Adebayor? Who cares, with richest Cranes striker-collection in decades?

Tuesday October 7 2014

Cranes coach Micho has strikers

Cranes coach Micho has strikers Brian Umony. Photo by Eddie Chicco 

By Mark Ssali

As far the endless list of football’s interesting paradoxes goes, Emmanuel Adebayor is bound to have a bigger influence on the numbers flocking to Namboole this weekend than any other single thing.

I say paradox because in reality, this once, Uganda’s strikers are meant to actually be the reason traffic on Jinja Road comes to a standstill when the Uganda Cranes host Togo in a Nations Cup qualifier that in more ways than one will turn out to be the marker of Uganda’s changing fortunes on the continent, or not.

A random tweet I put out in the early hours of yesterday evoked responses from followers but more crucially sparked off a series of nostalgic rants from myself that actually prompted me to pull out my laptop, dust down the keyboard and frenetically type away this, the resurrection of a column that I had left in limbo for a few months in favour of my weekend versions.

The foreign superstar striker has always been a major puller of crowds to Nakivubo and Namboole for Ugandan internationals, everyone from George Weah to Manucho and many in between, as well as before and after; think as far back as Omam Biyick all the way to Pappis Demba Cisse perhaps. And there is still Asamoah Gyan to come.

And so Adebayor will be a stand-out attraction, regardless of whether it turns out to be a forgettable detour for someone with his mind elsewhere, as indeed has been in the past with the likes of Yakub Ayegbeni and Obafemi Martins, and regardless of whether the tall Togolose forward gets shackled by the Cranes defence in the same manner Rashid Yekini so memorably was by Robert Mukiibi back when.

Yet the real focus actually ought to be on Cranes strikers, for not in a long time has Uganda afforded the luxury of up to five in great form and with the indisputable quality to grace such a stage on merit.

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Super five
Micho Sredojevic is at liberty to lay claim to a selection headache upfront which no predecessor of his has been accorded in more than 20 years. Geoffrey Massa’s place is indisputable, but it will be interesting to see which of Daniel Sserunkuma, Yunus Sentamu, Emmanuel Okwi and Brian Umwony Micho turns to for a contribution for Togo and the rest of the campaign.

In the late 80s when I was finally old enough to decipher the Ugandan football scene, Magid Musisi, Issa Ssekatawa, Frank Kyazze, John Buga, Joseph Sekitto, Umar Senoga and one or two others were all scoring regularly but, unfortunately, could not all be accommodated as Uganda played fewer internationals anyway.

As Musisi left for Europe and the others hang up their boots in the early 90s, the next scoring machine meant to emerge was the gifted Sam Mukasa, a teammate and opponent of mine from Kako SS who went through Kitovu and Kibuli on the way to sparking off a most bitter war between KCC and SC Villa, before Ugandan football so prematurely lost him to the US.

It was left to Iddi Batambuze, Andrew Arinaitwe and a few others to fill the dark void at the start of what has turned out to be a never-ending struggle to find goal-getters of international quality, so much so that the mid to late 90s saw several coaches deploy men like Sula Tenywa, Phillip Obwiny and Edgar Watson out of position upfront.

It didn’t help that even the talent pool of great goal scorers who were not outright number nines, one with names like Phillip Musoke ‘Maradona’, Sunday Mokili, Jacskon Mayanja, Robert Aloro, Fred Tamale and the like had also dried up.

Up popped Hassan Mubiru and Andrew Mukasa at the turn of the century and the promise of a lethal partnership like none seen before. It was brilliant while it lasted, but was lost to nation way too soon; and so the dearth remained, underlined by several experiments that didn’t quite work (the physically endowed, very willing but not prolific enough Eugene Ssepuuya for one). Until now.

A most pleasant surprise has been Massa aging like a sweet wine, and his sidekicks in the squad as listed earlier are all of international worth, have scored for Uganda before and have been bang in form for their clubs in continental and regional competition lately.

Curiosity is human nature, and Adebayor warrants a few glances. But the full glare must this time be on faces more familiar.

mmssali@yahoo.com, @markssali on twitter