Media hype aside, the presidential send-off of Denis Onyango is a story worth retelling. Some questioned its pretentious nature, saying Onyango was neither the only Cranes player to enjoy a stellar career nor the only one retiring. But like I have done countless times already, I am here to make the man’s case.
Denis Onyango is not only his generation’s most talented player, but he is also its most accomplished. And that is the thing about the man. He is literally larger than life. This could have well been a state dinner for all retirees but that would not have felt right.
Over the last decade, Football in this country has been represented by an icon and that icon is Denis Onyango. Any celebration more collective than we saw would have carried a comedown ring to it. So, with all due respect to Mike Azira and Hassan Wasswa, it was only befitting that the man hogs all the limelight for he is heads and shoulders above all his peers.
Even if this story were extended beyond recent retirees and drawn in past luminaries like Philip Omondi or Ibra Ssekagya, I firmly believe Denis Onyango would inch them for the title of Uganda’s greatest footballer ever.
Admittedly, some Ugandan footballers before him had more star appeal. Many had God’s gifts, but none whatsoever came close to applying them, like Onyango has. None of them therefore would have Onyango genuflecting.
In my view Ibra Ssekagya comes close but still Denis Onyango answers every question that the former’s equally long career poses. And men like Philip Omondi never really managed to shine their light beyond the shadows that the trappings of stardom cast upon their lives.
Onyango on the other hand has known career longevity, playing for one of continents giants and at the highest level. He has won the topmost accolades in African football and yet remains as humble as if he were just still playing on that dusty pitch up the road from Clock tower. And that is just why he is easy to respect. If in doubt ask yourself, how many people would still have been honored after that scathing audio attack on the Federation president?
After all is said, I hope that when history attempts to reveal this man to future generations it shall not forget to capture the fact that he played his football with this consistency of application that re-defined the way we think of goalkeepers and national team captains.
That is his legacy. We need not measure him against the very subjective title of “the best in the Uganda”. We must instead value him for what he brought to the game and that is you have got to work at being good and consistency lies at the other end of the relentless application rope.
He says he has 3 years left in the tank for his club and a man of his build and exertion will probably not carry on much longer. But for as long as he pulls on those gloves no one is better as a shot stopper and reader of games. Whether you come in from the left, right, or center, Denis Onyango will always find a way to stop you with his hands, feet or a spread of his gigantic frame.
So, that $40,000 car may or may not have come but that should not really matter because no prize is descriptive enough of the gifts and staying power of this man. And if we all had any modesty at all we would admit that if Ugandan football had a god, it would be Denis Onyango.