By halfway last season, Express were good for 18 points in 15 games, scoring 20 goals and conceding 23. This season, they were wrestling for the top honours with 32 points, four less than leaders URA. With seven goals conceded, they have the meanest defence.
This is Express’ best performance at the halfway mark since the 2011/12 season when they won the league.
Some fans carry around a carefully curated self-image based on the club’s reputation as six-time champions popularly known as “Mukwano Gwa Bangi” for their swashbuckling performances reminiscent of the glorious past.
What should hearten Express’ supporters this time is that new head coach Wasswa Bbosa’s biggest achievement so far is their stingy defensive record.
Wasswa replaced George Ssimwogerere, who was sacked on February 4, 2020. Since Bbosa’s first game in charge, a 2-1 win at home to Tooro United on February 20, Express have conceded just 10 goals in 19 Premier League games.
The seven goals conceded this season is two fewer than table leaders URA’s defensive holes, while champions Vipers have conceded 14 times.
Bbosa, adores Frank ‘Video’ Anyau as a godfather, uses unorthodox methods to assert his personality on his teams.
After dropping out of school at Nakivubo Blue in Primary Six, Bbosa started playing football in Katwe for non-league side Mayungano from where Anyau picked him to Kumi where they helped the home side to the Mini-League play-offs. The duo later moved to Iganga.
He started topflight football in 1996 with Mbale Heroes where he stayed for five years before joining Express. He played four seasons at Victors before joining URA. He retired at Victors where Anyau tasked him with coaching.
Starting as a coach player, he joined Hoima that he promoted to topflight. His stay lasted until the halfway season to assume the head coaching role at Express when Matia Lule left in 2010.
This is a memory that still provokes a smile from Bbosa. Bbosa studied on the job for his coaching badges.
“It’s all about getting the best out of players and building balanced squads,” he says of the magic behind the rejuvenation at Wankulukuku and his philosophy as a coach.
Bbosa was born to Teopista and Paul Sserunkuuma of Vuluga Village in Buikwe District but grew up in Nakasero with his mother.
“This is why Video [Anyau] is so vital in my career because I never even played for the school team. I was eager and always wanted to win and to go down my own path,” he says.
Such drive made him an invaluable part of any teams he played in.
“He was naturally a leader and that is why I made him captain in my teams. Even when he started coaching, he was still the captain of Victors,” Anyau says.
“Even then, he had an independent mind and he worked hard. I feel great pride to see what he has achieved.”
Bbosa always has high expectations of the players, something that sees him turning around careers of many regarded as past their sell-by-date.
He is a league winner with URA and the Uganda Cup with Express in 2003.
His biggest moment though came in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in 2004 where he was a last-minute replacement for Livingstone Mbabazi, who went AWOL after travelling from Ireland. To the surprise of many, he was impressive and went on to play for the national team nine times.
Prior to joining Express, Bbosa struggled with Tooro United and had been axed from Soana and SC Villa earlier.
“My biggest disappointment was at Villa. If I had been given more time, I would have won the title,” Bbosa says.
His contract was not renewed after helping Villa to a third-place finish during the reign of Ben Misagga.
At the time, Bbosa raked in starlet Abdullah Salim, Nicholas Kasozi, Allan Kyambadde, Mahad Kakooza, George Ssenkaaba, Simon Sserunkuma, Isa Lumu, goalkeeper Sanon Mulabi and former Express captain Musa Mukasa.
His rich squad also had Martin Kizza, Vitalis Tabu, Godfrey Lwesibawa, Bernard Muwanga, Abel Eturude, Ambrose Kirya, and Joseph Nsubuga.
Ssenkaaba, who has reunited with Bbosa at Express after stints in Big League with Kitara, recalls Bbosa’s reassuring words as the key to his return to form. He is the team’s leading scorer with six league goals. Lwesibawa has four.
“He can inspire you to improve your game even under tough circumstances,” Ssenkaaba says.
In November 2016, Bbosa resigned his job when Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi was at the helm. Then, Express were 13 points from the top. He was moreover the second coach to quit Wankulukuku that season after Alex Gitta.
“The conditions were not conducive. Can you imagine I used to buy training balls for the team and sometimes we had to use our jersey as collateral to get transport for away games,” Bbosa says.
But now they are and that is expected to show when Express host leaders URA to kickstart their second round today.
When Kiryowa Kiwanuka was appointed Express chairman in August 2018, a raft of changes were made at Wankulukuku. Most importantly, the club gained a corporate outlook, landing lucrative sponsorship deals with Betway and Equity Bank.
Things changed instantly but George Ssimwogerere could hardly carry the load on his shoulders, something that left the Red Eagles fans loathing.
Kiwanuka was hopeful Bbosa would turn things around.
“We are looking at some strategic changes to team play, which we feel shall best be accomplished by Bbosa. And of course, we continue to think about how we are to move the club on the pitch from the point at which we are to a better place,” Kiwanuka told Daily Monitor in 2020.
Ahead of the 2020/21 season, Bbosa released 18 players to improve on their ninth-place finish where they accumulated 31 points from 25 games.
Among the key arrivals were defender Geoffrey Wasswa from Vipers and Murushid Juuko, while the rejuvenation of forward Eric Kambale is giving the Red Eagles another dimension. It is a balanced squad with Frank Kalanda, Ssenkaaba and Mustafa Kiragga in attack.
Club CEO Isaac Mwesigwa added Hellen Buteme to improve the players’ health while a mega kit sponsorship deal with Umbro was signed.
One big question-mark, however, hangs over Bbosa’s patience with the ambitions that surround the club. As a coach, he is yet to win any silverware but he says the progress at Wankulukuku is making him optimistic.
Mwesigwa describes Bbosa as a “fantastic coach” who knows how to build team chemistry.
And what are his objectives? He is not at Wankulukuku for second-best. “Winning the league is a top priority,” Bbosa says.
At a glance
Wasswa Bbosa was born on December, 14, 1979, in Vuluga village, Buikwe District, to Teopista and Paul Sserunkuuma. He played as a midfielder for Iganga, Mbale Heroes, Express, Victors, and URA and has coached Victors, Hoima, SC Villa, Soana, Tooro United and Express.