With a little over a month left before Uganda dates Burkina Faso in a crucial 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double header, alarm is well and truly deepening.
Injuries picked up by strikers Brian Umony (broken leg) and Geoffrey Massa (ankle) have become the object of intense media interest.
While the prognosis of Massa’s injury gives the scorer of 26 Cranes goals a fighting chance, there is growing concern that lack of first team football could have seen the striker’s form screech to a halt.
Shaun Bartlett has used Massa sparingly since he assumed the coaching mantle at University of Pretoria from Sammy Troughton.
This dearth of competitive football coupled with niggling ankle aches and pains means the veteran striker could be shorn of sharpness during the double header.
Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has met the aforesaid adversity with a poker face, insisting that he can add another string to his bow from home-based options.
The home-based attackers that Micho fielded during the 2016 African Nations Championship, however, came up with some appallingly timid performances.
Micho, as a matter of fact, had nothing but harsh words for Robert Ssentongo after he thought the striker deliberately obtuse following a tame showing in the 1-0 loss to Zambia.
Even for someone, who coaches intensely and tends to output prodigiously as does Micho, this striking crisis — if we may label it as such — poses lots of migraines.
Micho has already set himself the target of raking seven points from the remaining four qualifiers. This as the Serb looks to take Uganda to the Afcon finals for the first time since 1978.
With two home fixtures against Burkina Faso and Comoros sandwiching an awkward-looking trip to Botswana, Uganda doesn’t appear to be under the cosh.
We have nevertheless seen implosions sprout from campaigns that bar all the hallmarks of a walk in the park. So, caution should be the watchword.
The key thing, as Micho told your columnist this past week, is to get the seven points at the soonest. Leaving it late will fray the nerves of fans who paradoxically are accus-tomed to working out different permutations at the home straight.
This is precisely why the double header against Burkina Faso takes on some significance.
If Cranes players are not to test their fans’ limits this time round, they will need to be proactive against Burkina Faso. The way pro-activity manifests itself in football varies enormously, but there is a general consensus that attack is a common thread.
Last year, the breadth of Uganda’s attack was impressive. A question mark, however, hovers menacingly above last year’s attacking heroes a month or so into the New Year. A drawn-out transfer saga has left Farouk Miya in anything but the right frame of mind (he is still pursuing a visa that will see him play for Belgian outfit Standard Liege).
Tonny Mawejje has spent most of his time in Kampala and not Iceland where he plays professional football.
William Kizito Luwagga, who is supposed to be Cranes’ creative spark, barely got game time with Portuguese topflight club, Rio Ave. Luwagga took advantage of the winter window to move to CD Feirense, which turns out in the Segunda Liga or second tier.
Like Emma Okwi, who moved to Denmark, Luwagga now finds himself having to bed into a new club. It indeed increasingly looks like there will be so many rusty players for Micho to knock into shape in March.
Varying factors have stripped the players of their particularities. On any day this could be a source of deafening acrimony, but Micho is confident his first team players will begin gathering force sooner than later.
They will certainly have to if they are to put their long-suffering fans out of a near four-decade-long misery.
Hapless Mutebi gets second bite at the cherry
M ike Mutebi’s unenviable distinction as one of Ugandan football’s bright coaching lights to undergo a trophy-less tailspin may or may no be extended at the end of this campaign.
The KCCA manager will on February 23 start the second round of the current campaign at the summit of the Uganda Premier League.
His richly assembled team leads the 16-team log by a point from defending champions Vipers SC.
Although Mutebi has and continues to do some ground-breaking work in Ugandan football, his failure to land a piece of silverware has threatened to leave a stain on his resume.
One of few Ugandan natives to coach the senior national football team, The Cranes, Mutebi was supposed to have developed at a lick. Yet fate has time and again sent a tidal wave of misery crashing over him.
Think 1997 when deploying a 3-5-2 system - a rarity back then, and still is to date - Mutebi left an extremely young KCCA side at the threshold of league success.
Mutebi threw in the towel despite helping KCCA sit pretty atop the log with a few games left to play.
One known not to suffer fools, Mutebi was not at peace with his then captain, Jackson Mayanja’s mannerisms. When the club failed to reprimand Mayanja as Mutebi had counselled, the latter walked.
Tom Lwanga came in to hold the fort. He would go on to win a league title that owed much to Mutebi’s input. The annals, however, show that the 1997 winning coach in the topflight was Lwanga. Mutebi is an inconsequential footnote in the tale.
The annals also show that a certain Robert Kabuye won KCCA the Uganda Cup in 2004. In his second coaching spell at the club, Mutebi had propelled the Kasasiro Boys to a Cup final.
But then he found himself stricken with malaria on match day, and as such entrusted the team’s coaching duties to the care of Kabuye.
The two were on phone through the entire course of the match, which saw KCCA outwit Express. Again, Mutebi became a footnote.
This year, Mutebi has a golden chance of setting the record straight. And with Sam Ssimbwa suspended by KCCA, chances of undercutting Mutebi in the event of success are slim.
Although he doesn’t admit it, winning something will be greatly pleasing for Mutebi, who has never been short on naysayers that predict his failure and go on to claim vindication.
During his previous coaching spells at KCCA, Mutebi has hardly worn the look of a haunted person, who is no closer to solving a jigsaw puzzle.
Yet varying circumstances have contrived to prolong his trophy duck. That all could change this year. KCCA moved in the January window to address problems that plagued it during the first round.
Notably, the club has resigned striker Herman Wasswa to help it improve what was by any measure an abject goals-per-game return. KCCA managed just 18 goals in 15 matches during the first round, an unacceptable return for a side with goal creators like Muzamir Mutyaba and Joseph Ochaya.
Mutebi’s unenviable record could yet go up in smoke. The omens are looking good! But then again so did they in 1997 and 2004.
What we now know....
We now know that Florent Ibenge’s Democratic Republic of Congo are the first country to win the African Nations Championship (Chan) more than once.
We know that Les Leopards beat Mali 3-0 during last Sunday’s final to land their second title following success in the inaugural edition in 2009.
We also know that winger Elia Meschak put on quite the show in the final with a brace that not only won him the Top Scorer’s boot but also Player of the Tournament accolade.
Making the quantum leap from Chan marvel to regular international, however, is no cakewalk as Trésor Mputu’s travails have gone on to show.
Ibenge could make no assurances about Meschak breaking into the Congo team set to negotiate 2017 Afcon and 2018 World Cup qualifiers this year. “There is a lot of competition for places,” he said at the post match presser.
We know that this won’t stop the AS Vita Club player from fancying his chances. All we can do is wish him the best.