Saturday July 26 2014

From Naguru, to USA and back; Umony must rediscover his mojo


By Andrew Mwanguhya

His probing eye is still evident as he weighs you up; and his pride – call it self-worth – never deserting him.
His head is host to a thick forest of dreadlocks, a long trip from the short-shaven dome of a fresh graduate of economics from Kyambogo University some five years ago.
What seems to have significantly reduced from Brian Umony’s closet, however, is his goal-scoring instinct, his authority in possession and assuredness while under watch from opposing defenders.
The Umony today is a far cry from the KCC striker that top-scored with six goals as Uganda lifted the 2008 Cecafa; and one that decisively downed Premier Soccer League (PSL) side – SuperSport United - in the Caf Champions League the following year to force the South African club to sign him.
Today’s is a contrast, it could be argued, from the Umony, who led KCC to the 2008 league title, and one that netted six times in eight continental games the following year.
The one today is more of the complex story that is the temporary moves from SuperSport to Pretoria TUKS, to Portland, to Binh Duong, to Azam and possibly back to KCC.
That former Naguru Avis star that shot to prominence at the speed of a surface-to-air missile; one that scored eight goals in his first eight Cranes games, is the one those who saw him sprout are yearning for.
Not that he is spent, but that – as of today – the kind of promise his talent hinted at, then, has been kind of a miscarriage. Yet Umony, past his mid-20s, reckons it is not right to entirely blame Ugandan footballers that do not make it in paid ranks.
“You could say I should have played in a better league,” Umony tells me, “At a better football club – I mean; the system never prepared us for that.” Silence rules as the striker’s point – not a surprise in my ears – sinks home.
“In the beginning, why is it that nobody is saying that? They just never prepared us at all for what we met in the professional environment.”

Dream move?
Yet Umony insists there has been progress since he made that dream move to SuperSport from KCC in 2009.
Having scooped the 2007/2008 Footballer of the Year award for his 15 league goals that helped KCC to their first league title since 1997, and his continental and Cranes exploits, Umony was the hottest property at the time.
Not even SuperSport, who he ejected from that year’s Champions League, were spared the charm; the PSL side signing him up for $50,000 (Shs125m) – a move that was the talk of town for weeks. Umony’s professional journey had started.
“Obviously there was progress, especially in South Africa, and in the USA (Portland). At least that is where (USA) I felt comfortable playing professionally. Then there came problems like injuries… I did not play some games.”
But what was initially a dream move was to later open up a series of loans, trials and switches that – ideally – never lifted Umony to where his potential pointed.
Having made that well documented move to SuperSport United, Umony could not fit in as coaches there preferred physically imposing strikers to the 5’10 Ugandan.
Besides, he found it difficult to dislodge the club’s talisman and Liberian marksman Anthony Laffor.
Limited time forced him to a loan at Pretoria TUKS in 2010, where he had a chance to sign on a permanent deal but jumped ship when an opportunity to the USA’s Portland Timbers – also on loan - came.
After a few months at Portland, he was offered a deal there but he deemed it weak, thus signing a ‘much better’ one-year contract with Becamex Binh Duong in Vietnam, from where he joined Azam last year.
But in between, Umony did travel to Austria for trials at the invitation of topflight side LASK Linz. It was hardly any rosy.
“I wasn’t given the chance at LASK Linz,” he says, “Like I said, no system in Uganda prepares you for professional football.
“They looked at my size (5’10) and asked me whether I was in a junior team or senior team. They just look at you and make a decision.
“West Africans go to Europe for trials and they are given a chance. They have the build, the size and of course the right connections.
“We all have dreams, but until you come to the real field of football that’s when you realize something was not done early in our young lives. Maybe I wasn’t ready for this.
“The move to SuperSport was a dream obviously like you said, the US was also good… but in terms of progress my career was up there, the training, the facilities… but then on the other side, I had to get money.
“The conditions in the USA were not good; the contract I was offered at Portland was not the best and well… I get a deal from Vietnam, which was irresistible.”

No regrets
For a career that so promised as it sprouted, there is no doubt that Umony’s progress has hit a snag. But he is a proud man, whose silent ego is as fresh.
“Look, I have no regrets whatsoever,” he defiantly says, a seism of uneasiness almost turning over chairs that hosted us at the Soroti Hotel gardens, where the Cranes resided during the Nile Special-sponsored regional tour of North Eastern Uganda.
“Obviously along the way I’ve not been able to play for various reasons, injuries and all that. But I’ve learnt to accept what I’ve had, and am comfortable with my situation… I’m not comfortable with the injuries.
“But of course I aspire to achieve, I still have time on my side, I still have opportunities. I’m not regretting anything… I aspire, I still have ambitions. When I say I’m comfortable where I am at now it does not mean am not aspiring. I have dreams.”

Cultural shock
Umony did allude to not being ready for the move to SuperSport. But would he have been a better player he had stayed in Uganda?
“No,” he says, defiantly, “Here and elsewhere – they are two completely different environments. Here, we play on instinct. We play on natural talent, nobody develops that talent.
“Nobody prepares you to become a professional player. Here the coach will run you the whole day, all year… but that doesn’t prepare you. There are a lot of things that are supposed to be done, which unfortunately is not the same here.”
So was it a cultural shock sauntering into the modern facilities at SuperSport? “Exactly,” he admits, you learn new tactics, and you find different facilities, coaching.”
SuperSport United boast some of the best training facilities in South Africa, with a fully fledged academy and highly qualified coaches through the ranks to the senior side, which is a contrast back here.
“The aspects of football are various; if you want to talk about the physical aspect (height and build); I was nowhere near the guys I met there.”
This from a man who – for two seasons – gave local league defences nightmares, and who outwitted SuperSport United defenders to beat Dennis Onyango in goal before being prized away.
“If you want me to talk about the technical development, tactical know-how, we could talk the whole day about it, which is not the case here.
“Here, all we do is come from home; get your jersey and train, and that ‘train’ in quotes. You jog around, do basic movements here and there but all you are doing is counting on your natural instinct.
“Nothing prepares us to have a big leap from Uganda to Europe.” There was inescapable frustration in Umony’s musings, a disappointment at how sports is treated as a whole in the country, and about the system, if any.

Little wonder Umony holds high Cranes ex-internationals Ibrahim Sekagya (New York Red Bulls) and David Obua (ex-Kaizer Chiefs and Hearts), whom he admits spectacularly defied odds.
“They were special. They had exceptional talent. And besides, even Sekagya had to persevere – going through the rough terrains in Argentina, playing his way up the two tier leagues before moving to Salzburg.
“He could have given up. In a nutshell, nobody from Uganda can go straight to quality European sides.”
Then I made it apparent to Umony that a qualified and respected coach was at a loss of words at the direction his career had taken, knowing what he is capable of.
“Most of our local coaches just talk to you to show you that they know, not to help you,” Umony counters, “So in the process they don’t touch on the real issues.
“I will say it again; in Uganda nobody develops a player. First, we have very few quality coaches, and secondly, we have no systems.

Personal initiative
“So if a player like Emma (Okwi, who was seated next to Umony as he nodded in agreement) here makes inroads, it’s mainly his own initiative, he’s worked hard for it, done extras for it.
“You know, you’re in it yourself. For example, a team identifies you from Naguru, they give you a license to sign and when you play well, they praise you, when you don’t play well, woe unto you. They don’t get to the bottom of the matter.”
Umony’s persistent injuries have not only cost him playing time both at club and national levels, they have seen his latest side, Azam FC of the Tanzanian Vodacom Premier League, release him despite winning with them the title last season, where he scored just five goals in 20 games.
A free agent now, the striker is putting in all the hard work with the Cranes as they prepare for the return leg of the 2015 Nations Cup pre-qualifier away to Mauritania.
He is also hoping to find a local club, most likely his former outfit KCC – not to settle, but to keep in shape as he eyes other professional opportunities abroad. But even he, Umony knows he must rediscover his mojo.

what they say about umony

“He played very well at KCC and coming into the national team but when he went professional in South Africa, things somehow didn’t turn out well. But with his focus, he has managed to come back. He is a good player and doesn’t give a defender time on the ball,” Simeon Masaba (above), Umony’s former teammate at Cranes. Masaba certainly is a qualified judge of Umony having shared a host of international trips with the striker. The two also played against one another in the league so many times.

“He is a kind boy who is so disciplined and his finishing quality was up there” George Nsimbe, his former coach at KCC

“Injuries have stunted his game but he was a real fox in the box. A good finisher with good positioning,” says journalist John Vianney Nsimbe.

about him
2003–2004 Nakawa United
2004–2007 Naguru Avis
2007–2009 KCC
2009–2010 Supersport United
2010–2011 University of Pretoria (South Africa)
Portland Timbers (loan, South Africa)
Becamex Binh Duong (Vietnam)
2013-2014 Azam (Tanzania)
*No club

24 caps, 9 goals

Graduate of Economics from Kyambogo University

Scored 20 points from his History, Economics, Geography and Divinity combination at A-level

Scored 24 points in six subjects in his O-Level at East Kololo