Kabugo almost gave up football after mysterious pain

Friday July 15 2016

Cranes’ Savio Kabugo and Andre Ayew of Ghana chase after the ball
The returning Kabugo could have come head to head with Andre Ayew in tomorrow’s crunch game between Cranes and the Black Stars. PHOTO BY ISMAIL KEZAALA
Defender Savio Kabugo celebrates
Defender Savio Kabugo celebrates after his 10th minute header in an Afcon qualifier against Ghana in 2014 In Kampala. The defender missed yesterday's tie. PHOTO BY ANDREW MWANGUHYA

November 15, 2014. The atmosphere at Namboole is gripping. Close to 30,000 spectators are urging on the Uganda Cranes players and cheering their every move against Ghana’s Black Stars. But it is the Black Stars who get the earliest chance; Christian Atsu whipping in a quality ball from a corner only for Majeed Waris to flounder with a gaping net at his mercy. He would soon pay for a miss as Uganda immediately win a corner at the other end.

As Mike Sserumaga prepares to take it, Savio Kabugo - who made his Cranes competitive debut four matches earlier in the 1-1 draw in Ghana - makes a committed run from his half under coach Micho Sredojevic’s frantic urging on the touchline.

Sserumaga drills the ball past everyone in the Ghanaian box but Kabugo, who emphatically heads it home to spark off Usain Bolt-esque gun posturing celebrations.

The Cranes were ahead 1-0 in this 2015 Afcon qualifier to forget the previous similar scoreline defeats to Togo.
Namboole went frenzy on Kabugo’s first competitive goal for the Cranes. Having played a role in the five Afcon qualifying goals, the star – in his early 20s – had arrived.

Comfortable in central defence as a game reader and passer, Ugandans were in love. Some talked of how Ibrahim Sekagya’s calmness at the rear guard had been rediscovered.

Most fans braced themselves for a long, consistent Kabugo display in the position, which he indeed continued occupying in the 2-0 defeat to Guinea as Uganda’s Afcon dream ended in Casablanca, Morocco.
Sadly, that was the last time most Ugandans saw the young, promising Kabugo in Cranes colours.

He has been missing in action since, with most wondering where this imposing, well-built defender for the future had gone.

The genesis
“It started as a small, nagging pain on my upper left shin (tibia area),” Kabugo, dressed in a yellow URA jersey of the old Bell Super League – with streams of sweat rolling down his face, tells Daily Monitor.

Kabugo had just gone through his paces on the treadmill, skipped a rope and lifted some weights at a gym in Namugongo as he tries to keep in shape.
“It (pain) started in a friendly against the U20s before we travelled for the Ghana game. But the doctor gave me pain killers and it reduced.”

The Cranes made a stop-over in Niger on September 1, 2014 where they lost 2-0 to the hosts in a warm-up friendly the next day, with Kabugo replacing Isaac Isinde in the second half.

Kabugo never felt any pain in that game. The Cranes then proceeded to Ghana, where Tony Mawejje scored in the 1-1 draw on September 6, 2014, with Kabugo making his competitive debut.

It was a decent introduction for the youngster but hardly comfortable one. “About 2-3 hours to the match against Ghana, I felt the pain again,” narrates Kabugo, “This time in both legs.

“The doctor (Ronald Kisolo) told me I would be okay and then gave me one pain killer injection and I played.”

The defender did not require any painkillers in Uganda’s first home game of the 2015 Afcon qualifiers, a 2-0 victory over Guinea at Namboole.
All was fine as the player travelled with the team for the away fixture to Togo, until the pain recurred in the last training necessitating another injection for him to play.

The player featured in the return leg against Togo without complaints but still needed pain killers to face Ghana, where he scored.

“Assessment from the team doctor was that my shin was okay. The medical team was confident that with the pain killers and physiotherapy, I would be okay. And against Guinea, I played through without any pain. I thought I was over it.”

The player returned to his club, Victoria University, ready to complete the first round of the season on a high.
But vigorous running under coach Morley Byekwaso, he says, left him feeling the painful impact on the shin again.

“I told coach Morley that I couldn’t run anymore,” shares Kabugo. His last club game in 2014 was in December against Bright Stars, which he was able to play after taking some pain killers.

The pain got worse and player sat home. “I never heard from Fufa ever since, only coach Micho would meet me,” he says.Fufa spokesperson Ahmed Hussein sounded surprised by the player’s claims. “Coach Micho is so close with the boys and keeps in touch. Maybe he was there on behalf of Fufa. But also, the player should be able to keep in touch with our medical team.”

KCCA player never to step on the pitch

As Kabugo was losing hope, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) football club CEO David Tamale and chairman Julius Kabugo called him with an offer.
“I told them I was injured,” explains the player, “That I can’t handle. They said, ‘don’t worry, you will be okay’. I agreed and signed for six months.
Sadly, the player did not play a single game for KCCA. Even for training, he only walked about Lugogo working on his upper body.

KCCA did several tests on the player’s shin but none returned conclusive results. One of his doctors gave him crutches and asked him to rest. “You should be okay and off the clutches in three months,” said the medic.
“After three months I removed the crutches but felt no difference. I felt sad. I cried. I felt like giving up. My elder brother Ivan (Bukenya) told me to keep faith in God.”

The six-month contract at KCCA elapsed and the club met with Kabugo again. KCCA were now under new coaching management of Mike Mutebi and Sam Ssimbwa, who replaced Abdallah Mubiru.

“They told me ‘Savio, don’t worry. You are the kind of player every coach wants and you will still play for us’.

“I thanked them but told them it was not fine with me to continue “eating” the club money for nothing. We parted amicably.”

Kabugo painfully battled through the rest of 2015. Later, he met a friend who convinced him to get into farming. “I gave it a serious thought,” says the towering player.

“But it was around that time (early 2016) that URA FC gave me a call. I told them I’m not fine but they persuaded me. I met with manager Nduga and URA FC chairman Ali Ssekatawa and we reached an agreement.

“Manager Nduga also took me to Pastor Samuel Kakande. The man of God touched my legs and prayed for me. I have never felt pain since then.” I guess it was more like a psychological touch.

But even at URA, Kabugo hardly had it going fully. “I never had my head in one place,” he explains, “All my friends Jjuuko (Mrushid – Simba, Tz), Miya (Farouk – Standard Liege, Belgium) and Yasser Mugerwa (Orlando Pirates, South Africa) had since got good moves abroad.

What now for the star?

“But every time I wanted to give up, my friends Brian Umony (St George, Ethiopia), Onyango (Mamelodi Sundowns), Hassan Wasswa (Al Shorta, Iraq), Andrew Mwesigwa –told me, Savio, no… God is testing your faith…”

Kabugo hung in there, putting in six full games for the taxmen. URA’s 2-1 defeat to Express in March was his last game. He says he is now looking at getting back to the grind.

“I’m now working hard as my agent cooks up something abroad. But even if I don’t go now, I will play for a club here, preferably Proline, and get back to the national team.”

Of Kabugo, Atonet injuries and sports insurance

Last year saw some of Uganda’s sports stars suffer harrowing and mysterious injuries, with footballer Savio Kabugo and NIC and national netball player Elizabeth Atonet most notable.

Atonet, 26, damaged her left knee in June, 2015 and limped out of the She Cranes squad of 20, who were training for that year’s Netball World Cup in Australia.

For four months she did not get treatment. Neither the Uganda Netball Federation (UNF) nor National Council of Sports (NCS) had come to her help.
Kabugo on the other hand developed strange pain around his left tibia before the Cranes travelled for their first 2015 Afcon qualifier in September 2014.

Tests never revealed damage on his shin, initially forcing the footballer to play half of six qualifying games on pain killer injections and tablets until he sat out the entire following year.

All the while, observers questioned what kind of cover National Insurance Corporation (NIC), who are Cranes partners, and sponsors of Atonet’s netball club, had.

Antony Ngugi is the general manager NIC Life says, “First, the Savio Kabugo claim was lodged and we settled it,” Ngugi told this newspaper at NIC headquarters in Kampala.

“For Atonet, our netball player, our scheme covers them only when they are on duty with NIC Netball Team.
“So naturally, Atonet’s was NCS’ case because she got injured on national duty.”

NIC only entered an arrangement with She Cranes late July 2015, a month after Atonet had withdrawn from camp with injury.
That insurance covered only 12 players and the technical team that travelled to Sydney for the Netball World Cup.

“But in the event NCS fails to treat our player who gets injured on national duty, we have an in-house arrangement.”

Fortunately, NCS eventually came in, paying Shs4.7m for her arthroscopic surgery to repair the gravely torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee at CoRSU Rehabilitation Hospital in Kisubi late last year.

Sports minister Charles Bakkabulindi and commander of SFC Maj Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba also chipped in with some cash contributions towards the player’s medical bills.

What NIC covers with Cranes
NIC’s partnership with Uganda Cranes falls under the ‘group personal accident cover’.

“It covers death up to Shs20m per person, the same amount for permanent total disability, medical bills up to Shs3m, and funeral expenses of up to Shs1m,” explains Ngugi.

“It covers only the current squad and technical team who are summoned for a given camp at that particular time. In all, our cover with Cranes is up to Shs660m annually.

“Between 2013 and 2016, we have settled about 40 claims, some minor injuries and some serious medical bills.”

What normally happens is that when a player is injured or ill, Fufa pay for treatment and later bill NIC for reimbursements.

“If it is a very serious case,” explains Fufa spokesperson Ahmed Hussein, “We let NIC know in advance the magnitude of the injury/illness so that they are not caught unaware.”

Cranes goalkeeping coach, Fred Kajoba, was one such case. The coach suffered heart-related complications and collapsed on the team’s way back home from the 1-0 away loss in Burkina Faso in March.
He was admitted at Nakasero hospital, where his Shs12m bill was picked by NIC, for 10 days.


“But every time I wanted to give up, my friends Brian Umony (St George, Ethiopia), Onyango (Mamelodi Sundowns), Hassan Wasswa (Al Shorta, Iraq), Andrew Mwesigwa –told me, Savio, no… God is testing your faith…”

Kabugo hung in there, putting in six full games for the taxmen. URA’s 2-1 defeat to Express in March was his last game. He says he is now looking at getting back to the grind.

“I’m now working hard as my agent cooks up something abroad. But even if I don’t go now, I will play for a club here, preferably Proline, and get back to the national team.”