From losing wife,  Barente found joy in Bul success

Time to Celebrate. Bul players lift chairman Ronald Barente as they celebrate their victory over Vipers. Photos / John Batanudde

What you need to know:

  • The 39-year old took charge of the team as chairman in 2019, a season after reaching the final of the Uganda Cup where his team were humiliated in what was the best achievement for the edible oil money moguls

Star man. Ronald Barente is not a household name in the local football circles but he is the brain behind Bul’s surge that has seen the Jinja side lift the Stanbic Uganda Cup for the first time. The 39-year-old took charge of the team as chairman in 2019, a season after reaching the final of the Uganda Cup where his team were humiliated in what was the best achievement for the edible oil money moguls. In the same period, got the worst memories of his life when he battled the Covid-19 infection, a virus that took away the love of his life, his wife Phoebe Myra, a year ago. The mechanical and production engineer sat down with Sunday Monitor’s Fred Mwambu to explain how he oiled the machine that produced the fortunes and gold that fried Vipers to become the 13th winner of the country’s second-most valuable trophy.

Congratulations!

Thank you. It feels good to be a winner. We really fought hard for this one.

From an 8-1 hiding to winners, what exactly happened behind the scenes between those two finals?

The humiliation was a turning point for us. We picked good lessons but in a hard way. It was a tough experience but I can say that there were several factors that affected us from Covid-19, transfers and all those. We sat down as a team, evaluated ourselves and planned a way forward as a team especially the technical side and the management and the fruits have been seen.

So, who is Barente?

Ronald Barente is a ‘ghetto boy’ who was born and grew up in the suburbs of Kamokya. I studied in Kitante School for my secondary school education before joining Kyambogo University where I graduated in 2008 as a Production and Mechanical engineer. It is from there that I joined Bidco Uganda as an engineer.

On the side of football, I played football and handball while at school but one day, my dad asked me to decide between the game and my studies. Of course, I went with the latter, which I don’t regret but my passion for football and sports remained intact. I am a single father of three beautiful children.

What lured this engineer into football management?

Football has always been my passion right from my childhood. I grew up playing and watching the likes of David Obua at Kataka grounds. When I joined Bidco in 2008, I found the team when it had just been assembled in 2007.

I was in the corridors of the team since then and followed how things were going on. I watched how the team was progressing but in a way, felt that what the mother company was putting in wasn’t reflected in the results.

So, when I went and acquired basic knowledge in football management, coaching and refereeing from Fufa. The training that I got molded me and made me a better person to manage such a club and try to achieve the results.

What was the situational report like before you assumed office?

There were issues within the club but I can say that the biggest problem why the team was always underperforming was the management.

Bul FC chairman Ronald Barente

The company was contributing their part and in time but things weren’t just moving as they were supposed to. For sure, there was no excuse why the club was struggling at the bottom and not the top with all that the company was putting, so that [management] was our biggest problem.

How did you solve that?

When I came, I brought in my football management skills acquired from Fufa and my own personal research.

My first year in success was the toughest for me because to change to what I thought was the right way, I courted friends and made several enemies because it was inevitable to step on some toes. I knew what was going on in the club because I followed it religiously through the years. One of the tools that helped me a lot was the Fufa Club Pro-Agenda.

There was also a small problem of separation of powers between the mother company and the club.

So, I first asked the management to allow the club to have its own secretariat and manage its own business. They listened to my reasoning and we separated the two entities.

We set up the secretariat and I explained my vision.

From there I brought in a youthful coach in Arthur [Kyesimire] to help me set what I wanted. I needed Arthur to do some things for me because of his expertise. When the time was right, and after discussing with him, we agreed to move on our ways.

Talking of coaches, you’ve worked with three and two executive officers, why the high turnover?

I fired the coaches because I thought that they weren’t doing things that could lead to what I wanted to achieve during those periods.

What did you want to achieve?

I wanted to make Bul look like the money the company was investing. The team was always battling relegation yet we were facilitated better than most of the teams in the league.

For example Busoga United was beating us at all fronts yet we were almost thrice their budget. To me, that was unacceptable.

You sound tough, what is your style of administration?

I am not tough but friendly as long as you are doing the right thing. When I give someone a job, I don’t want to interfere; I want to give him space to implement his style as long as you achieve what I want.

When I sack or promote you, it is basically on merit according to how you have performed because the company is putting in money and needs results.

You’re talking about money a lot, what sums are we talking about?

[Chuckles]. That’s what everyone always wants to hear. If I talk about last season 2020/21, we did a budget of Shs1.2b. This season we are running a budget of Shs1.6b.

The Start. Alex Isabirye guided Bul to their first title.  

Imagine running that budget, then Fufa will give you about Shs50m back and there’s nothing I can show for it. We all know that the team is running on profits the company makes.

Does the Uganda cup make business sense to you?

For prestige and records, yes but generally I don’t think there is any team in Uganda that makes profits. When I see people like Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa, Musa Atagenda, Reuben Kimera and the rest, I see them as heroes because they’re more of giving back to the community but not investing.

To win the Uganda Cup, we get about Shs50 million and the league about seven million but I can tell you that Bul spends not less than sh. 15 million for a trip to Arua or Masindi. It’s expensive and I think maybe the federation and UPL need to step up somewhere to get more money in the game as well.

Doesn’t the turnover of coaches affect continuity in a way?

When I took over the chairmanship, I had designed a strategy where Bul should be in five years.

I love young players and I wanted the club to stop the habit of buying many players in one transfer. I want the club to promote young players and even sell them to bigger clubs out there in the future. I brought in Arthur [Kyesimire] because he had vast knowledge in that line because he did similar things at URA and Edgars.

I talked to him and explained that he might be part of the project to the end or not but he knew what I wanted. To me, he is part of the success the club has achieved because he set the foundation. Alex Isabirye came in because he was the perfect fit for the continuation of the project.

Bul has a habit of letting go of their top cream without a fight, will the trend continue after this achievement?

This is their job and if they have a better opportunity, I can never stand in their way. I gave that assurance to the players but right now we are building something and that’s why I want the squad to be dominated by the young boys who can hold on for some time. What I want is to see Bul competing but unless I see a very big bid that can move me, I don’t see them leaving to our rivals.

Do we expect some big names coming in now?

We need some strikers and defenders but that is majorly the work of the technical team and the secretariat but that’s what they have told me but not many. We brought in Masaba after their recommendation.

Are you ticking the Caf boxes?

We had an orientation meeting yesterday (Wednesday) at Fufa and they took us through the drills.

It is quite expensive but good that I heard they pay some air tickets. Sportingly, I think we tick all the boxes but in licensing, we can only talk to Vipers to allow us to use their St. Mary’s Kitende.

It is the only licensed stadium right now. Even the Uganda Cranes play there.

Why does a club like Bul with all the resources fail to have a home?

Bul is a very young club that started in 2007. Building a stadium requires huge sums of money but we have been fighting relegation and performing below par.

Champions. Bul players celebrate their 3-1 Stanbic Uganda Cup triumph over Vipers in the final played at Booma Grounds in Masindi.  

There’s no investor that can put in money to build a home for such results. Now, we’re entering that zone where the people who make decisions might ask why we are hosting at Kitende and that’s when we can start lobbying.

My objective was to improve the sport and attract attention.

How have you managed to manoeuvre through the murky football politics waters?

I was new in football and wanted to first sit back and learn. Football has a lot of politics that can easily crush you. I have a crown now that when I talk people can listen. There are things that I believe can be better but it needs brainstorming and dialoguing. It is only us who can improve our game.

There’s a feeling that institution clubs have always taken a back seat when it comes to governance matters involving Fufa, what’s your take on that?

[Laughs] football politics is very funny. You see, if a private owner stands to speak something, he is the brand of that club but when I stand to speak something it involves much more; it means that what I speak may also be seen as the mother company’s stand.

At the end of it, we don’t want to involve the institutions in controversies because if they decide to do away with the club, I might remain working but the people employed at the club won’t.

That said, we’ve been involved in this and we try as much to voice where necessary though not all is captured in the media and public.

Personally, I love dialogue and intellectual debates. I can privately call to discuss an issue with someone or a group and forge a way forward, that’s my method but I don’t fault the others in theirs.

 Will you be seeking another term in office?

My term ends in September next year. I will sit with my executive, the board and most importantly my family to discuss this. As you know, my wife passed away last June [due to Covid] and I am now a single father. I will discuss and see whether to continue with this or I step up and watch what I have planted grow.

Do you harbour any further ambitions in football beyond Bul?

Yeah, I would love to lead the federation [Fufa] or even Caf one day.

If you were elected the president of Fufa today, what would be your primary objectives?

The first would be to lobby the government for facilities. There’s no way we can develop talents without facilities. For example, we need at least a 15,000-seater multipurpose stadium in every region of this country. You can imagine what would’ve happened to Uganda Cranes had Dr. Mulindwa not set up Kitende.

Secondly, I love the bottom-up approach because it empowers from the lowest going up. This is not faulting the federation because they have done a tremendous job but for me, I think the clubs deserve to get support from the government as well.

Without the clubs, we wouldn’t have a national team. We wouldn’t even have the players going to play abroad. For now, you can blame Micho for not performing but he is only using the best from what we produce.

We need more investments to strengthen and improve the grassroots structures.

What legacy do you want to leave at Bul?

First of all, I have achieved what I wanted to and that’s the Uganda Cup but it expands my ambition. I will not be happy to see that Bul’s fans will not watch the team on the continent away from the Eastern region.

I would love to see that Bul gets its own home.

That is my dream. I want to leave an independent club that can attract at least 50 percent of its sponsorship. I want to leave a club that will last long like the KCCA’s of this world.

Big Boys’ Club.  Barente (C) is congratulated by Vipers president Lawrence Mulindwa after Bul defeated the Venoms in the Stanbic Uganda Cup. Left is Fufa president Moses Magogo.

I thank the company’s management because they’re passionate and supportive of this project.

ON WORKING WITH ALEX ISABIRYE AND YOUTH

Is Isabirye’s job secure?

 To be honest, I never asked Isabirye for a trophy this season, the Uganda cup came as a bonus. I asked him to promote the young players from our youth setup. There was no reason why we are the champions of the Fufa Junior League and can’t have those young boys graduating to the senior team. For sure, we’ll sit with him and find a way to extend his contract by another two years because he is remaining with one as we speak. He recommended Simeon Masaba to his bench of which we agreed for a two year contract.

Isabirye left a bitter man in his previous stint, how is your relationship now?

Excellent. We chat a lot. There was a lot of stuff that I had heard about him earlier but when he asked for the job, we sat down for very long hours and agreed on some things. Isabirye wants to achieve some things in his career and we believe he can do that at Bul. For me, the day he decided to go back to God was his turning point and the best decision. He is someone who will achieve a lot in his football life.

You talk passionately about young players, how is your youth structure?

I used to watch more of the junior league than even the senior team. We are planning to start our own academy because it is a requirement for next season. We’re trying to scout especially in Busoga and the larger Eastern because this is their pride. I asked Isabirye to promote at least four players to the senior team for the future. He promoted Owen Mukisa, Simon Oketch, Hillary Onek and Reagan Kalyowa. The records and Vipers [in the final] are there to defend them. So, that’s where we are heading.

At a glance

Age - 39 years
Marital status - Single father of two
Profession - Production and mechanical engineer at Bidco
Position - Chairman Bul FC
Football credits - Beginners’ football coaching and refereeing certificates, Fufa administration and management certificates
Hobbies - watching and playing football, handball and basketball

BUL PROFILE
Full name: BIDCO Uganda Limited Jinja Football Club

Nickname: The Jinja Bulls

Founded: Jan. 1, 2007

Ground: Kakindu Mun. Stadium, Jinja

Division: Uganda Premier League

Chairman: Ronald Barente

CEO: Joseph Mutaka

Coach: Alex Isabirye

League position last season: Fourth

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