KAMPALA- Famed for having arguably the best chest control technique in the Ugandan game, there was this one time when Timothy Ayiekoh stuck out his torso for reasons far flung from the cushioning of a football.
In the good old days, there was this feel-good element and pride in the domestic game that had us purring about not just the clubs we supported, but the individuals who served up the excitement, always debating who was best this and best that.
Fred ‘Gaso’ Mukasa was the fastest, Obadiah Ssemakula the best crosser, but Sula Kato the most complete of the wingers; Issa Ssekatawa was goal machine supreme but Frank Kyazze the best header of the ball; and did Sunday Mokili have the hardest shot, or was it Davis ‘The Bomber’ Kamoga? Paul Nkata was the best at controlling aerial balls with his head, while nobody else could pluck a ball out of midair with the panache of Richard Mugalu’s silky left foot, and on and on …
One of the contentious ones was who between Ayiekoh and Robert Aloro could best tame a flying ball with his chest, with the older generation certain it was the former and the younger ones adamant it was the latter.
On this particular day I refer to though, Ayiekoh’s chest was in a different puff altogether, after all he was no longer an active player but the coach of the mighty SC Villa.
Magid Musisi was seeing out his last days before his much vaunted move to Europe; on this afternoon at Villa Park, Ayiekoh was chastising Iddi Batambuze, Peter Nsaba and Sam Mukasa for allowing a man who was much better than them to arrive earlier for training and put in more minutes of specialised, individual training than them, who clearly still had much improving to do. As a vacationing trainee at Villa at the time, I was right there.
Anyway, Musisi’s was a club-sanctioned move abroad, but despite the loss of arguably the most prolific striker the country has even seen, Villa continued to do well. He had already helped seal the title in 1992, and even if they lost out to Express the following year, Villa were champions again in 1994.
Villa’s decline and the Express takeover in that period had little to do with Musisi’s departure but several other factors. Had Mukasa not left for the USA soon after, Musisi might not have been missed, and there might have been more than that 1994 title. But anyway, after they had sorted out those other issues, they were soon winning again in 1998 …
Had Villa, however, gone with the Ugandan tradition of refusing to sell their best assets, they would not have moved on, the country would not have gained the tangible and intangible benefits of a successful professional, and the player himself would have missed out on the trappings of a successful career in France and Turkey.
Long before Musisi, Uganda’s top clubs were entrenched in the habit of hanging onto players rather than make money from them and groom or hire replacements, and the culture continued long after him as exemplified by Express and Villa’s failure to strike super deals in South Africa and Ghana for Willy Kyambadde and Hakim Magumba respectively, in the late ‘90s.
To sell or not to sell
That culture is the reason why players have decided to take matters into their own hands to the loss of the clubs, going to leagues around the region (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, DRC and Ethiopia), or to further destinations in South Africa, Vietnam, Eastern Europe and the US.
The Ibrahim Sekagya success story is more thanks to a club official than the club itself, but what the player and the country have achieved since he first moved to Argentina is beyond measure, and giants KCC as well as little minnows in Kawempe reaped financially when he switched to Austria.
If his parent club had been involved, made the right contacts and orchestrated a more official move, Livingstone Mbabazi wouldn’t have taken the dodgy, circuitous route across God-knows how many borders, via West Ham to Ireland. Mbabazi’s talents warranted a much bigger stage, but other players have not been so lucky.
One or two clubs make the effort here currently, but largely the players are left to the mercy of self-styled and oft times unscrupulous local and foreign agents, relatively obscure leagues and no long term gains for Ugandan football.
The ancient and scandalous notion that selling weakens clubs has got to be discarded, especially after ASEC, Hearts Of Oak and several other institutions in west, north and southern Africa have traded players and gone from strength to strength.
Like in so many other aspects, our clubs have got to belatedly wake up to this component of modern-day football business.
[email protected], @markssali on twitter