It’s About Way Forward, Not Who to Blame [opinion]

You don’t have to be a football follower to know that the talk of town is Uganda’s failed qualification campaign to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

After four previous meltdowns, Wednesday night’s failure was a heartbreaking experience for the optimists that believed in the law of averages.

Yet for those who dissect the intricate details of the game, Uganda’s demise was an inevitable outcome.

Right from the moment the referee blew the final whistle to condemn Uganda after a 0-2 loss to Guinea, I knew the anger would open floodgates for finger-pointing.

This bombshell happened just minutes before I was due to appear on CBS FM’s Akaati k’emizanyo but people’s overflow of angry emotions at Bulange building got me concerned.

For one, newsreader Zambaali Bulasio Mukasa had already drafted a template script for the ‘victorious’ Cranes team at the 9pm news bulletin. Some overzealous CBS staff had carried along Vuvuzelas to blow in celebration.

Backlash:

But here they were, staring at each other with no solution in sight to what had just happened. It was a grief mood, the kind I last saw when city tycoon Eriya Bugembe Sebunya, popularly known as Kasiwukira, was murdered. When the turn came for listeners’ feedback, the moderator had to cancel the call-in session because caller after caller was venting anger on The Cranes to the extent of citing superstitions for the defeat.

It was clear most of the blame revolved around skipper Andy Mwesigwa. What people forget is that football is a team effort. In that regard, I have not seen a more committed Cranes player over the last decade than Mwesigwa. I have said it before that supporting The Cranes is not for the fainthearted because you can never prepare for what to expect.

Uganda fluffed the chance at Namboole when Togo was there for the taking but closed out Ghana without much pressure. I’m hoping by now the emotions have cooled down a bit. So, it is an opportune moment for all stakeholders to correct the wrongs as we look forward to the 2017 Nations Cup campaign. What stands out in the past five campaigns is that Uganda always goes into the last game with an opportunity to qualify.

In 2008, everything did seem to go to plan and I left Mandela national stadium, Namboole after Uganda’s 3-1 win over Niger in high spirits. However, South Africa contrived to lose 1-3 at home to Zambia the following day in a result that effectively ensured both teams’ qualification. Matters weren’t helped when Sierra Leone had their last game a fortnight later. In the end, Uganda missed out on qualification on goal difference. Our ‘fault’ was playing before our direct competitors.

Both results reminded me of Austria’s 0-1 loss to West Germany at the 1982 World Cup, a syndicate that eliminated Algeria. While Fifa acted swiftly after the shame to ensure all last qualification games have to be played on the same day at the same time, Caf is yet to create an equal opportunity for all nations.

It was a similar situation in 2010 qualifiers as Caf’s complex tie-breakers got many confused, no more so than Charles Masembe, then Fufa CEO, who wrongly declared Uganda had made it. Then 2012 brought another round of heartache courtesy of a nail-biting goalless draw with Kenya. The ill-luck spilled over to 2013 when Patrick Ochan missed the decisive penalty to send Zambia through at our expense.

Way forward:

Time has come to change tact of how we do things in Ugandan football. Whereas bad-luck has played a role in our recent failures, it all goes down to the simple fact that The Cranes aren’t good enough, especially when the going gets tough. Years of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is nothing short of naivety.

For starters, it is high time the production line of players be revised. My estimates show Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has fielded more than 30 players in just six games. This is a sign of uncoordinated moves by the Fufa technical team. The way players are in and out of the team is awkward and how Dennis Iguma missed the last two games smacks of double standards.

That Iguma was overlooked because his club SC Victoria University had suspended him means Hassan Wasswa shouldn’t have played the preliminary game in Madagascar. He had been inactive for some time while serving a ban from KCCA FC. Beyond the players, Fufa also needs to get back to the drawing board and devise ways of rebranding the national team.

And now that President Museveni has heightened his intensity to be associated with sport, there may not be a better time to capitalize on his interest to win government grants towards developing the sport. Similarly, this is the perfect time to tap into the corporate world by working hand in hand with key sponsors. For example, Coca-Cola, Airtel and City Tyres are leading players at grooming youngsters but only a fraction make it to the mainstream football competitions, something I blame on the federation.

Fufa can negotiate deals with these sponsors to handle the underage teams. For example, Coca-Cola for the Under-20s, Airtel for the Under-17s and City Tyres for Under-14s. These teams can even be curtain raisers on Cranes match-days. Not only would such games help players build exposure, playing in front of 40,000 people would also give them the confidence to play pressure games.

For now, we lack a clear conveyor belt to follow up on these youngsters through the age groups up to the national team. At the moment, the Cubs are full of promise after an excellent 2014 campaign in which they narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2015 Caf Under-17 tournament. However, I’m not convinced about their career paths going forward and I shudder to imagine how many will be available when they regroup for their next fixture.

So, the Fufa technical committee should strictly follow up on the youngsters to build a team that will ably be competitive by 2019. That requires patience and goodwill from all the concerned.

However, Ugandan football stakeholders, particularly fans, are some of the most impatient when it comes to results. I know more than anyone that asking us to build from the grassroots is similar to asking a Fufa president to step down after failure.

The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.

Source : The Observer

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