The past few days have been dominated by Sebastian Desabre’s Cranes team selection for the upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Cranes go into the tournament in Egypt with a lot of optimism, especially on the morale front where government offered a supplementary boost of Shs 4.5bn towards the team’s preparations.
So, in the absence of financial struggles as has been the case in the past, The Cranes have little excuse for failure, particularly in the new tournament format that will see 16 of the 24 participants qualify for the knockout stage. It is on this background that several bloggers, pundits and analysts have come in to question Desabre’s rationale to leave out some locally-based individuals.
Top of the reject list is KCCA playmaker Allan Okello and Police FC goal poacher Juma Balinya, among others. Granted, the mandate to select the team falls squarely in the hands of Desabre but that doesn’t take away any room for debate.
In fact, I actually find it healthy for people to debate the team selection because it shows passion on top of building the hype. Personally, there is need to respect the coach’s selection regardless of whether one disagrees with him but there is also need to dig deep into the team’s goal in Egypt.
Okello lobbyists point out the pertinent issue of creativity or the lack of it, which continues to be Uganda’s mortal weakness. Okello is widely believed to be the best locally-based player and has been on the fringes for almost two years.
On the other hand, the agitation for Balinya, the league top-scorer with 19 goals, stems from the fact that he is enjoying a rich vein of form by scoring from all angles, both feet as well as dead-ball situations.
In an era when The Cranes continue to struggle with creativity and scoring goals, the two schools of thought make some sense. Surely, I find it hard to understand how the duo cannot be accommodated in a 23-man squad, especially when there are a number of untested and unattached players in the team.
Having said that, such talk may be premature until the team finishes the first match at the tournament, where our strengths and flaws will be on display. I want to believe that Desabre is in charge of team selections and he must have been convinced that Bevis Mugabi and Mike Azira are good enough to play, and not just warming the bench.
I also want to assume that Desabre has a master plan that will see The Cranes play with purpose to win games as opposed to settling for disrupting and frustrating opponents, a style that makes our players clueless each time they get the ball.
Short of that, especially if The Cranes get eliminated at the first hurdle, will amplify calls for his sacking as well as an overhaul of the team. Maybe then, the likes of Okello and Balinya may get the much-awaited chance to showcase their skills with The Cranes.
Just my thoughts.
The author is The Observer operations director.