The calls for a new-look Uganda Cranes have been loud enough. Too loud, actually.
And recent retirements by committed servants Hassan Wasswa, never mind he was already off the bus, and ‘larger-than-life’ skipper Denis Onyango, just enhanced the debate.
Both believed it was the right time to call time on their national career. Onyango, in particular, believed it was time to leave the dancefloor for younger dancers.
“I also believe that our national team is well covered in the goalkeeping position, and it is time to give opportunity to the new guys,” Onyango told this newspaper.
Jamal Salim of Sudan giants Al Hilal, and KCCA’s Charles Lukwago have been Onyango’s understudies in recent engagements, and if they retained their place, it would mean a tight race for a third goalkeeper among many talents.
The June World Cup qualification squad should not be an overhaul, but a glimpse into the future.
With the inevitable transition steadily taking shape, let us have a look at the possible new-look Cranes.
In a whirlwind of fan emotions, some have not spared Onyango in their call for the national team overhaul.
Given Onyango’s non-diminishing returns, I always argued that retirement had to be on his own volition, because you don’t just change a blameless custodian.
A human will definitely replace him in goal, but Onyango the man, the leader, the institution won’t be replicated – the reason we should be careful not to burden the new man.
Let them, whoever it is, be their own man. With Robert Odongkara still available but seeming like a distant memory, Onyango’s most recent understudy Salim Jamal of Sudan’s Al Hilal, looks a natural choice. At 25, the lanky goalkeeper remains high in the pecking order but might need to win back his place at his club to boost his confidence.
KCCA’s Charles Lukwago and Mathias Kigonya Azam (Tanzania). Ismail Watenga of Chippa United (S. Africa) – hardly a stranger in Cranes colours – will also be pushing.
Bevis Mugabi of Motherwell and Southend’s Elvis Bwomono have had inconsistent starts to their Cranes careers, but have many years left in their legs to be written off now.
Mustafa Kizza (Montreal, US), Timothy Awany (Ashdod, Israel), Joseph Ochaya (TP Mazembe, DR Congo), Halid Lwaliwa (Vipers) and Murushid Juuko (Express) all remain shoe-in for the World Cup assignment in June.
SC Villa youngster Gavin Kizito’s knock on the door was loud and clear during the Afcon U20 finals. Little wonder he was called for the ill-fated trip to Malawi.
His Villa teammate Derrick Ndahiro will also fancy his chances at left back, so will Vipers budding youngster Aziz Kayondo.
While versatile Kizza and Ochaya remain favourites in that area, Ndahiro looks a few millimetres better defensively, and is hardly a bad understudy.
Azam right back Nicholas Wadada and Östersunds defender Ronald Mukiibi have struggled in national colours lately.
They still have enough years in them but really have to step up to survive the transition. The good news is that with sport, you can always earn your spot back through your performances.
This is the one area that arouses most debate in the Cranes. It’is also an area that could have a bigger clear-out as the new generation takes over.
Faruku Miya of Turkish side Konyaspor, alongside Onyango, arguably carried Uganda on his shoulders in the last two successful Afcon qualification campaigns, where the Cranes featured at the Gabon 2017 and Egypt 2019 finals.
He scored goals with reckless abandon in the run-up to those finals and was also influential at the tournaments themselves.
The 23-year-old has, however, struggled to get his act together recently, with goals and influence waning.
That said, it’s still too early to talk sidestepping Miya. A rest to freshen him up, perhaps, but he still has a big role to play on the team.
Moses Waiswa (Supersport United - South Africa) and Taddeo Lwanga (Simba, Tanzania) have already showed glimpses of what the World Cup qualifying Cranes might look like.
The clamour to fully unleash Allan Okello (Paradou - Algeria), and give more chances – in their rightful positions – to Bobosi Byaruhanga, Shafik Kagimu, Paul Mucureezi and Karim Watambala, Sadat Anaku... remains high.
Ibrahim Orit (Vipers) appears to have passed the auditions for the senior team while Bright Anukani (KCCA) showed glimpses of quality in the doomed Chan tour.
Isma Mugulusi has also demonstrated that he is not too young to be looked at after all, and the technical team will be looking at tapping into the U20 superstar’s gifts.
The likes of Abdu Lumala (Pyramids - Egypt), Kizito Luwagga (Hapoel Kfar Saba - Israel) and Allan Kyambadde (El Gouna, Egypt), among others, must ruthlessly fight for their places to stay in the picture.
Experienced Michael Azira (New Mexico United - USA) has made the decision easy for authorities by calling it a day [on his career], while Khalid Aucho (Misr Lel Makkasa), who was suspended for indiscipline ahead of the last two ill-fated Cranes games, is also rumoured to be in the departure lounge.
Emmanuel Okwi (Ittihad Alexandria, Egypt) remains the most experienced but neutrals believe that, with his gifts, he has underwhelmed, lately.
Okwi has to show more hunger both at club and national level to regain the trust.
Fahad Bayo (Ashdod, Israel) should continue challenging, while Yunus Sentamu (Vipers) – who has picked form at the right time (eight league goals).
Derrick Nsibambi (Smouha, Egypt), still has a lot to offer in the air and can hold the ball well too.
Police’s Johnson Odong, too, is a good bet. Patrick Kaddu (Youssoufia Berrechid - Tunisia) must do more to remain relevant, while Daniel Isiagi (Jomo Cosmos - S. Africa) and Estonia-based Edrisa Lubega must do so well so their inclusion is not defended by lawyers.
Uche Mubiru Ikpeazu of Wycombe Wanderers, if available, could come in handy against Mali, Kenya and Rwanda.
Depending on their league form, leading scorer Steven Mukwala (10 goals), Brian Mululi (nine) and Charles Lwanga (eight), as well as U20 stars Derrick Kakooza and Ivan Bogere could also be looked at.