Goalkeeper Denis Onyango’s legend continues to burn bright after being named to a star-studded FifPro Best XI at the Aiteo Caf Awards in Dakar, Senegal. It was by no means neither a first nor last for the 32-year-old whose lasting appeal is even more pronounced now.
Inevitably, a discussion about Onyango’s place in the pantheon of the all-time greats from purely a Ugandan goalkeeping perspective has ensued. There has been no shortage of great Ugandan goalkeepers across different generations. Onyango will no doubt bask in the glow of comparison with goalkeepers that went about business with an air of competence and enthusiasm.
The likes of Joseph Masajjage, whom lenses of historicity have long ordained as being the godfather of Ugandan goalkeeping; Paul Ssali, who kept goal in that groundbreaking 1978 Africa Cup of Nations finals campaign and Sadiq Wassa, who got the basics right with unerring accuracy during penalty shootouts.
Or maybe he won’t.
Onyango is modest to a fault so much so that he won’t be drawn into such a debate. Such is his modesty that — in his capacity as Cranes skipper — he effectively voted eventual winner Mohamed Salah for the Caf male player of the year award. Onyango was among the top 10 finalists in the running for the award and probably had every right to give himself first vote.
Many people who lack the inhibition of asking for favours would have voted themselves. Not Onyango though. His honesty and modesty are a throwback to the days of the Masajjages. If his goalkeeping is not as good (those who have been witness to all generations say it is a fine call), the effort he puts in to stay at the top is.
Onyango needs little invitation to drain the last drop of his talent in pursuit of success.
You should watch his training sessions. There is no sense of entitlement whatsoever. “Hard work” has been Onyango’s watchword in a career that has been embroidered with many badges of honour. Very little has come easy. As this column has proffered before, this abiding attribute of Onyango is what up-and-coming Ugandan goalkeepers should strive to replicate.