Last Sunday, this column gave the not unreasonable impression of Uganda youth football splitting at the seams just when it’s needed most. The reputation of age grade football took quite a pummelling when South Sudan bundled Uganda out of the 2019 Africa Under-23 Cup of Nations qualifiers at the preliminary stage.
On the surface, the unremittingly bitter experience of falling to South Sudan strikes one as a discordant note in an otherwise spectacular year. Indeed, an unseemly number of readers held that, much as a curious sight presented itself, the paralysing horror of losing to our close door neighbours should not let feats go unnoticed.
Ugandans have every right to be encouraged at the prospect of being represented at the 2019 Africa Under-17 Cup of Nations finals. The manner in which the Cubs (as Uganda’s Under-17 team is known) sealed qualification after an unfortunate start threatened to take the wind of the sails underscored the fact that the likes of Abdulwahid Iddi, Davis Ssekajja and Gavin Kizito Mugweri could be destined for greater things.
It also underpinned a newfound pride in the Fufa Juniors League that has been built with such an iron grip. Uganda also seemed to add another draw to its roster of attractions with show-stopping performances in the 2019 Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations qualifiers. The Hippos wiped the floor with South Sudan before the lottery of a shootout saw them exit at the penultimate qualifying round after Lady Luck smiled on Cameroon.
So what occasioned the infrastructure of age grade football to come tumbling down in such a grotesque manner at the Under-23 level? This column argued last week that the investment of trust in head coach Wasswa Bbosa was misplaced. What your columnist didn’t state in no uncertain terms is that Bbosa is a symptom of a much bigger, existential malaise. The pipeline that cascades players in Uganda continues to show little or no signs of being unclogged.
This partly explains why players from the Hippos (Under-20) team that annihilated South Sudan were promoted in bits and pieces to the Under-23 age grade. The stasis of players like Rashid Toha, who have failed to graduate to senior level, clog up the pipeline.
This ultimately makes wholesale graduation of teams next to impossible. The sum total of this is a process of cross-generating players that is sure to disintegrate with catastrophic results. There is a seductive authenticity about keeping a team intact and promoting it in its entirety to the next age grade. This creates a conveyor belt effect that eschews the blockages of which we have seen so much.
Next year, Uganda will host the Cecafa Under-20 Championship. Fufa should let Peter Onen use the tournament to tune up for the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations. After playing in both tournaments, Onen’s charges should then make the step up from the Cubs to the Hippos. This will create a void at the Under-17 age grade that will be filled by fresh faces from the Fufa Juniors League. If followed to the letter, this best practice should unclog the pipeline and stand Ugandan football in good stead.