The retirements column for Uganda Cranes players has of recent had more moving parts than an orchestra. As the difficult realities of the Cranes’ 30-something veterans throwing in the towel continue to intrude, a strain of hopelessness has co-resided with ridicule.
It is quite frankly unsettling that players with barely diminished genius (Denis Onyango and Mike Azira to mention but two) are opting to walk away weeks before the start of the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
With these now-retired veterans in tow, the Cranes were widely expected to enjoy a deep run in the qualifying process. But with more retirements certain or very nearly so, Uganda can expect to enjoy none of the scope extended to it when Mali, Kenya, and Rwanda were revealed as its opponents all those months back. For those part of the Cranes’ backroom staff, there must be intense frustration at the limitations of their role. And unfortunately for them, things will get worse before they get better.
As Ugandan football falls through the cracks, concerns about its future should not be dismissed glibly as has been the case. A moment of quiet introspection can be extremely valuable. But with a period of brutal electioneering set to take centre-stage before Fufa’s elective assembly occupies the backend of August, don’t hold your breath. We will be bombarded with pitches of candidates claiming to have a clear understanding of what ails Ugandan football.
The race for the top job at Fufa has held out the prospect of being crowded. Mujib Kasule and Allan Ssewanyana have already made known their intention to challenge the incumbent, Moses Magogo. More are expected to join the fray.
And as the numbers swell, expect things to get dirty. There has already been a steady stream of choice words, particularly from Ssewanyana and Magogo. This election, though, should be one that interests itself less in style and more in substance. But then again, don’t hold your breath.
Substance only rarely breaks surface in conversations about Ugandan football. Because it is all about style, the big man syndrome that this column reduced to its constituent parts last Saturday is engendered. Unhelpful adjectives like historical are consequently placed right in front of nouns like president. But, as recent events have shown us, the spectacle of what our historical president has become distracts attention from what he always was.
Before he was first elected Fufa president in 2013, Magogo had the harried air of a man with many obligations and better things to be getting on with. This didn’t stop him from personalising the office of Fufa competitions committee secretary. He also took things personally, showing little or no emotional intelligence. His audience nonetheless glorified him for the definitive takedowns he would come up with whenever Fufa’s statutes were misconstrued.
We have essentially gotten to witness the same unbridled act of hero-worshipping during Magogo’s two terms as Fufa president. Magogo’s cronies will hasten to add that the risk of such hero worship is accepted when weighted against the benefit. This risk has of course taken on an added scale and scope in the wake of the retirement of Onyango.
While the Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper says he has nothing against Magogo, it is evident that the two were at loggerheads. The reason for the friction is simply because Onyango is a free-thinker. He doesn’t hero-worship. He says it as it is, and Magogo learnt this the hard way in the wake of the player mutiny at the 2019 Afcon finals in Egypt.
This represents a gigantic threat to Fufa’s historical president who has built his reputation by surrounding himself with bootlickers. So the question that we should interest ourselves more in is that existential choice between good (free-thinking spirit) and evil (big man syndrome). What serves Ugandan football better?