It has been an eventful year for local football with notable successes, failures and drama both on-and-off the field.
Some of the highlights include the Uganda Cranes qualifying for the sixth consecutive African Nations Championship (Chan), former league champions SC Villa surviving relegation, BUL FC winning their first-ever Uganda Cup while Vipers SC broke their jinx in the Caf Champions League by storming the lucrative group stage.
It is hard to remember any foreign player that dominated the headlines in Uganda as much as Vipers SC’s Central Africa Republic striker Ceasar Manzoki did in the first half of the year. Ending the 2021/22 UPL season as top-scorer with 18 goals, Manzoki aided Vipers to their fifth league title.
This, he capped with six individual awards of the 14 that were on offer during the end-of-season UPL awards. This number of awards was unprecedented; setting the bar quite high, especially, when one considers that Manzoki also had the most assists. In the end, his departure from the club, to join the Chinese Super League caught few by surprise.
BUL FC’S UGANDA CUP
Jinja side Bul FC was in the view of many, one of the most improved teams. While they finished 22 points behind the league champions Vipers on the table standings, they climbed up the table tremendously. From position 11 in 2021, they finished in number 4 earlier this year with an additional 19 points.
Yet, nothing could have ascertained how much they had improved, than their unwavering power, to win the Uganda Cup final by a canter, 3-1. And to do this to the league winners only went further to solidify the legacy of coach Alex Isabirye. He is probably the most underrated coach despite his knack to scoop trophies, something he has done before at URA FC.
SC VILLA SURVIVE
Isabirye is among the last players that won the league with SC Villa back in 2004. His sharpness in the penalty area made Villa such a threat at the time.
Yet, for the earlier half of this year, Villa struggled to score goals. In fact, in 30 games, they scored only 27 goals and conceded 32. Sheer relegation form, as was the case in the 2018/19 season, when they survived relegation in the penultimate league fixture, is what Villa showed this year. They won eight, drew 10 and lost 12 times, finishing twelfth.
The high turnover of players has been a big cause of the struggles at the club, something largely blamed on poor administration. But as the year draws to a close, the Jogoos have looked more decent in fifth place at the halfway mark.
VIPERS CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
In winning the league, Vipers set a new Ugandan record of beating their closest rivals in the title hunt by a difference of 18 points. The previous one had been set by SC Villa in 2002, when they beat Ex- press to the championship by 13 points.
That was a dominant display by the charges of Vipers supremo, Lawrence Mulindwa. For years, he has wanted to upstage KCCA FC. And since 2015, the rivalry between his club and the Kasasiro Boys has grown in leaps and bounds; never ever more than at the time when KCCA made it to the group stages of the Caf Champions League in 2018.
That fact was always used to beat down on Vipers’ achievements at each moment of banter. But not anymore now, after Vipers knocked out the two- time Caf Champions League winners, TP Mazembe. In February, Vipers will play Simba SC, Raja Casablanca and Horoya of Guinea in group ‘C’.
The Cranes began their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers earlier this year with a daunting trip up north, to face Algeria. While it did not end well, as Cranes lost 0-2, they were expected to bounce back against Niger with a resounding result. That one ended 1-1, a pointer to the tough transition Uganda, who qualified for the 2017 and 2019 Afcon tournaments, is going through.
One of coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevich’s biggest struggles in group ‘F’ going forward, as the team is expected to return to action in March 2023 against Tanzania, will be about having a settled squad. So many new players from across the globe were summoned to the team for the earlier games, a number of whom did not meet the standards. As a result, Uganda, who are bottom of their group, do not seem any clearer to qualifying for a third Afcon in four campaigns, unless something magical happens.
WORLD CUP 2026
Although many football fans are still talking about the grandeur of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Fufa already launched The Cranes fundraising drive for the 2026 World Cup in North America courtesy of beer company Nile Breweries.
This campaign was launched in November with former Cranes captain Denis Onyango as the flagship. Early preparations are crucial for a successful campaign. But to ensure that there is a good return from it, a good football team must be in place, which not many Ugan- dan fans are confident about at present.
PROS RETURN HOME
The more Ugandan footballers ply their trade in more professional and established leagues around the world, the better it is for the national team coaches. But, this year has seen bright prospects: Allan Okello, Moses Waiswa, Patrick Kaddu and Moses Lumala all return home from Algeria, South Africa, Morocco and Egypt respectively.
Worse still, their performances back home, have not necessarily had the wow effect at a consistent level. This has left many asking the question, as to whether many of the players that are hyped up here, are indeed good enough.