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We should grow our own talent in 2019

Uganda Cranes players during a training session

Uganda Cranes players during a training session

The year 2018 came and went with the usual narratives from the people at the helm of Ugandan football. Taglines such as football progress, professionalism as well as building have become a way of life of sorts.

For the record, The Cranes qualified for the Nations Cup (Afcon) for the second straight edition; KCCA reached the group stage of the Caf Confederation Cup and, on an individual level, Dennis Onyango was recognised as one of the best on the continent.

Looking back, those feats alone make 2018 a success. However, I hold a different yardstick to measure success; it is not the result, but the process and the capacity to sustain it. It is in those two aspects that I want the mindset of football stakeholders to change in 2019.

LET’S GROW OUR OWN

For starters, those aforementioned achievements have to be reflected at the grassroots. I grew up adoring Sula Kato, Twaha Kivumbi and Phillip Omondi, among others. However, today’s youngsters and budding footballers draw little inspiration from Cranes players.

A player of Onyango’s stature should be a brand of his own, the face of many promos in Uganda but there is hardly any billboard of him apart from Cranes sponsors. Instead, we indulge in promoting foreign players. In fact, I blush each time I see billboards featuring Kalusha Bwalya yet we have a country full of our own legends.

Our players’ mentality would greatly be professional when they know they owe the Ugandan public and their every move is in the public domain. That’s how stars are nurtured and sponsors start coming on board.

So, the pertinent question we should be addressing is whether we have the capacity to build our own from the exposure that comes with Afcon. Ask yourself; do we have a player capable of taking the tournament by storm and attracting the eye of top European football scouts? The short answer is NO!

Here is why: The first team mainstays are past their prime; some who are considered developing are actually stagnated yet the young Turks are often overlooked. 

THE FUTURE IS NOW

So, I find it meaningless to take part in the Afcon tournament, get eliminated at the first hurdle and return to ‘basics.’ We have been in this situation before and it seems to be a vicious circle.

We have never been short of talent and in Mustafa Kiiza, Allan Okello, Pius Mujuzi and Nicholas Kasozi, among others, Uganda has an ensemble of prime players ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, they are being described as ‘players for the future.’

If Brazil – the best team in the world when it comes to talent – handed their national team to a 20-year-old Neymar, why  can’t Uganda do the same to a gem like Okello? It is weird he cannot even get a look into the national team yet we all know he is the best talent we have.

As expected, The Cranes will ‘just do enough’ before elimination from the Nations  Cup and all focus will switch once again to project 2021 without serious analysing the failings of the 2019 tournament.

LESSONS FROM ELSEWHERE

If Uganda is making football progress, we should be capable of developing a player able to play in mainstream European leagues. Our neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have at least a player in those A-list leagues. 

Besides, our so-called stars aren’t even brands on their own. Victor Wanyama is a Kenyan national treasure and his billboards are all over Nairobi but ours here are very ordinary. But our best export of recent, Farouk Miya, is in the dungeon of second division Croatian football. His career progress has taken a nosedive.

I, personally, have often tried to expose players to European scouts but they have miserably failed the trials, partly due to lack of professionalism, and cheating age. We all know our average Cranes age is in the thirties yet on paper we have one of the youngest squads.

The age-cheating habit has derailed our football to the extent that we are result-oriented at the expense of building for the future. Even if The Cranes were to win the 2019 Afcon, there would still be just a handful players worthy of being bought by leading clubs in Europe. 

Yet we saw how the whole Senegal team from 2002 Afcon and World Cup was bought by leading European clubs. The same happened to the Zambian team of 2012; but can anyone envisage the same for our Cranes?

Our players’ mentality would greatly be professional when they know they owe the Ugandan public and their every move is in the public domain. That’s how stars are nurtured and sponsors start coming on board.

The glaring anomaly is that Fufa has no drive to develop individual players and the players themselves find it fashionable to live in the mediocrity of changing clubs every season without developing their careers.

AFCON SHOULD BE VALUE FOR MONEY

What many don’t pay attention to is that football has evolved. It is now a business first, then entertainment. We indirectly pay to watch the World Cup, Premier League and all the football on television. So, Fufa has an obligation to make the 2019 Afcon valuable and this requires forward thinking beyond an individual’s personal mandate.

Lest I forget, continental body Caf provides each of the qualified teams with at least $2m (about Shs 7.2bn) for preparations. This is aimed at helping the teams with planning and strategizing.

Such sums should be aimed at developing football from the grassroots but Fufa never declares these monies to the public; instead, all we hear is how it was expenditure in an annual report no one can verify.

If just four Cranes players are bought for $500,000 each, that would be a fine return on investment for the country. The Egyptian FA greatly invested in Mohammed Salah and we can all see the fruits he is bringing to the economy. When he was benched at Chelsea, the Egyptian FA voiced concern in a show of national unity.

So, what if the national team’s Fifa ranking rises yet our league remains in deplorable standards? So, what if Onyango stands out when there was no local effort to use him as a champion for national projects?

German Burkhard Pape didn’t win much with The Cranes but is regarded as the best ever simply because he built a system that lasted generations. That is the spirit we need to adopt in 2019.

The author is president, Nyamityobora FC.

Comments

0 #1 The Ugandan... 2019-01-09 14:22
The Cranes will do better than the last time but their performance will largely depend on how FUFA manages the AFCON campaign.

Ugandan players are not well prepared for professional stints. it's hard to pluck a young African player and place in cold Europe then expect him to thrive with no support.

Wanyama and Mariga have good support. The West Africans and Cameroonians have vast networks of ex-players who have been there and done that, to lean on.

If the Cranes are to be successful, their players should come from units that play together year-round because the coaches don't have time to build a team with telepathing understanding.

That is why the fascination with European clubs is detrimental to the Cranes progress unless two to three players play for the same Euro club.

Another way is to build a spine of talented players from the U-20s teams and keep that spine together as they grow as Ghana did in the Michael Essien era.
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