He is the Kenyan version of Portuguese super agent Jorge Paulo Agostinho Mendes. He is many things to many people, and recently added another feather to his cap by venturing into player and coaches representation. Starting off as a journalist, he grew through the ranks to become a Television producer, took the big risk and ventured into football administration, before jumping ship to start what has been a largely successful venture of talent management.
His clients are big names in the football scene locally and in his own words, he is growing bigger by the day. A man must court a dose of controversy, and he too has, in several instances being accused of either embezzling club funds during his stint in football administration.
Kenyanstar sat down with former Gor Mahia Secretary General, George Bwana, for a no-holds barred interview, where he talks about his time at Gor Mahia, TV, player representation and personal life.
Kenyanstar: Who is George Bwana?
George Bwana: I am a 38 year-old Kenya citizen. Born and bred in Suba. Homabay County. I went to school in Mbita,a journalist by training and TV producer. I started as a cameraman, rose to TV producer and ventured big into the TV world. I worked for various media organizations including The Nation Media Group for 9 years. In 2008 I quit Nation and went independent for about a year. I later joined Supersport for 2 years. In 2011 I quit Supersport. At Supersport I travelled the world and covered major sporting events, including the 2010 World Cup, the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria and the Confederation Cup in South Africa. I also organized sporting events like the Copa Coca-Cola. I later quit TV, and in 2011 threw my hand in football politics,. I ran for General Secretary at Gor Mahia and was elected. I later served as the club’s General Secretary from 2011 to 2013. The election aborted in 2013 and had to repeat the following year. I left Gor Mahia in 2013. Upon expiry of my term, I took a new challenge, and ventured into talent management; I started off with managing footballers, then slowly into coaches as well i.e identify talent, find clubs, place them in clubs, negotiating contracts and managing their affairs.
KS: You were elected to Gor Mahia as SG, when you were a young, vibrant journalist. What informed your decision to switch from journalism to football administration?
GB: At that time, I felt our football wasn't being managed well. Having worked for Supersport, I travelled the world to major sporting events as I have mentioned earlier, and I saw how football clubs, football events and sports organisations were managed, and it pained me how things were done at home. There was a huge contrast. I asked myself; Can’t this be done in Kenya? I believe Kenya has a huge chunk of sports talent, and thought we weren't properly harnessing this talent. So I made a decision to try and improve the standards of our football. Change how things were done. Gor Mahia is a household name in African football, having won the prestigious Mandela Cup in 1987 and that is not a mean fete by all standards. I felt there was huge gap to be filled. Not that we didn't have talent, but talent wasn't being managed properly. So I quit my job and decided to throw myself into this elections. Lots of my friends told me it was a suicidal move, which I later on somewhat regretted, but today I don't regret because I left a mark.
KS: You had a largely successful tenure while Secretary General. Tell us about your time at Gor Mahia
GB: A very turbulent time. Very interesting too. Very memorable events. When I got elected in November 2011, interestingly, that was about the same time a lot was happening at Gor Mahia. Gor Mahia was having issues with the then coach Zedekiah "Zico" Otieno who was also the Harambee Stars coach and a cross section of Gor fans had an issue with that. Gor had a torrid 2011 season and a huge fanbase felt that the bad results were due to Zico’s double roles at the national team and at Gor. At the same time, Gor had a contract with Zico which we had to respect. So I had lots of balancing to do - A newly elected SG of a big club and the tasks were here. First challenge was to deal with that disquiet. Then the transfer window was approaching. So we dealt with the Zico issue, the best way we thought; by asking him to step aside. Then did what hadn't been done before- asking coaches to apply for appointment.
We received volumes of applications from Kenya and beyond and eventually ended up picking Anaba Awono, who then was the assistant coach. When the season started we recruited heavily by signing a record 11 players and sent a few away. Then came the season. We won our first game in 2012. From that point on, we lost games, drew games and at one point, Gor was lying 13th on the log after about 8 matches or so. I remember Ambrose Rachier asking me- George will Gor be relegated under our watch? So it was a very shocking moment for me; I am new in office, a youthful leader, fans are screaming game after game, huge expectations…
You know the year before that, I had been involved in a huge campaign to bring back fans, and I believe largely that is why I got elected because we were beginning to get lots of young fans who wanted a young vibrant leadership at their club,. So here I was, elected by the fans and we are losing. The same fans are giving me pressure. I remember we made lots of trips to Nairobi- Nakuru Highway and lost to Oserian, Ulinzi and many other places. Out of 3 matches on the Nairobi- Nakuru highway, we only got a point and got to a place where we had to make a decision. I remember fans screaming in my ears, telling me to act. They were very patient. I approached the chairman and told him it was time to make a decision.
Photo/ courtesy: Bwana poses with titles at a past KPL award ceremony
We dismissed the entire technical bench after 8 rounds when we were lying 13th or so.We brought in Zdravko Logarusic. It was my initiative. The office was divided about that, but as SG, fans were looking at me. The dismissal of the bench was a big litmus test. Before Zdravko arrived, we made a decision to have someone handle the team. We decided to find someone to handle that one game before the new coach arrived. So we picked on one legend of the club to try pick the pieces. We made a call to Bobby Ogolla who then was retired and enjoying life in Muhoroni. I called him and he declined. I insisted to him that he was the best person to do the job. He said that having handled Gor before, he didn't want to come back. After rounds of persuasion, he agreed to come on condition that he would handle only one match. We lost.
Logarusic arrived the next day, and I took him straight to City stadium for training. Zdravko asked me what the issue was, and I told him I didn't know, since I wasn't the coach. He asked how many players we had and I told him 31. The number one thing Logarusic said was -you have a bloated squad. So he fired players and some fired themselves. I remember Collins Okoth just opting out after one training session with Loga. He just left the club and went. After few training sessions, Loga said we scale down to 25, and he identified players for axing.
We dealt with them in accordance to the law and trimmed the squad to 25, and we began training and picking points. The league title would soon be at reach. Recall, before then AFC Leopards was 13 or 14 points above us. We overtook them. Then came the shocker. On the last day of the season, 2 points adrift Tusker. We were playing Thika United at City Stadium. It was a very memorable moment. There was an air of optimism through the country. The nation was painted white and green. Then came the famous Giniwasekao. The match at City Stadium was at 3PM. Tusker were playing City stars in Kawangware. We only needed to win our match and win the title regardless of what happened elsewhere.
We had a superior goal difference. Tusker win and we drew. I remember that Kennedy Otieno goal. Then Rama equalised, but it was too little too late. Gor fans cried, I cried and I believe Raila Odinga cried. We couldn't believe it. That was one of my most memorable moments for me in Gor. There are many challenges that came with managing the club. It is a job that doesn't pay. People think that it does. It is a voluntary work. It takes a lot of determination and time. Gor is like any other corporate with staff, challenges, but there are no set structures and you don't earn anything. It takes a lot of self determination and willpower to run the club.That goes for other community clubs too like AFC Leopards.
KS: During your time, the club did well and won titles. What was working for you?
GB: I think was successful because first in 2012, after we missed the league, in 2013 we said we would not repeat the mistakes we did. In 2013 we started the league well, recruited well and won the title with 5 matches to spare. Logarusic again along the way in 2013, did everything right, but when it was time to pop the champagne, he messed things up and quit the club halfway in June 2013 prompting us to bring in Bobby Williamson and we won the league easy. I call it successful because Gor hadn't won the league in 18 years. The most decorated club in Kenya and East Africa going 18 years without a tile? That was unacceptable. I pride myself as having won the title for the Mighty K’ogalo after 18 years. From that momentum, we won it in 3 straight years. In 2015, we went unbeaten because of the momentum and structures I put in place. To date I believe it still there. People still remember my tenure.
KS: You won titles at your time. However, as many critics say to date, there is no much progress. The club is still reliant on Ambrose Rachier, and is still in debt. Do you think you helped the club long-term?
GB: That is true. In my opinion as a fan, I think that winning the league isn't enough. I don't celebrate winning the KPL title anymore. We have won it 3 straight times, what is there to win here? I believe Gor now need to go and make a mark at the continental scene. On structures, we have done quite something because if you remember where Gor was before Ambrose Rachier came on board, Gor was lying somewhere there. He has done quite a lot and that should not go unnoticed. I still think we still need to do more. One, we need to change the club’s constitution. The club doesn't need 11 elected officials, that to me is a major setback because you end up with too many squabbles, as everyone is trying to get a piece of the club.
Gor doesn't need elected officials. I am glad we have the sports act which I believe the current office is trying to comply with, and in complying with that the structures should come in place. Gor needs to establish itself as a corporate run by professionals, not elected officials. That way we can hold the management accountable. Today as things stand, if you ask the current Secretary General why certain things aren't done in a certain way, he might ask you - What are you giving me in return? It is a voluntary job and there is nothing binding the official with the club. I also want to appeal to our fans. The fans have been a hindrance to this process of change. There is a section of them who are hellbent on maintaining the status quo because that is how they survive. Some people are afraid that if we change structures of the club, they will lose control of the club.
I recall in 2005, the chairman then, Lesley Okudo tried registering Gor Mahia as a company. He received massive resistance from a section of the fans, to a point that he quit. Okudo was fantastic chairman, but was hounded out of office as result of his efforts to professionalise the club. I wish to reiterate that a cross section of our fan-base are a major hindrance to the development of the club, not all of them. They need to understand that things need to be done the modern way. Gor was established in 1968 by the then Minister of Planning Tom Mboya, and it was fine to have 11 officials to take care of the various sub clans of the Luo Community. Today Gor isn't just a Luo club, the club has fans from all over Kenya.
Photo/couretsy: George Bwana and Danny Sserenkuma during his says as Gor Mahia SG
KS: During your tenure, in several occasions when the club faced hooliganism cases, you publicly defended the club and famously said, ‘Those were goons in Gor Mahia jerseys.’ Many feel you never wanted to deal with hooliganism head on. What’s your response to this?
GB: To date I still hold the same opinion. In 2012-2013 before the elections and you know politicians love where there are numbers, and Gor itself is loved and hated in equal measure in this country. A cross section of politicians, with the elections coming up and with Gor being associated with one section of the political divide, some politicians would hire goons, don them in Gor Mahia jerseys and send them to cause trouble. Second, a Gor Mahia fan is not someone who would want to see his club suffer. A fan is someone who will protect the club with his soul. When in 2012 in that evening game at Kasarani(one of my memorable moments), Danny and Rama had taken off for trials without permission. Before that match, I called Logarusic and found out that two of our players were missing from training. The players also had their phones going unanswered. So we drew against City Stars 0-0. As usual, I never shied away from addressing the fans after the game when they sought to know what the matter was. Why we lost. They asked where Rama and Danny were. I told them that they had sneaked out of camp for trials. So the fans were agitated by that, and as I tried to explain myself, leaning on my car, then some goons confronted me and started getting their hands into my pocket. So I had to take off. (Hearty laugh) I ran for my dear life. The next day I addressed the press and said that indeed the scenes witnessed at Kasarani were those in my opinion occasioned by goons, not Gor Mahia fans. Genuine Gor fans are very disciplined and understanding. Look at Gor last season: Gor should have won the league. But the club was docked points because of fan trouble. Do you think a Gor fan would want his club to lose points and the league in that way?
KS: Hooliganism has been a major issue in Kenyan football. What particular steps did you take at your time to deal with this matter?
GB: Hooliganism is a major issue not to Gor alone but Kenyan football. During our tenure, we empowered our fans and created awareness. No amount of police can stop hooligans if you don't involve fans. At Gor, we have branches and would call branch leadership and pass messages to them on stadia safety and anti-hooliganism measures. We also employed the youth, from the fans as club marshals. We paid them 2000 shillings per home game. Their work was to to help in crowd control. We also worked with other teams to help in crowd control.
KS: Another famous highlight during your tenure was the Zdravko Logarusic saga. How good was he, and why did you later bite the bullet and decline to work with him, despite his good run in the league?
GB: Logarusic is good coach, and a great friend. We established a working relationship that was way beyond just work. We became friends and brothers. But Loga is interesting. In 2013, half way through the season, he came up with fresh demands on remuneration. We had a sponsor who was giving us 11m a year and the club wage bill was way beyond that. So when Loga came up with fresh demands we said, ‘let's review his salary putting in mind what he had achieved.’ But we had to strike a balance. We had a chat with Loga and gave him our offer, but he couldn't accept it . I then explained to him that despite our friendship,we couldn't continue and hence we had to let him go.
KS: Was it a good decision to let him go?
GB: It was. First, we had to act in the best interest of the club and also Gor is bigger than the club.No one can hold the club at ransom.
KS: You served as Secretary General for a single term. Surprisingly so. You said that you had achieved your objectives. What was your biggest achievement as Secretary General?
GB: My objective was to ensure Gor gets back to where it deserves to be in Kenyan football. Second, it was to put Gor on the right path to achieve success in continental football.
KS: Would you consider at one time returning to serve Gor Mahia?
GB: Gor remains my club forever. For now I am engaged in personal business.However ,in future when that opportunity comes I will be available to serve the club, but it has to be at the right time. I still believe I have something to offer Gor Mahia.
KS: Your toughest time at Gor, besides the infamous sprint?
GB: When we lost the league on final day. I couldn't bear that and suffered personal consequences. It took its toll on me, even my family suffered emotional distress. The sprint wasn't even a thing, it was some of those moments. I even realized that some of the guys chasing me were even unfit because they couldn't catch up with me.(Laughs). There were several others, where you would do things in the best interest of the club but people would think that you were making so much from the club. I recall at one time I was having a drink after a Gor Mahia match at Nyayo Stadium. I was having a drunk with this guy. Then he tells me: “This Gor Mahia officials are making so much money.”
I asked him "What do you mean?"
Then he tells me, “There is this Gor Secretary General, he has built a massive house in South C, and has big car.”
I asked him, "What is his name again?"
He replied, “George Bwana. He has a lot of money.”
I asked him - Do you know how he looks like? He said, “He is a young guy.”
I then told him, "What if I told you my name if George Bwana?"
He was really shocked and apologized and said he had just been told the story.(Hearty laugh)
KS: We have a new office at Gor Mahia. 100 and so days in. Lots of teething problems here and there. You take on the new administration?
GB: As you have put it, they are going through some teething problems and honeymoon. I however, hold that they have overstretched the honeymoon. Its expected that upon resuming office those challenges are there. But there is a limit. I am particularly disgusted by a couple of things I saw like how some like publishing club matters on social media. You do not see clubs talk about their matters on social media anywhere in the world. It amounts to subjecting the club to public ridicule. Like an official would post minutes of a meeting on social media. That is unacceptable. To me that is immaturity and should stop. However, they still have time to recover but they got to do things differently. Sober up and do things differently. We had similar issues when we were elected but theirs looks a little too magnified. They have got to start working and forget about elections.
KS: You are a key member of the Kenyan football industry;Kenya’s top football agent. How did you get into this trade and what motivated you to get into it?
GB: I am a journalist by training. I quit my job and got into football politics which is a very thankless job. Not paying. I served for about 3 years and upon expiry of my term I had lost quite a bit in terms of personal growth. I decided not to count those 3 years as a wate. I decided to turn my experience into business. I believe in shifting and doesn't believe in complaining about misfortunes. I decided to read about talent management, I did a course at Strathmore University, while still at Gor Mahia, that was being offered in collaboration with KPL and that helped me set up a business which I run today. One of managing talent. Started with footballers, then coaches and trying to get into other sports as well…
Photo: George Bwana(left) and George Owino during transfer to Zesco
KS:You have had majority of your transfers in Zambia. Why Zambia?
GB: The Zambian league is well organized and well structured. Zambian clubs respect player contracts. Zambian clubs are well sponsored, they pay players well, and take good care of players and coaches. Zambian clubs like to give back to communities where they do business. I made one first move with David Owino in 2013 and it worked well. I got feedback from the player, he was happy and followed on his progress and was impressed. For me, when the player is happy, I am glad., I work first for the player and coach. As a result of Owino’s good show, he opened up doors for other Kenyan players.
KS: Any challenges in this business?
GB: First, the perception that we make so much money. There is no big money really. We work for the players first. We are coming from an amateur league -KPL and if I make a call to a club in Serbia or Croatia, after watching the player and doing research on the club and when they hear about Kenya, they turn us down. They say Kenya is a nation for runners. Our football isn't doing really well, and we struggle to convince people that Kenya has talent.
I am glad we have Victor Wanyama out there because I use him a lot as a reference point when looking for clubs for my players. Some people ask me; Where is Kenya? Is it from Nigeria? I explain to them where Kenya is and tell them -Kenya is the country where Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama comes from. Do you know him? The reply -yeah yeah. I then say - The player I am proposing to you plays together with Victor Wanyama at the national team. So our ranking too is still low and does not help us. We need to do better.
KS: Your best business so far?
GB: (Laughs) That is a hard one. I think my best transfer businesses are two, to be very honest. The first one is that of David Owino because he was the first player I ever sold out of this country and the first to play in Zambia and he opened the doors for many players. The second is Jesse Were. He is scoring lots of goals in Zambia and was the top scorer in the Champions League in Zambia and second highest scorer in the league. That lifted my profile because I got calls from North Africa, West Africa and Europe too showing interest in Jesse Were. Today I am largely known as an agent by people who would largely never have known me because of this players.
KS: What qualifies one to be a football agent?
GB: First it is interest. Secondly, the Football Federation has introduced laws that we have complied with, not fully, but we are in the process of complying and are in good books with them. So you need to be qualified. FIFA has also given mandate to individual federations who license you and once you meet the criteria and they forward your name to FIFA.
KS: Majority of the Kenyan football agents, maybe middlemen, are not registered. This has been a concern. Does it concern you too?
GB: It is. A big concern. The Federation must have a list of agents. If anyone wants to be an agent, they must follow due process and be in the Federation records. I see a lot of my friends mostly in the media, purporting to be middlemen. Well, it is a good thing, we need our players to be in clubs. It is a virgin industry but let them do the right thing and get registered.
KS: Agents have been accused of using players, taking them to ‘any willing club’ making money and dumping the players. Have you encountered this and is it concern to you?
GB: Personally I don't do that. First, none of my players has ever gone to a country without me accompanying them. I usually accompany them to the clubs after having agreed preliminary terms. We physically travel with them to that respective country, review the contract myself together with the player to ensure everything that was agreed is in the contract then the player appends his signature.
KS: Do you think most players in Kenya have been abused by these middlemen?
GB: It's true. Some middlemen, not all are unscrupulous and very dodgy. What I want to advise players; For a long time, players thought that an agent is someone who just wants to earn where they did not sow. That shouldn't be the case. A good middleman acts in the best interest of the player. That is what I do. There are guys who swindle players not only in Kenya but outside Kenya too. So yes, there are funny guys purporting to be player representatives, but with ill intentions and so players must also do due diligence on whoever they sign with this agreements.
KS: What makes you tick as an agent?
GB: (Laughs) I don't know whether I tick. I am just a go-getter and a risk-taker. I believe nothing is impossible. I am a believer in Christ, and go out there to get things done.
KS: Kenyan football agents have been accused of ill-advising players. At times, making it difficult for Kenyan players to make moves across clubs in Kenya. Your response?
GB: Football agents don't make anything impossible. Clubs in Kenya must understand that football agents exist. Player representation is a new concept in Kenya. I think there is a misunderstanding in Kenya on who football representatives are. These guys have a job to do, and bills to pay. Kenyan clubs don't understand why they would sign a player for a certain amount. I am shocked and saddened in equal measure on the amounts we talks about when signing a player and clubs feels it's too much for them. It is really nothing. Yanga or Simba in Tanzania will buy a player for Ksh.5 millions easily. Kenyan clubs will struggle to buy a player for Ksh. 600,000. How many Kenya clubs even pay each other money for transfers? Only Gor perhaps has bought a player. Like during my tenure we paid money for Baba Kizito. Clubs must begin to spend on players. It’s a business. Transfer monies, besides the salary is what players use to improve their lives. Clubs must know that football representation is not extortion but a business.
Photo credit, Soka: (From left) Jesse Were, Teddy Akumu and David with Bwana during a Harambee Stars assignment
KS: A concern raised by Gor Mahia chairman Ambrose Rachier is that Kenyan players and agents insist on signing short contracts hence destabilizing the clubs and players. Your response?
GB: That is wrong and I strongly agree with Rachier. First, there are certain parameters you look at when signing a player. First, it's the age of the player. There is no reason why I should bring a 19 year old and insist on signing a one year contract. I am reaping off this club and I also am not helping the player. There is no guarantee that a young player will hit form straight away. There are very many challenges and the pressure is too much. If the player is on a short contract, he will struggle to get form. And before he settles, his contract is out. Signing short contracts does not help players. Some players also love signing short contracts so that every often they are getting paid sign on fees every often. Players must also put in mind their personal growth and know that you need time to settle in a club. I know players also fear that if you sign along contract then a club from abroad comes and wants to sign you, then your club will decline to release you. I keep telling player to insert those clauses in the contract and that is what I do for my players - If a club wants t sign you, then they shall pay a certain amount to your club. A serious club that wants to sign you will pay you and your club the monies being asked for.
KS: How do you spot players? Do they approach you or you go out looking for them?
GB: Mostly I approach them. I watch lots of football myself, both the premier league and youth football. So I spot the players. Some call me and approach me for representation and I have to do some background checks to see if it's worth the business. Not every other player is worth the business.
KS: Does you talent management program include image rights management and has any of your clients made money out of it?
GB: In the contracts we insist on a percentage for image rights. We always insist on that. So far, we haven't had an instance where we have been approached. We try go out there to do this. Zambia is our biggest zone so to speak and we are trying to set up a place there. It would be needless for a Zambian League player to endorse a Kenyan product. We have been thinking of partnering with certain people to work on this.
KS: We have seen a couple of players, some of them your clients not excelling in the PSL despite being good players. Why?
GB: I don't think its a question of Kenyan players. Musa Otieno, the most decorated Kenyan player played in the PSL for over a decade, and even won the chairman's trophy. I think it's a question of attitude. Secondly some clubs, to be fair to our players, mistreat some players. We have had incidences with several players, most recently Clifton Miheso. The same was the case with Khalid Aucho. It's true some PSL clubs don't treat foreigners well. Attitude is also important for the player. They should know that when playing outside Kenya, you are playing with people who aren't from your native country. So they(Players) must have psychological preparedness for them to succeed.
KS: Rumours have it that you are coach Stewart Hall’s agent…
GB: No rumour. It is true. I am his representative and I brought him to Kenya.
KS: In recent days, you have been accused of destabilizing AFC Leopards by trying to move Hall to another club. How true is this?
GB: I am a football agent and as such, when I place a player or coach somewhere, I want them to succeed because when they do I make a name for myself and stand a chance of renewing a contract or getting him to another club. I don't think any business,and want his salt would want to antagonize himself. I brought Stewart Hall to AFC Leopards late last year and he is on a 2 year contract and want him to succeed at Leopards. While i was away in Zambia, I read the reports on the press that I was trying to destabilize Leopards .The truth is I got inquiries for Stewart Hall from a Tanzania club. That is very true. The contract that we have with AFC Leopards for Stewart Hall is such that, there is an exit clause. That goes for every contract. When that club made inquiries, I explained to them that they shouldn't talk to the coach because he has a contract and a job to do. Having had a good start, I told Hall that we wouldn't wish to antagonize his stay at Leopards. The coach will stay because he has a contract with AFC Leopards. However, if whoever wants Hall can meet the release clauses that are agreeable to the AFC management, then we will deal. For now, Stewart Hall is an AFC Leopards coach. He has interests not just from Tanzanian clubs, but also outside Tanzania. There are several other inquiries. Stewart is a big coach.
KS: You have been at Supersport before. Your take on the current TV saga?
GB: Very unfortunate. It is sad that we should get into a situation like we have. Our football has made tremendous achievements over the past ten or so years. We still need to do more. I am disappointed that the people mandated with the affairs of our football have gotten us into this situation where broadcast right holders are withdrawing.Many countries would wish to have a broadcast partner. I am hugely disappointed that this has happened. I urge them to sober up as gentlemen, come to a table and talk about this, I am willing to bring them on board because I can. One of the major players in this stalemate is my former chairman who is the chair of KPL and the other is a good friend of mine and a young guy who can understand my language and Supersport themselves. I am a TV professional and Supersport are my former employers. I credit them for what I am today. So I believe this can be sorted out. Supersport has put in a huge investment in that facility at Ngong Road, I was part of it. I don't think it will be fair to have that go to waste. As a football stakeholder, we need TV because that is how I can sell these players - From the clips. If Supersport pulls out, our games will be played minus coverage. We need to sober up. I know people are fighting over egos and small things but I am sure these things can be sorted out.
KS: Thanks so much George for your time!