Some coaches never blurt it out straight. But KCCA’s George ‘Best’ Nsimbe is not one to hold back. The former Lugogo side and Cranes anchorman is steadfast when talking up his chances to coach Cranes, KCCA’s odds to make this year’s Caf Champions League last eight, and why he holds nothing but vengeance for Zambian champions and today’s opponents, Nkana.
To cap it, the 48-year-old dreams of playing some role in ending Uganda’s miserable returns on the continent, be it on club level or at the national team. That the last time Uganda graced the Africa Cup of Nations is 36 on the count, and that the last time a Ugandan club went far was in 1997, the then KCC making the semifinals of the Caf Cup (Confederations), is not lost on Nsimbe.
“You see I hate this talk of Uganda never doing well on the continent, he says, beads of sweat freely dripping down his smiling face after an afternoon’s training at Namboole.
“We are always reminded of how we last qualified for Nations Cup in 1978, how Ugandan clubs fail in Caf… It’s true but it hurts me and drives me to work even harder to end it.”
Nsimbe won every club domestic trophy as a player, and the Cecafa with Cranes, but somehow never made the last eight of the Caf Champions League. He also, together with his talented generation of ex-Cranes players; Jackson Mayanja, Magid Musisi, Steven Bogere and Sam Ssimbwa, among others never qualified for the Nations Cup, a void that is as hollow today.
“My dream is to achieve it as a coach (making the last eight of the Champions League and with Cranes). We reached the last 16 with KCC in 2009 but now we want to make the last eight. I hope we do.”
That run five years ago, achieved on a thin squad, was a culmination of a coaching journey that started proper in 2007 when Nsimbe’s old acquaintance, Mayanja, appointed him his assistant at Lugogo.
And when Mayanja joined Bunnamwaya (now Vipers), Nsimbe continued in his deputising role but this time under Moses Basena. Basena, too, quit in 2008 for Nsimbe to take on a hugely successful rein in which he won KCCA’s first league title after 12 years, setting up an 11-game winning streak. The sequence that also had Nsimbe’s side enjoy an unbeaten 18-game streak saw fans nickname him ‘Best.’ He was in charge of 45 league games - winning 35, drawing six and losing just four before he was unceremoniously relieved of his duties and replaced by Ssimbwa while away in Germany on a coaching course.
On being told to work under Ssimbwa upon return, Nsimbe declined, instead taking up reigns at Victors, where he led them to the Uganda Cup title plus the first round of the Caf Confederations Cup. KCCA eliminated Swaziland’s Mbabane Highlanders in the preliminaries before falling to DRC’s Motema Pembe.
Nsimbe then had a stint at Fire Masters before returning to Lugogo in 2012. Worthnoting is he has inspired these continental decent runs on hardly the best budgets compared to his opponents, nor was he blessed with players endowed enough for the occasion.
Having already orchestrated the elimination of Sudan’s El Merreikh – the team that ended his run with KCCA in 2009 in the second round, and now with a healthy chance of ejecting Nkana after posting a 2-2 away result, Nsimbe has left many perplexed as to what he does special that other recent Ugandan coaches have failed at. “I always instill confidence in the players,” he explains, “You just tell them to be confident, to believe and trust in themselves.
“I always tell them that, ‘yes you may not be Messi (Lionel, Barcelona) or Eto’o (Samuel, Chelsea) but they were also born like you. “I remind them that we are poor, so we have to work harder to earn some money, to get that exposure so that you can also play professional football. Let’s also work for dollars and pounds, boys.”
And then the big question. Is he ready for the game’s top most coaching job? “I’m ready if called upon,” he says, “Because for me, with Cranes you are dealing the cream. But with the club, you have start from scratch. So yes, I can coach Cranes. “But I have not met my target yet. Right now my target is to make the group stages. We reached the last 16 in 2009 but now I want to make the last eight. “That is my target in this campaign but for now, I also want revenge. I want Nkana out.” Nsimbe was part of the KCC team that lost to the Zambians in the same competition 6-0 on aggregate some 22 years ago, posting 4-0 at Nakivubo and 2-0 in Zambia.
“I want revenge. I want to ensure Nkana is out. I hope my players help me in my revenge.” But Nsimbe has more to worry about in his quest for settling of scores. KCCA have lost their last two Champions League games at home.
The Yellow Brigade lost 1-0 to El Merreikh in 2009 and were consequently eliminated after a 1-1 away reverse result. But the Sudanese were the ones on the receiving end this year, crashing out 3-2 on aggregate.
However, while KCCA won 2-0 away, they still lost 2-1 at home. “I’m aware and I have been telling the boys,” explains Nsimbe of their need to win at home, “I have told them that ‘look, we have been doing well to get results but we have made happy only the supporters, not Ugandans.
“So we must make both the KCCA supporters and all Ugandans happy. We need to win at home. I mean, if you can go to Sudan and beat Merreikh 2-0, go to Zambia and draw 2-2, why should you come home and fail to pick maximum points?”
For those close to Nsimbe, he is some amiable bloke whose charm effortlessly rolls off to whoever is working with him. And most have often wondered how he manages to get the best out of his players, who are hardly the most talented.
“I think the problem with most of us coaches is we create a gap between ourselves and players,” says Nsimbe. “We should never let that happen. “Personally, I know it is players that make one a good coach. I talk with them at a personal level; you have to be friendly with your players. “I get tough when I have to get tough but in all that, you have to respect your players and you will have their respect.”
Nsimbe is known to periodically invite Ugandan footballers, regardless of their club affiliation, to his Kyebando home where he makes for them a meal.
His KCCA side is one that have benefitted from his culinary skills, at the time Nsimbe trying to raise their spirits after they had reportedly gone some time without being paid their wages.
“I do that at least once a year and I don’t make meals only for KCCA players. I invite all Ugandan footballers.” So does Nsimbe have a football philosophy he believes in?
“It depends on your opponents. Every game has a different approach, so I can’t tell you that this is what I play and that it never changes.”
While the Nsimbe generation of Mayanja, Bogere and those before them including Moses Ndawula and Philip Omondi among others enjoyed fairly impressive runs on the continent, clubs today continue to flatter.
Nsimbe, whose game as a player exuded excellent work ethic and team work, explains: “I think during our time we had passion for football and we loved what we were doing. Even inter-school tournaments… Kololo, Kibuli, Lubiri, Old Kampala… my God! They were very competitive. That is not the case today.
“I will tell you, school tournaments at the time were stronger than our current topflight league today.
Breaking into Cranes
“And breaking into the national team was very hard and playing for Cranes was always on merit. “We were followed through from schools and our development was stage by stage. But today, it is difficult to track a young player because there are no systems to absorb them. “Also during our time, we had senior players who guided us. The Nserekos, Omondis, so we had great senior players to look up to. We wanted to be like them.
“First of all, to train with them alone was an honour. It took me a year after joining KCC to start playing. So competition at the time was so tough and when you got your chance, you had to use it and work harder to keep your place.
“The biggest problem for our players today is about 60 per cent of them are mainly money minded. Yes we all work for money but you must know that you have to first give your best on the pitch to get even better offers. “It’s also true that wrong people are involved in running football. Some people are not football people and are in for different interests. Government should also come in and get involved. The federation should also organize youth tournaments and reserve teams so that the youth can be tracked.”
· He holds a certificate in electrical engineering
· He won two league titles with KCC (1985 & 1991) and three Kakungulu Cups (1987, 1990 & 1993).
· He won two Cecafa titles with Uganda (1989 & 1990)
· Played for three clubs: Wandegeya Young Stars, NIC and KCC.
· As coach, he guided KCC to the 2007/08 league title and the club was beaten to the 2008/09 league title by URA on goal difference.
· He didn’t get a single red card in his playing career and averaged just two yellows a season
· He is married to Florence and the couple have three children; two boys, Collin and Cedric and a daughter Joan.
· His favourite jersey was Shirt 15, the same number one of his idols Phillip Omondi wore. His mentor remains Moses Nsereko, who brought him to KCC
· He was always at his best against Villa, scoring 7 goals against them.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT NSIMBE
“As a player when you are faced with a big game, naturally you are tense, especially for first timers. So for me he was a calming factor when I played under him.”
Brian Umony, Azam and Cranes striker (scored winner in 2-1 victory over SuperSport)
“For me he is currently the best local coach in Uganda. He is a very good motivator and his players believe in him.”
Fred Kajoba, Cranes goalkeeping coach
“Sometimes you have poor players but deliver, or you have good players but you don’t deliver. That is where Nsimbe is good. The way he handles his players, even when they are average, is like that of a parent.”
KEFA KISALA, Cranes ASSISTANT coach
“I think he is lucky that every side he has gone too somehow had resources both on and off the pitch. But you can’t take it away from him that he works well with his players and they also belieave in him.”
Matia Lule, former KCC coach