Luck, so they say, is when opportunity meets preparation. It is a truism that coach Abdallah Mubiru and his compatriot Livingstone Mbabazi must have savoured when they were handed the national team after Northern Irishman Johnathan McKinstry was shown the exit door by Fufa at the beginning of March.
It was finally a grand moment for the local coaches to show what they can do with the Uganda Cranes after decades of foreigners managing the national team.
But in failing to guide Cranes to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations after a draw and defeat to Burkina Faso and Malawi in matches where Uganda failed to score, this will pass as a missed opportunity for the local coaches to show they can execute the job.
What Mubiru and Mbabazi did was to successfully snatch failure from the jaws of qualification for Cranes. Uganda was lethargic in the stalemate against Burkina Faso and insipid in the loss to Malawi. Although the team hit the woodwork in both matches, Cranes were everything but dominant.
When Mubiru stood on the touchline before the encounter with Burkina Faso, Cranes were 90 minutes away from qualification.
In fact Mubiru, Mbabazi and goalkeeping coach Fred Kajoba had 180 minutes to take Uganda to a third straight Afcon. But somehow, they conspired to fluff the chance.
It is true that the nadir in this qualification campaign was the 1-0 reverse to South Sudan in Nairobi but to strengthen the argument for a Ugandan to manage Cranes, Mubiru simply had to do the job - in 90 or 180 minutes. He did not.
There is no point in pointing Mubiru’s failure to McKinstry’s loss in Nairobi last year. Even the excuse of Mubiru having a very short time to manage the team doesn’t hold considering he had been part of McKinstry’s technical team. It was a blown chance for him and his fellow Ugandan coaches to enhance their suitability for the job.
Fufa insiders believe the now fateful defeat to South Sudan in Nairobi, where victory would have ensured qualification for Uganda Cranes to Cameroon, is what prompted Moses Magogo to wield the axe on McKinstry.
The latter was taken aback by the decision and has reportedly tried to reach out to Magogo in the hope of being reinstated.
However, sources close to the Fufa president have intimated that McKinstry’s time is up. His exit then handed an opportunity to Mubiru and Mbabazi to press a claim for the national team to be managed by non-foreigners.
For two decades now, the national team had mostly been handled by foreign coaches. Since the turn of the millennium, Harrison Okagbue (Nigeria), Pedro Pasculli (Argentina), Mohammed Abbas (Egypt), Laszlo Csaba (Hungary), Bobby Williamson (Scotland), Micho Sredojevic (Serbia) and Sebastien Desabre (France) have managed the Cranes.
The only Ugandans to briefly coach the national team in the last 20 years (before Mubiru and Mbabazi) were Paul Hasule, Leo Adraa, Mike Mutebi and Moses Basena. All three, however, had very short, interim-like stints.
The case for foreign coaches is always a polarizing one not least because of the handsome wages they command. McKinstry was said to be earning around $20,000 (Shs 74m).
Had Uganda beaten Burkina Faso and/or Malawi to qualify for Afcon, there would have been a compelling case for coaches Mubiru, Mbabazi and Fred Kajoba to be entrusted with the team at the Africa Cup of Nations.
And although McKinstry left the team in the second place on the table – a position which at his departure was qualifying Uganda for Afcon, Uganda’s performances in the Covid-hit qualification matches were laboured at best. Save for the 2-0 home victory over Malawi, the rest of the games were everything but impressive.
Uganda’s poor showing at the Chan tournament was the death knell for McKinstry. The trio of Mubiru, Mbabazi and Kajoba were keen to seize the opportunity before them by making Cranes do well against Burkina Faso and Malawi.
In fact the three were not auditioning for the job alone; they will be doing it for all the other Ugandan coaches who have hitherto been viewed as under-qualified to manage the national team.
From Fufa’s perspective, the success of Ugandan coaches with Cranes would have made them re-think the position of hiring foreigners.
A Ugandan coach would demand far less money and his appointment would naturally require less bureaucracy and paperwork. But Magogo has usually been inclined towards a foreigner and it would have taken a drastic change of heart for him to embrace a Ugandan coach for Cranes, qualification or not.
It must also be noted that coach Morley Byekwaso’s tremendous performance at the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Mauritania went some way in enhancing the chances of a Ugandan handling Cranes in the foreseeable future.
Byekwaso emerged coach of the tournament while presiding over a Hippos team that played a glorious brand of football that delighted fans and neutrals alike. If Mubiru and company had taken Cranes to Afcon, the likelihood of a Ugandan manning the touchline in Cameroon next year would have been apparent.
But now that they have failed and in light of the fact that Uganda’s last two qualifications were made by Sredojevic, a Serb, and Desabre, a Frenchman, the odds of a foreigner taking over the Cranes job have shortened.