Poor start to 2023 Afcon qualifying proof that a transition must be handled well

Author: Robert Madoi is a sports journalist and analyst. PHOTO/FILE/NMG.

What you need to know:

  • The worst is yet to come. Even Fufa officials are guarded with their optimism.

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” the psalmist asks rhetorically. The answer, of course, is to be found in a basic theology that is a tour de force of uncut simplicity and frankness. For the case of Ugandan football, though, turning to God can only do so much especially since there are no foundations to speak of in the first place.

After watching their team pick only a single point out of a possible six in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying campaign, Ugandan football fans haven’t held back. They have ploughed their deepest emotions after Cranes players reached the nadir of wretchedness by disgracing themselves home-and-away.

As we start to absorb the reality of the declining years of our senior men’s national football team, it will be instructive to steel ourselves for more disappointment. The worst is yet to come. Clearly. Even Fufa officials – who appear unable to abandon the lie that the Tanzania doubleheader will provide some respite from the suffering – are guarded with their optimism.  

There has been no shortage of fall guys. The international careers of veterans like Emma Okwi and Faruku Miya have mortifyingly plummeted, leaving Cranes fans more than chagrined. Rather than soothe wounded egos, the fans are demanding that the heads of the said players roll.

Elsewhere, Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević – who looks set to continue scrunching his face, as if barking, in the Cranes dugout – has shown himself to have a caustic power. Because of this, the man that snapped Uganda’s Afcon hoodoo in 2016 knows he is a much less welcome presence.

It’s not that the Serb does his work absentmindedly during training. No. Just as he did during his previous coaching stints in Uganda, Micho still pours his fierce, formidable passion into preparing for a matchday. But his attempt to give forceful life to football encounters has been met with harsh twists.

The belief in the wisdom of his directing hand particularly came in for a drubbing when Uganda mustered shockingly low ball possession stats (19.5 percent) during the 2-0 loss away to Algeria. The spikiness of fans’ reaction to the 1-1 draw at home to Niger this past week also had no limits.

The bitter truth is that Micho, Miya or even Okwi are no more than the proverbial fall guy. Scapegoats, if you will. The more accurate picture is to be deciphered from how Micho is responding to critics assailing him. The Serb says his team is in a tenuous transition. Which most certainly is the case. This revelation is invariably followed by a question around why the transition is going down badly in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that there is an unsettling meditation by local football leaders on the fetishisation of short-term goals. None of them has the forethought to plan for transitions. Tournaments like the African Nations Championship or Chan are meant to serve a purpose. They should be used to prepare up and coming players not to be so alarmed by the prospect of having to slip into big shoes left.

The manner in which we have fast-tracked players from the team that contested the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations final to the senior team will ultimately prove to be counterproductive. The unit that Morley Byekwaso – in an inspired display of tact – helped take places should ideally be preparing for the 2023 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations. And, by extension, a crack at the 2024 Olympics. After those slew of matches, members on that squad – the oldest of whom will be 23 in 2024 – should be in a position to make the transition from junior to senior ranks.

By now, a similar structured approach – augmented by Chan football – should have prepared the likes of Shafiq Kagimu and Saidi Kyeyune to fill the void created by departures of Tonny Mawejje and Hassan Wasswa. Instead, Micho finds himself having to pull a rabbit out of hat by handing senior debuts to Marvin Youngman. Can we even claim that the foundations are being destroyed? Nah! This is a self-inflicted wound, which Fufa’s top brass must instantly regret.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @robertmadoi

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