Sunday September 9 2018

Ugandan football needs to fix its scoring problems

Tanzania-based striker Emmanuel

Tanzania-based striker Emmanuel Okwi is one of the few consistent faces in the Cranes’ fold. PHOTO BY JOHN BATANUDDE 

By Robert Madoi

The 2018/19 Uganda Premier League season has been pencilled in to start at the tail-end of this month. Purists will be hoping [against hope] for the new season to show - in the most aesthetic manner - that football in this part of the globe has mutated in unexpected ways. That the scarcity of goals in its most virulent form might be winding down.

It certainly looked like that was the case when 515 goals were scored during the 2016/17 season. Those gains - minuscule as they were - have since been steadily eroded. What with the pitiful 446 goals that were mustered in the topflight league during the 2017/18 season.

The drop was not sharply at odds with previous trends. For instance, 488 goals were scored during the 2015/16 season, down from 495 in 2014/15.
Many reasons can be proffered for the scarcity of goals in the Ugandan topflight. The most popular is that there is a plethora of coaches who, panic-stricken and all, immediately go into damage limitation mode regardless of the situation.

For them, attacking football is but an afterthought. Safety first is their mantra. Owing to this, goals - which, lest we forget, are invaluable in football - have been in scant supply.
It is no wonder then that the appeal - if any - of Ugandan club football cannot be captured in the goals for column.

The contents in the column are the type that disintegrate with catastrophic results. Take last season, fans yielded with reluctance and against their better judgment as 29 per cent of the matches (71) were settled by one goal. Sixty-three matches (26 per cent) produced two goals with just 18 (eight per cent) going one better. The fans took what little romance there was out of the stingy goal-scoring displays.

Sadly for them, matches that produced a glut of goals were few and far between. To be exact, seven matches (three per cent) raked four goals with a further four or two per cent managing five- plus goal hauls. This was in many respects a report card an unfailingly polite and deferential student would dread showing their parent.

It is important that one doesn’t shy away from stating the obvious: this is a problem whose tentacles stretch into international football. Not that many players plying their trade in the Ugandan topflight turn out for the Cranes. Only half a dozen of them were up for selection during yesterday’s match against Tanzania.

Many Cranes coaches have found that this has not alleviated what for all intents and purposes are goal-scoring droughts.

Uganda qualified for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals after scoring, wait for it, six goals in six matches. A return of four goals in six matches during the 2015 Afcon qualifying campaign best remembered for Andrew Mwesigwa’s meltdown further underpins the goal-scoring problem.

That other such campaigns were just as underwhelming (six in six during the 2012 qualifiers, and, remarkably, six in 10 as the 2006 showpiece proved to be a bridge too far) shows that the problem is deeply rooted and dare I say endemic.

Of the post-truth era, cricket, Riley, Mbonye

Falsehoods and so-called alternative facts are increasingly becoming commonplace in the post-truth world we live in.

So when a picture of a fabricated poster announcing overnight prayers at Mandela National Stadium on the eve of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at home to Tanzania was shared on social media, it seemed highly improbable that this piece of news would go unnoticed.

From the start it was likely, if not certain, that this was fake news. But the post-truth era we live in has made forming evidence-based conclusions so unfashionable.

So off people went whining about how the overnight prayers would pull in extraordinary audiences who would in turn decimate Mandela National Stadium’s playing surface.

Evidently exasperated, one of your columnist’s acquaintances concluded that Pentecostal Christians can be quite uncompromising, high-handed and yet demure.
Why, he asked rhetorically, do they find sports grounds so seductive? It didn’t take me that long to convince the said acquaintance that what he felt an intolerable aversion to was in fact fake news. It was in many respects a click-bait.

Case study of Lugogo
But while Mandela National Stadium did not - in this particular incident - find itself grappling with whether or not to lend itself to a non-sporting event, the dice had already been cast for Lugogo Cricket Oval a week prior.

Jamaican Reggae artiste Tarrus Riley headlined a show at the cricket ground. The warmth with which Riley was received by not just reggae but also cricket aficionados sparked the curiosity of Elvis Mbonye’s followers in a moment. Mbonye and his flock got such a cold reception when it was made known that they would hold functions at Lugogo Cricket Oval.

Local cricket officials have since moved to clear the fog, stating in no uncertain terms that the agreement they entered with Jazz Safari allows shows such as Riley’s to be held once in a while. Such shows are not held with the frequency stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding between Mbonye and National Council of Sports. Try telling that to Mbonye’s legions of followers though! All they see is a classic case of double standards. Be sure to read different accounts of the episode - fictitious or not. This after all is the post-truth era!

What we now know....

We know that netballer Peace Proscovia will leave English outfit Loughborough Lightning and join Sunshine Coast Lightning of Australia once she puts the finishing touches on her postgraduate degree at Loughborough University.

We know that Proscovia has been a fantastic ambassador for not just Uganda but the sport of netball. She will undoubtedly continue to be that and more in the Land Down Under.
We also know that Proscovia will pursue a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast whilst in Australia. She continues to show us that sport and education can co-exist.

@robertmadoi
rmadoi@ntv.co.ug

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