Within the realms of football management in East Africa, Johnathan McKinstry stands as one of the best ever to do it!
He might lack the silverware to show it like his compatriots such as Pitso Mosimane, and Faouzi Benzarti but there is no doubt of his track record in African football.
McKinstry’s unparalleled genius has redefined Gor Mahia which was on a two-season streak without silverware, not even challenging for the FKF-PL title.
He surely leaves an indelible mark on teams everywhere he goes- I mean in a positive way.
Hello! Welcome to yet another episode of Mania’s Story Book. We look at how McKinstry rose Gor Mahia from mediocrity to football juggernauts.
McKinstry’s journey as a manager started as an elite youth development coach where he learned the craft of working with young players, fine-tuning their game for the next step of their careers as professionals. He was involved in clubs such as Newcastle United, New York Red Bulls, Right to Dream Academy, and, Craig Bellamy.
This would help him take his managerial craft to the next level as a professional head coach. This was the start of quite a remarkable managerial career.
In April 2013 he would land his first managerial job as Sierra Leone’s manager. This would make him the second Irishman in history who was active in managing an international club.
He would land this job at just the age of 27 years, which was a true reflection of his managerial potential. Imagine managing players who are older than you and getting them to obey and respect you- that’s how remarkable it was. Because of his tender age, he would become the youngest manager to handle a National team.
During his spell with the National team, he would take the National team to their highest ever FIFA ranking in their history. A 50th placing in August 2014. He would also develop a clear playing style, give debuts to 13 players which was a remarkable number, and expanded the player pool in the country. This was nothing short of excellent. He would leave the job in September 2014.
In 2015, he assumed the managerial duties of the Rwanda National team. He inherited quite an underperforming team, however, his influence was almost instant. He ushered in an era of success. He would lead the national team to their first away win in four years after their 1-0 win over Mozambique in the opening round of the 2017 AFCON Qualifiers.
Under his guidance, Rwanda became an East African heavyweight, in 2015, he led Rwanda to the 2015 CECAFA CUP finals where they lost 1-0 to Uganda.
But the signs were there that Rwanda was no longer a team to joke about with. In 2016, he would face a tough task in the 2016 African Nations Championships. This time round, Rwanda was hosting the spectacle and all eyes were on him on whether he would spearhead the national team to an unprecedented title.
They would easily qualify for the round-of-16 which was for the first time in the country’s history. They topped their group after only losing a single match against Gabon. They would eventually lose against the eventual winners DR Congo 2-1 in a match that had extra time.
This was a bitter pill to swallow for the gaffer but it was a massive achievement for what he had done. He would leave the post in 2016.
In September 2019, McKinstry became the Uganda National team manager. His presence was felt instantly when he guided Uganda to the 2019 CECAFA trophy. In the competition, Uganda were heads and shoulders above the rest. They would not lose a single match.
In his 18 months as the head coach, he would record a 67% win rate from 18 games, including 12 wins, 3 draws, and only 3 defeats. This represents the best ‘win’ and ‘undefeated’ record of any Uganda national team coach in over 15 years.
On July 29, 2022, an underperforming Gor Mahia who were a shadow of their former selves would pouch his signature. This was the beginning of something special.
But when he first arrived there were doubts lingering in the air. The question on anyone’s mind was whether McKinstry could reciprocate the Magic from managing the national teams into the club’s management.
After his appointment, he faced a bumpy learning curve. Gor Mahia was in total mess! Facing a transfer ban, meaning he could not bring in players that suited his philosophy. He also lost most of the experienced players like Julius Ulimwengu.
In the pre-season, he would face players’ unrest over their unpaid salaries and the fact that he had to integrate young players who lacked the experience to play at the highest level.
Something else was how he was going to wrestle Tusker under the stewardship of Robert Matano. Tusker was second to none in the league and had won the previous two FKF-PL titles.
However, Johnathan McKinstry defied all the odds and wrestled off Tusker to their first title in three years and their 20th in total. He also unified the fan base which was in disarray following the mediocrity that the club was showing before his arrival.
He also instilled an anti-fear playing style in the club which blended a philosophy of keeping the ball and using it to hurt the opposition.
Even if it is the early stages of the 2023-24 season, Gor Mahia look set to defend their title. They look like last season’s juggernauts which is a testament to how brilliant of a coach Jonathan McKinstry is.
Honestly in my opinion McKinsty is one of my all-time favorite coaches, how do you rate him?