Yunus Sentamu has the chance to prove himself as the prodigal son for the Cranes as Uganda kicks off the campaign to qualify for the 2026 Fifa World Cup finals, writes John Vianney Nsimbe.
Striker Yunus Sentamu is arguably the most gifted footballer in the Uganda Premier League (UPL) today, if not the entire country, when all Uganda’s players here and abroad are rounded off. He will be part of The Cranes team to face Guinea and Somalia in the Fifa 2026 World Cup qualifiers on November 17 and 21 respectively in Morocco.
The last time Sentamu featured for The Cranes was against Kenya in the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers on November 11, 2021 at St Mary’s stadium. It was a short second half cameo for Sentamu, which was follwed up by him turning down subsequent call ups for the 2022 Chan qualifiers and tournament. He did not play in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers either.
However, throughout those campaigns, the one sticking point was Cranes’ struggles in front of goal. So, the question that is abound now, is whether Sentamu will solve it now that he has agreed to return to the fold under new Belgian coach, Paul Put. Cranes scored five goals in six Afcon qualifiers through Milton Karisa, Rogers Mato, Fahad Bayo, Aziz Kayondo and Joseph Ochaya.
Put simply, the Cranes scoring has been low, yet going by Sentamu’s domestic form, he has impressed. In the 2020/21 season, he was the top-scorer with 16 goals. In the 2021/22 season, Sentamu scored 14 goals, and last season, one in which he was largely troubled by injury, he notched up eight.
Not many players in the league have had that consistency, let alone prove reliable goal-scorers. His brace against Jwaneng Galaxy of Botswana in the Caf Champions League would only be described as ‘out of this world’ kind of stuff. And although this season, he has only scored once (after seven games), a wonder goal from 40 yards against Wakiso Giants, that would be hard to beat for goal of the season, Sentamu is a special forward because of his overall game.
This season, he leads in assists with three. In fact, had it not been about his faith as a Muslim, he would have scooped more ‘Man-of-the-Match’ awards than any other player in the UPL.
But he turns them down because they are a product of Pilsner Lager, a beer brand. Many believe Sentamu has little to prove here, about how good he is. But with The Cranes, the jury is still out there. Since he made his debut as a 20-year-old back in 2014 during the Africa Nations Championships (Chan) tournament in South Africa, he has less than 10 international goals.
While his breakthrough was a banger, as he was surprisingly picked by former Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevich to lead Uganda’s line in an opening fixture against Burkina Faso at the Chan.
His size, runs and finishing that day, which produced two goals, and handed Uganda a 2-1 victory, were quite reminiscent of the Michael Owen 1998 World Cup display against Argentina, that skinned defender Roberto Ayala. Sentamu is the kind of player who believes in himself, although sometimes it borders on pride and arrogance.
He has his mood swings, and may not be the easiest person to deal with for both the media and his coaches. It is for that reason, apparently, that for a player that played in the Uefa Champions League qualifiers for AS Tirana, in the Caf Champions League final of 2014 with AS Vita, before moving to CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) in a big dollar move, is in Uganda today aged 28.
Sentamu said: “Everything happens for a reason. And Allah decided that I should play at home. But I am still open to a return to Europe one
But with people questioning his discipline right from the 2017 Afcon in Gabon, that may be hard to realize even with his talent undoubted. The Vipers’ forward reportedly vowed never to play under Micho. Actually, when interviewed a month ago about whether he would play for his country again, Sentamu said it depended on Fufa. This raised questions about whether Sentamu still bears much ambition.
Maybe Micho’s sacking will drive him again. But it is not clear whether Fufa also cleared the arrears he is said to have complained about. What is for sure, though, is that new Cranes assistant coach Sam Ssimbwa convinced him to return.