Ernest Wendo
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Ernest Wendo: Gor’s most decorated player basks in glory of seventh league title

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 Tusker FC's Eric Mmata (left) vies for the ball with Gor Mahia's Ernest Wendo during their Football Kenya Federation Premier League match at Nyayo National stadium on May 28, 2023.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

It would have been a double celebration for experienced midfielder Ernest Wendo. 

But on a day when the 33-year-old footballer clinched his seventh Football Kenya Federation Premier League (FKF-PL) title with giants Gor Mahia - making him one of the most decorated players in the team’s history, and that of Kenyan football - his favourite club Arsenal lost the English Premier League (EPL) title to Manchester City. 

“It’s something that I was really praying for,” says Wendo of his wish for Gor to clinch an unprecedented 21st FKF-PL title and Arsenal to lift the prestigious EPL trophy two Sundays ago. 

With the 2023/24 FKF-PL title in the bag following K’Ogalo 3-0 romp over Muhoroni Youth at SportPesa Arena in Murang’a, Wendo just like most Arsenal’s supporters around the world prayed for a miracle for the “Gunners” to clinch the this season’s EPL title. 

But it was not to be as City won an unprecedented fourth straight league title with 91 points following their 3-1 win over West Ham United at Etihad Stadium. 

Arsenal settled for second with 89 points following their 2-1 win over Everton at Emirates Stadium.

In the FKF-PL, Gor lifted the title after taking their points tally to an unprecedented 67 points with three matches to go.

“Gor and Arsenal winning the league titles on the same day would have been wonderful for me… They (Arsenal) were not lucky and that is the nature of the game. But they have improved and that is very encouraging,” says the towering, well-built Kenya international.

He revels in the impressive seven FKF-PL titles he has won with Gor but admits that playing for the club is an uphill task, owing to immense pressure from their vocal supporters. 

Ready for war

“Playing for Gor Mahia is like you have been sent to war and you must be ready to go,” says the former Bidco United and Mathare United player, reckoning that when he joined the club in December 2015, he never imagined he would boast of such a decorated career. 

“It’s a mixture of excitement because it is something that is not easy to achieve,” says the father of two.

“It gives me the drive to continue pushing on to achieve more success with the club. I thank God my career has been successful for the time I have been at the club.” 

The other seasons that Wendo won the league title with Gor are; 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2023.

But it is their 2015 triumph that has remained nostalgic to him since they finished the season unbeaten.

Under the tutelage of Scottish tactician Frank Nuttall, K’Ogalo then won 24 matches and drew six times.

“The victory meant a lot to me because it was my first title in competitive football. It gave me the motivation to chase for more success with the club,” says the Kenya international, adding that he never expected to stay for so long at the club, as his dream has always been to ply his trade in Europe.

Ernest Wendo

LG Marketing Manager Moses Marji presents a trophy to Ernest Wendo who was crowned the 2017 Player of the Month for May at Toyoyo Grounds.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

“My plans have never changed. I wanted to play in Europe but until now things have not opened up for me. But I have not given up. Until I hang my boots, I will always push myself to achieve this dream,” says Wendo who studied at Huruma PAG Primary School and Pioneer High School in Kariobangi South.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having a strong mentality have helped him to perfectly adapt to the philosophy of the many coaches he has played under at K’Ogalo.

Apart from Nuttall and the departing Irishman Johnathan McKinstry, Wendo has played under eight other coaches namely Jose Marcelo Ferreira aka Ze Maria (Brazil), Dylan Kerr (Maltese-English), Hassan Oktay (Turkish-English), Steven Polack (England), Roberto Oliveira (Brazil), Carlos Manuel Vaz Pinto (Portugal), Mark Harrison (England) and Andreas Spier (Romania-Germany).

“Every coach has his formation, playing style and target. That is where the mentality comes in because as a player, you need to be ready for changes. I think that is what has helped me a lot,” he explains, singling out Ze Maria as the best coach he has thus far played under.

Better offer

 “All the coaches have been good but Ze Maria changed a lot of things in the team including the mentality of the players. As a defensive player, he taught me how to read the game and that has really been impactful to my career,” says the midfielder.

Wendo says he has stayed for long at Gor because he has yet to get a better offer. 

“Players have this tendency of rushing to make decisions when a foreign club approaches them. That is not the case for me. I have turned down many offers because the offers did not impress me. If I am to make a move, then it must be a major step in my career,” he says, naming Tanzania and Zambia as some of the countries where he has received offers from but turned them down. 

While the former Bidco man admits that his chances of achieving his dream to play in Europe are slim, due to his advanced age, he says that he will only give up when he hangs his boots. 

But his immediate targets are to re-capture his starting role at Gor and earn a recall to the national team. In the 2023/24 FKF-PL, which is in its homestretch, Wendo has in most cases started from the bench. 

“As long as I have not hang my boots, I still have a lot of hopes that it can happen (play in Europe). I still have a lot of energy to go…I must try and be part of the first team again,” says the Kenya international, who hits the gym at least three times a week and takes part in road races every dawn.

He is thankful to God since throughout his football career, he has never suffered a serious injury that kept him out of play for long. 

He said that the longest he has been sidelined with an injury has been two weeks. 

He began his football journey when he was around 10 years old while living with his parents in Huruma Estate in Nairobi. 

He started off as a goalkeeper at Young Kings Academy before moving to the Musa Otieno Foundation in Jericho.

Ernest Wendo

 Ernest Wendo (left) of Gor Mahia and Titus Achesa of Posta Rangers FC during their Football Kenya Federation Premier League match at Machakos Stadium.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

He later joined Mathare, Bidco, and then Gor Mahia.

He has not been a common figure in the national team, despite having earned his maiden call-up in 2016.

“To be called in the national team makes it easy to achieve the dream to play in Europe. This is why I need to work harder to be more involved in the national team,” says Wendo, who is the only one who plays football in his family.

According to the midfielder, it takes a strong mentality to play for Gor owing to the pressure from fans.

“A win is the only thing that Gor Mahia believes in, so if winning is not your mentality then it is very difficult for you to survive in the team. You must also be loyal to the team,” he says, adding that the support and pressure from fans is what drives them to win the matches. 

Dominating the FKF-PL

In dominating the FKF-PL, he says it's because Gor's players have a stronger mentality than other teams.

“There is competition (in the FKF-PL) but I think we are above the other teams’ mentality-wise. We take every small detail seriously and it is what gives us an edge over the rest. Whenever we step on the pitch, we are always going for a win,” he says.

Tusker is the second most successful team in Kenya with 13 FKF-PL titles while AFC Leopard have lifted the trophy 12 times. 

Singling 2020 as the most difficult time of his career at Gor thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, Wendo is thankful to his family for being supportive of him. 

“Salaries and bonuses would be delayed. It was my family who supported me. If they never understood what football is, they would have abandoned me,” says the midfielder. 

He says thanks to football he has toured several places and learned different cultures. 

With Gor having qualified for next season’s Caf Champions League, Wendo believes they can perform well in the competition if they prepare well. 

“If we prepare adequately early, then we have a good chance of impressing at the competition,” says the experienced player.

Apart from playing football, he loves swimming and reading books.

Last week, Harambee Stars’ Turkish coach Engin Firat named his squad of 25 for the June Fifa 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Burundi (June 7) and Africa champions Cote d’Ivoire (June 11), with Wendo not making the cut.

However, his K’Ogalo midfield teammate Rooney Onyango was called up alongside the club’s strikers Benson Omala and Austine Odhiambo.

Wendo know his time will come. But in the meantime, he will be very much in Gor Mahia’s plans to chase a 22nd league title in the 2024-25 season besides seeking to reclaim glory in African club competition.

Gor remain the only Kenyan club to have won a continental title when they won the Mandela Cup (now Caf Confederation Cup) in 1987.