Former Cranes’ coach MILUTIN ‘MICHO’ SREDOJEVIC led Zambia to the quarter-finals of the recently concluded 2020 African Nations Championship (Chan) tournament in Cameroon. Before losing out (1-3) to Morocco, the Zambia coach spoke John Vianney Nsimbe about leaving Uganda four years ago, and his current position.
Coach Micho, this is your third appearance at Chan; how important is the tournament in your view? It appears like some redundant tournament. Its fruits are not really clear…..
Brother, Chan is a very important tournament, because it is a platform for the locally based talent. This is their chance to upgrade their quality. You see, if a player can do well in this competition, then their chances of gaining promotion to the senior national team are quite high.
From your experience in the Chan, does it really add any value to the game on the continent?
Of course it does. Look, the Chan is a difficult tournament, and I am sure you have seen how competitive the teams are. That builds player quality and character. There is a lot of emotion and feelings that the teams inject in the game. There is no doubt the motivation to do well by all teams is high, and they are only separated by small details.
What is your impression of the Uganda Cranes?
I must give credit to my successors right from Moses Basena, Sebastien Desabre and now Johnathan McKinstry. They have kept the team at a good level, where they are equally competitive. In fact, I saw a number of new and young players in the team, which is positive especially as far as the future of The Cranes is concerned.
Each time you have faced Uganda, your team has lost; Rwanda in 2011, and then Zambia in the pre-Chan tournament. Describe the feeling of your recent encounter.
It was a good reunion with my Ugandan friends. I met some of the players I had worked with for a long time like Tonny Mawejje, and of course the coaches like Abdallah Mubiru and Livingstone Mbabazi with whom we used to discuss football.
But, most importantly, I got goose bumps when the Ugandan anthem was played. I remembered the 84 times it played in the four years I was coach; such a great feeling of attachment. About the result, it was a friendly match. It just helped us evaluate our readiness for the Chan.
You left Uganda in 2017 and went to South Africa, then Egypt, and now you are in Zambia. How does life compare?
You know, Uganda is a country with humble people, very hospitable. Everywhere I went during my time in Uganda, I was shown a lot of appreciation. That motivated me to work tirelessly to make the team succeed.
One thing I learnt about Uganda is that any foreign person can live comfortably in Uganda, because of the sharing values of Ugandans. The people in Uganda are quite different from those in other countries I have worked, which is why I will forever hold in high regard my name, Sserunjogi, and always be an ambassador for Ugandan football.
Can you describe the emotion you felt the day you had to leave back in 2017?
It is the biggest wound of my football career. We had just beaten Cape Verde away from home in the hardest group match to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. That Geoffrey Sserunkuma goal was a sign of how much strength and momentum the team had gained.
We were on our away to the 2018 Chan tournament in Morocco, and the World Cup in Russia. I believed strongly in those possibilities but the circumstances beyond my control did not allow Cranes’ dreams to be realized as I had hoped, which hurts me to-date, because my dream is to lead a team to the Fifa World Cup. That will give me fulfillment.
Do you see yourself working in Uganda ever again?
Well, about working in Uganda again, I can never say never. Uganda is deep-rooted in my soul. Having worked in Uganda for six years, right from your time at SC Villa, you must know what works best for a Ugandan player.
What philosophy would bring the best out of them?
That is a wonderful question. I will tell you, that the biggest challenge facing so many of Uganda’s players right from the time of Ibrahim Sekagya, David Obua, Dennis Onyango and Timothy Batabaire, was the lack of role models to work with and guide them on what it takes to succeed.
Now the younger players need to make good use of some of the individuals I have mentioned, because they have succeeded in professional football. Those guys would never have stayed long in professional football if they did not know what to do. So, use them.
Being the coach who guided Uganda back into Afcon after four decades, how proud do you still feel, and maybe did you deserve a statue at Fufa house?
I do not think I needed to be recognized any more than I was. I believe history will honour, and no one will change that, because now Uganda is qualifying for every Afcon since 2017. But I must add that seeing millions of Ugandans happy in September 2016 is something I can never forget, and I feel privileged to have been the coach of Uganda at that time.
Any regrets about your time working in Uganda?
I had sleepless nights working around the clock, but no regrets whatsoever. Well, maybe the only possible regret I have is that between 2013 and 2017, we did not have adequate government support; otherwise, Fufa would not have had so much financial difficulty then.
How much dent on your reputation did the sacking from Zamalek have?
No dent at all, because it was my decision to end the contract amicably. While I won a Cup there, and frankly I would still be there now if I had decided to stay, the conditions at the club were just not favourable, because some of the players had not been paid for a while, which was not good.