The good record that Vipers SC had over KCCA FC came crashing down in Lugogo on Tuesday evening.
That 3-1 victory by the defending champions was not only resounding but also embarrassing to Vipers, whose aim this season is to unseat KCCA at the top of Ugandan football.
Vipers boasted of four wins and two draws against KCCA in the last six league encounters between the two sides over the last three seasons. But they are now eating humble pie. And for their Portuguese coach, Miguel Duarte Da Costa, he looks like a dead man walking. However, Vipers dare not make the mistake of sacking the man.
Clearly, Vipers is struggling. They have only registered six points from a possible 18, which is abhorrable for a big side. Remember, Vipers are a huge investment, worth Shs 1.4 billion, which should be reflected on the pitch, especially when they face lesser teams like Maroons, Soana and UPDF, all of whom they have failed to beat.
Therefore, defending Da Costa at this particular time may appear misplaced. But then, unless you decide to analyze the story that is Vipers, looking at the tactician alone could make you miss the point.
Since Vipers last won the league title in 2015 under coach Edward Golola, the club supremo Lawrence Mulindwa has been trigger-happy, hiring and firing. He brought in George Nsimbe, Abdallah Mubiru and also elevated Richard Wasswa from assistant to the helm of the club’s technical wing before Da Costa arrived in February.
Yet, with all said and done, Vipers have failed to get the consistency they had before midfielder Farouk Miya left for Belgian side Standard Liege in January 2016. So, the problem cannot be the coaches. It must be something else. And more likely than not, the mindset of the team must be wrong, and it needs to change.
Because of how well the club looks after its players’ welfare, many of them have become comfortable. It is a psychology thing. There appears to be little drive amongst the players. And each time that is the case in any institution, certain things must be done.
For example, Vipers may need to examine their team, through the coach, and see which players have the right attitude to fight for the team’s cause. Da Costa is still new in this country and, one thing for a fact, he still needs time to understand and learn Ugandan players in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
Let us face it, the players Da Costa is using today were bought for him. He had little say in deciding whether Tom Masiko and Tadeo Lwanga were the perfect picks for his midfield. Yet, he has to work with them and make them fit. That requires time.
While Vipers have done a good job to bring in corporate partners at such a terrific speed, team building does not happen that instantly. Mulindwa and company must accept that taking the championship this season may be too early for Da Costa, not because he is a bad tactician, but because the team is still learning.
That is why another full season with the team can allow Da Costa get in sink with the players from a strategic and tactical point of view. In addition, Da Costa will be able to get more independence and knowledge about a wider spectrum of Ugandan players he can scout and add to the team, to fulfill his ideas.
One key undoing at Vipers has been the player power. Players run to Mulindwa for reprieve, which, in the end, undermines the coaches. Some players like Erisa Ssekisambu and Tonny Odur have been culprits in questioning their coaches, yet they get no heavy reprimand.
If Vipers still allows this, they cannot expect professionalism at their club, and the results will show. Give Da Costa a free hand on team matters, which will keep the players on tenterhooks, knowing that if you mess up, and you are gone.
Once the players sense that their jobs are at risk, they will do everything to ensure that they keep them, which is getting the results.
Essentially, Mulindwa ought to “take the gun” off the table while talking to Da Costa. Ease on the pressure because Vipers needs to realize that to topple KCCA ultimately, and become the top dogs in this country, they need stability for continuity. By now, the club must have learnt that the turn-over of coaches has not helped.
Of course some Vipers officials wanted Da Costa gone yesterday. Their argument is premised on the reason that when SC Villa hired coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic in 2002, the Serbian tactician continued from where his predecessor, the late Paul Hasule, had left off.
But you see, the times and circumstances were different. Micho inherited a team that had been dominant since 1998.
That was not exactly the case at Vipers when Da Costa arrived. Maybe one great attribute that helped Micho succeed, which I have not seen in Da Costa, is the ability to do own player scouting.
I have never seen Da Costa watching any other league game apart from the one where his team is playing. That is laziness on Da Costa’s part and he needs to step up if he is to transform Vipers.