Mbwana Samatta made his Aston Villa debut last Tuesday making him the first Tanzanian to play in England’s top tier. He didn’t score but showed enough to suggest that the goals will come. Not that it mattered to his countrymen who assembled in their thousands in towns across Tanzania to watch public airings of the game at way past most peoples’ bedtime. That’s how much of a deal it is.
And it should be because, while Spain Germany and Italy are arguably more technical destinations, and China still pays kings’ ransoms, the English Premier League is at the confluence of both monetary reward and career excellence. It is the ‘holy grail’ for professional footballers.
So, why has no Ugandan preceded Mbwana or is likely to follow in his steps to this footballing paradise any time soon?
To answer that one needs to go beyond technical ability to matters of early football education or how our export of talent isn’t structured in such a way to prepare those who make the journey. The failing starts from the go and the story of Uganda’s football professionals reads; men who join the paid ranks too late, too unschooled or both.
Majid Musisi Ibrahim Sekajja Faroq Miya Emmanuel Okwi Tony Mawejje or Kizito Luwagga, all of whom possess the unique proximity advantage of having played in 2nd or 3rd tier European leagues, also possessed the technical ability to play in the EPL. But it takes time to learn and exhibit the methods of work necessary to attract EPL suitors. Leaving in their late twenties like they did, was hardly practical.
Does that mean Allan Okello and Moses Waisswa who all recently left at tender ages stand a better chance? I think that depends on how much they let money limit their ambitions. These two earn way beyond their wildest dreams already.
So, who is to tell whether personal content will blind their view of the world beyond Algeria or South Africa or ambition will compel them to dig in and see this as only a launch pad to higher places? It won’t be easy. Remember, all this comprehension and focus we ask of them doesn’t occur naturally in the ecosystems that nurture them.
That there is the case for intervention. We must deliberately school our 16-year olds on financial management and professional discipline. Only then will they grow an ambition that enables them to discern gold earrings and age falsification from long term success and career opportunities.
And so, if as it is said, our fate is the sum of all our past decisions, then we owe our boys an education that doesn’t limit their choices to North or South Africa or 3rd tier Europe as an ultimate destination. And for reference they should look no further than Mbwana Samatta. At the ripe age of 27 he has finally arrived at Aston Villa – via Simba FC, TP Mazembe and Genk. And this doesn’t have to be the end either. He still has another 5-8 years of football left in him.