As far as breaking the glass ceiling of professional football is concerned, Ibrahim Sekagya’s influence has proved the most enduring and pervasive amongst Ugandans.
His steady stream of appearances at Red Bull Salzburg – 165 league matches across six seasons – was matched by four major titles, including a league and cup double in 2012.
While the double proved to be one of his most remarkable achievements, the mental fortitude he showcased is well worth a mention. It is in fact what Ugandan players should aspire to.
Because he did things in ways that were firmly rooted in the Austrian club’s ethos, it came as no surprise when the captain’s armband ended up being lodged on Sekagya’s bicep. Make no mistake, this remains Ugandan football’s ultimate feel-good story. And, quite frankly, it will take some beating.
Sekagya, who is now part of the backroom staff at one of his old clubs – New York Red Bulls – continues to show the formal clarity and restraint that served him well during his playing days. He also appears to have the best interests of Ugandan footballers at heart.
Your columnist was in Rwanda, covering the 2016 African Nations Championship, when Sekagya made an unannounced visit to Kigali. The trip was all business and no pleasure. Farouk Miya was on the cusp of making a career-defining decision after his minders beseeched him to consider moving to mainland Europe. Red Bull Salzburg and Standard Liège were involved in a two-way tussle for the attacking midfielder’s signature.
It was Sekagya’s intention to not just help Miya acknowledge what Red Bull Salzburg had to offer but also to shape it.
The Austrian club’s track record of blooding young, impressionable African players finding their feet in Europe – à la Sadio Mané back then and most recently Patson Daka – should have left it at the front of the queue. It didn’t. Standard Liège won the arm wrestle, and we all know how that turned out.
Although, or in fact because, Miya shone in patches in Belgium, he was deemed surplus to requirements. After an uneventful loan stint in Azerbaijan with Sabail, the midfielder was shipped off to Croatia with Gorica where green shoots of recovery started to emerge.
The form was laudable enough to attract interest in Turkey. Since his move there, the 22-year-old has started to look like his old self in the Turkish top flight with Konyaspor. A recent brace against champions İstanbul Başakşehir showed just how much Miya is enjoying himself. His art of arriving late in the box, which had almost seemed to vanish, now shines through. Some hard lessons have undoubtedly been learned.
Yet it’s also not inconceivable to conclude that the consequences of snubbing Red Bull Salzburg irrevocably scarred Miya’s soul. He must look back at the lost opportunity with deep-seated regret.
Mustafa Kizza, who will in mid August officially become a Montreal Impact player, would do well to take notice. Congratulatory messages have been streaming in since it was revealed that the fullback will be turning out in the Major Soccer League (MLS).
The presumption that the US top flight is a place where fading stars draw a pension has persisted in its existence. While such a settled notion is a bit of a stretch, one can’t help but wonder if the MLS is the best destination for a rough-around-the-edges, 20-year-old player whose entire footballing career has played out in Uganda.
We are after all talking about a league that lives off the know-how of veterans. A steep learning curve undoubtedly beckons.
Set against such sentiment, one can only hope that Kizza will be up for the challenge. The mistake will be imagining that the MLS is a bed of roses. Another mistake is in advancing an argument that this column has cynically willed challenges into existence.
Your columnist wishes Kizza every good fortune, but also joins other unimpeachable voices in stating that the hard work begins now. Over to you, Kizza.