Uganda’s plans of making a climb up to the second tier of the Under-20 Barthès Trophy tournament hit an unexpected speed bump last Sunday. After both Uganda and Zambia had won commanding victories against Ghana in the round robin event, the final match at Kyadondo Club took on a winner-takes-all status.
A last-gasp penalty however pierced grief in the minds of the hosts as Zambia squeezed out a narrow victory, and with it promotion to the second tier. The result left the home crowd as pale as death. Many initially thought Uganda had a birthright to winning the tournament even after watching Zambia wipe the floor with Ghana. That 55-3 win only seemed to affirm two things in the Ugandans’ collective pysche: They were confident about defeating Zambia, but they were certain about defeating Ghana.
While they found obliging opponents in Ghana whom they soundly beat 52-0, the Zambia contest had them up against the ropes with no clear remedy to their predicament. The aimless kicking that went unpunished against Ghana now came to know only the death and destruction of their promotion chances. Zambia, who smelled blood in the water, had done its homework and stuck to a structure that had Uganda spending precious time putting out fires.
The inquest into why Uganda was not seen as a beacon of success the way it ought to have been should have began in earnest. Instead what we have been treated to are muted protestations about Zambia using seemingly overage players. Instead of thinning the fog of rage, such protestations have only mirrored Uganda’s campaign in its lack of direction and substance. Luckily, the protestations have come to matter little as Ugandan fans have gotten drunk on the idea that a pot could well be calling a kettle black.
Uganda’s under-20 team was entrusted to the care of Brian Makalama. The former Rugby Cranes prop is a gentleman with a reserved manner that many possibly mistake for weakness. There is a section of fans that have been quick to conclude that the gentle giant suffered such an affront to his abilities that he should resign. Those that have closely worked with Makalama not only speak highly of his credentials but also see no purpose in a resignation.
Yes, it is indeed true that Makalama had at his disposal players with old heads on young shoulders. A number of them have not just toughened up but also have bruises to show for it. Yet they failed to find a tone that more closely matches the philosophy of their coach. They failed to follow a playbook their coach had been at pains to detail.
It invariably follows that the question we should ask ourselves is why success at executing set game plans was limited. Why should players think they are smarter than their coaches? If there is anything that this hideous experience has taught us, it is that big egos and individual glory make the possibility of success vanishingly small.