two matches of the Cup, ever present custodian and skipper, Fredrick Onyango, was replaced by Ivan Mapunda.

Club officials insisted Onyango “was not ready to play” but the inclusion of Mapunda created a new cult hero with two penalty saves that justified his inclusion.

“As coaches, we have to make decisions. Some are right and others are wrong,” Logarusic offered hinting there was more to the ‘not ready to play’ decision in bringing the Tanzanian in goal.

“When he came here, we had many problems with our players and technical bench. We lost a number of games and as officials; we were concerned since our fans were questioning our direction.

“We decided to act and some of our fans in the Diaspora suggested his name and that is how we got to know about him. We got into contact and on discussing, we realised he was the man to lead our team to where we wanted it to be,” Gor secretary, George Bwana, explained the reason behind poaching the Croat from Ghanaian league side Ashanti Gold.

“From three trophies we took two. We won seven out of a possible 27 points at the start of the season after nine weeks. Now we were unlucky to miss the third trophy but the season was successful.

“This Cup is big in this country and winning it is great. Let us rest and we shall see what to go in the next few days,” the tactician, drenched in champagne, said in his team’s dressing room after K’Ogalo added to their KPL Top 8 knock-out trophy they secured by ousting holders Ulinzi 2-0 in the final.

Besides him, exhausted players roused themselves to salute their leader who even on such celebratory occasion, he was still handling them like a drill sergeant.

“It was not me, my technical team and the players also worked hard. Without them, this would not be possible since they are the ones who put what we plan into practise,” he added.

His power over the fickle Green Army support was manifested when he walked to the pitch moments before kick-off.

Standing in the middle of Nyayo National Stadium, the Croat waved at them and they responded with hell raising din as he turned to acknowledge them at all corners of the arena.

Logarusic’s gesture of bending down near his technical area and cutting a piece of the turf that he then kissed before crossing himself was also greeted with another fervent round of applause.

Having come in after Cameroonian Anaba Awono was shown the door, Logarusic is well aware the stress of managing the club that has seen its coaching seat develop into a game of musical chairs.

“It is part of my job to face pressure,” was his curt response.

His tenure at Gor has however, not been smooth sailing.

In September, he threatened to quit if his players were not paid, leading the club management to admonish him for usurping their responsibility in a dispute that involved sponsors Brookside Dairies.

Logarusic was also reported to have stated he was in it for the money and a club with a better offer would prise him away from K’Ogalo at the end of the season. This was taken as sacrilege among sections of Gor support.

His craft has not escaped notice since he was nominated for the Coach of the Year Award alonmgside Dutchman Jan Koops (Leopards) and Joseph Kamau (Thika United) at the annual Footballer of the Year gala.

With his future close to his chest, there is no doubt that Logarusic is a Luo Champion as the t-shirt he wore on Tuesday screamed.