Kabali: The secret weapon behind St Julian success

Kabali celebrates Rays of Grace victory. He's been the cog in St Julian's USSSA title win. PHOTOS/GEORGE KATONGOLE 

What you need to know:

While assistant coaches often go unnoticed, Michael Kabali's role in St Julian Seeta's triumph in Masaka has brought him well-deserved recognition.

The dusty midday sun casts short shadows as a group of women kneel on the rough earth outside the grain stores in Busia. Their calloused fingers sift through the dirt, carefully picking out spilled maize kernels and plump beans.

Among them is Mama Wanyama, her back bent with years of labour, yet her future holds a quiet pride. Each grain she collects is a tiny victory, a morsel to fill empty stomachs of her children she takes care of as a single mother. Little does she know that one of those children, Simon, will a few years later light up the football fields with his talent, a talent nurtured by every sacrifice his mother has made.

This is a rare find as seven years later, Wanyama is among the proud 22 boys who won the USSSA Boys football championship this year in Masaka. This is how most football dreams start – through the eyes of a scout!

While assistant coaches often go unnoticed, Michael Kabali's role in St Julian Seeta's triumph in Masaka has brought him well-deserved recognition.

Kabali's passion for coaching began early, even leading him to prioritise it over completing high school. Despite this, he built a strong foundation through his education at Ggoli Boys in Kammengo, Serumbe Umea in Gomba, Alpha and Omega in Kyengera and finally Bulo Parents.

A pivotal moment in Kabali's journey was his involvement with Aspire Football Dreams, a program launched in Africa in 2007 that aimed to identify talented young footballers from around the world. The program impacted over 3.5 million boys across 17 countries between 2007 and 2014, with Kabali playing a role as a scout in Uganda.  Aspire Football Dreams not only provided scholarships to 18-20 players each year but also nurtured well-rounded individuals through education and life skills development.

Kabali thrived in this Qatari-funded project in preparation for their World Cup bid, excelling as a scout. He even received an award for being the "best scout," proof to his talent for identifying potential. This experience with Aspire Football Dreams, with its emphasis on both football and holistic development, undoubtedly shaped Kabali's coaching philosophy and his impact on the young players.

"It motivated me a lot to start coaching because I could interact with many coaches from diverse backgrounds," Kabali said.

Early days

Kabali's passion for coaching began in 2011 when he established All Stars Academy in Kinaawa. The academy nurtured young talent like Travis Mutyaba, Elvis Sekajugo, and Ronald Madoi, but financial limitations forced its closure in 2015.

Michael Kabali has scouted most of the players in St Julian's winning squad. He has assembled the team since 2017. 

“Running an academy needs you to have money in order to facilitate it. The parents were not very supportive in terms of contributions to the survival of the academy. I saw a scenario of failing to achieve anything positive in my life. I used to sell personal property to enter the team into tournaments. I couldn’t sustain that kind of life,” he said.

This decision, though difficult, allowed Kabali to focus on coaching schools for financial stability.

“It was a very hard decision that keeps haunting me because I still meet players who needed my hand to reach the top levels. Some are spoilt in drugs and alcohol while others are pickpockets. It still hurts me but I was relieved of the burden,” he added.

Despite the academy's closure, Kabali's dedication continued. He volunteered at Kinaawa High, assisting coach Shafiq Bisaso and leading the team to the UMEA Games in 2015. This experience proved valuable, leading him to collaborate with Robert Ssekweyama, Baker Kasule, and Felix Ssekabuuza in the Buganda Masaza Cup with Ssingo.

In 2017, Kabali's talent was recognised by Rays of Grace Academy, seeking a head coach starting with that year’s Kabaka Cup aspirations. He added eight players to the existing squad, reaching the finals but losing to Lubaga Martyrs.

The following year, 2018, marked a period of exceptional success. Under Kabali's guidance, Rays of Grace Academy dominated, winning the UYFA Cup, Watoto Wasoka championship, the Primary Schools national games, Airtel Rising Stars, and the Kabaka Cup. Players like Sekajugo, Issa Bugembe, Andrew Kirunda, and others thrived under this regime.

2019 saw the addition of coach Hamza Lutalo, with whom Kabali shared the coaching duties and secured victory in the inaugural Odilo Championship. A brief sabbatical followed, where Kabali coached Bulo Parents, before returning to Rays of Grace in 2022 for another Odilo Cup win and a second-runners-up finish at the East Africa School Championship in Arusha, Tanzania.

The talented players from Rays of Grace Academy transitioned to secondary school, representing St Ponsiano Ngondwe at the National Championships held in Arua in 2022. Although they didn't advance from the group stage, several players, like Kasaanya, Ibra Ssebaggala, Arafat Nkoola, Samuel Mubiru, Faisal Kifumba, Latib Katende, and Ronald Kigoye, among others, were recruited by St Mary's Kitende.

Kabali's journey continued in 2023 with a partnership between Rays of Grace Academy and St Julian Schools. Retained as the assistant coach, Kabali, along with coach Felix Ssekabuuza, led the team to victory in the national championship that concluded in Masaka.

Eye for talent

Kabali, a Caf C-licensed coach who played amateur football as a striker, discovered a hidden gem - young footballer Simon Wanyama, who scores for fun in the U15 national team.

Kabali's passion for scouting started during his playing days as he would gather boys and train them, nurturing their talent.

Winning a national trophy with his team in Masaka was a culmination of years of hard work and dedication.

"These young men, who could have been loitering in the streets, are now our country’s pride," Kabali said. He knows each player's background and understands the struggles they have overcome to reach where they are.

Wanyama's story resonated deeply with Kabali. Watching him play is a highlight of Kabali's coaching career.

“Watching Wanyama play a this level is the most beautiful thing in my coaching career. Seeing him celebrate the national trophy was the best feeling ever,” Kabali said.

In 2017, Kabali embarked on a scouting mission in Busia. There, he met Ryan Giggs Osinya, who recommended a young Wanyama, then in Primary Two. Wanyama's talent was evident during a training session, and Kabali was impressed.

Learning about Wanyama's difficult background - a single mother struggling to make ends meet - moved Kabali. The mother entrusted Wanyama's future to Kabali, hoping for a better life for her son.

Without a mobile phone, the mother simply asked Kabali to write down the address where Wanyama would be going. Wanyama was then placed under the care of Mr Robert Kiwanuka, the founder of Rays of Grace School and academy, an orphan himself, who provided for all his needs.

Scouting beyond talent

Kabali, a coach with a keen eye for talent, prioritises footballers from humble beginnings who yearn to improve their lives through the sport. He believes that drive, coupled with talent, is a recipe for success.

"I focus on scouting in rural areas. Players there possess a hunger and appreciation for the opportunity that football can bring," he said.

For Kabali, talent is just one piece of the puzzle. He emphasises discipline and commitment as essential qualities for footballers to thrive.

"Success on and off the field relies heavily on character," he said.

St Julian celebrate lifting the schools football title for the first time. 

Kabali's scouting approach has yielded impressive results. He takes pride in discovering national talents like Travis Mutyaba, Peter Abalila, Vincent Mulema, and of course, Simon Wanyama.

Kabali recalls Mutyaba's early struggles.

"Despite his talent, his small stature discouraged schools from offering him a chance to play. He even stayed with me for a while until schools recognised his potential and provided scholarships," he said.

Driven by passion

Despite the financial struggles, Kabali's passion for youth development remains firm.

"For over six years, I poured my heart into coaching young players, receiving no financial compensation," he said. Many might consider those years wasted, but Kabali sees a different picture.

He acknowledges the meager rewards, particularly for coaches working with young players.

"School owners often equate our roles to that of classroom teachers when it comes to salary," he said.

Kabali laments the lack of appreciation from parents.

"We invest in these young athletes from a very early age, yet most parents wouldn't even acknowledge our efforts with a phone call," he added.

However, financial limitations haven't deterred Kabali's ambition. He aspires to become a lifelong learner in the world of football, with a UEFA Pro License as his ultimate goal.

"Coaching any national youth team under 20 years old is my dream," he said.

Last year, Kabali took a shot at the national team coaching positions, though he wasn't successful. Nevertheless, his confidence remains unshaken.

"Uganda needs a youth coach, and I know I have the potential," he stated with conviction.

About Kabali

Name: Michael Kabali

Role: Coach at Rays of Grace

DoB: October 17, 1990

Parents: Late Godfrey Kalibala and Teddy Namyalo

Playing career: Mpigi United, Bulo Red Stars, UTODA, Express Wembley

Coaching: All Stars Soccer Academy Kinaawa, St Matia Mulumba PS Mutundwe, Gombe Junior School, God's Love PS Kaliisizo, Bujuuko High, Rays of Grace Academy, Singo, Kiboga Young, Bulo Parents and Kyaggwe