Lutalo relishing long journey ahead at Awcon

Lutalo is a true son of the footballing system in Uganda and has built his career on proper work ethics. He wants Crested Cranes to do well. PHOTOS / JOHN BATANUDDE
 

What you need to know:

  • Early Start. By the time he joined the Police team, Lutalo was still a student at St. Balikuddembe pursuing a certificate in carpentry. Lutalo played football and handball at St. Balikuddembe. This continued until he retired from football in 2004. Balancing the two is something that never gave him a headache at all. 

George Lutalo is the head coach for the senior women’s national team, the crested cranes. Last week, he became the first coach to have won the Cecafa Senior Women’s Championship for Crested cranes since its inception.

Earlier this year in January he helped the team to qualify for the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, commonly known as AWCON, after 22 years.

 Early age

Born to Margret Namukasa and late Amos Musisi Sserunkuuma in 1976, Lutalo grew up with his grandmother, the late Rose Nanyunja kazigo as her mother left them to look for money. No one introduced him to the game of football but rather found himself playing football on the streets of Masajja, Busaabala road, a city suburb on Entebbe-Kampala highway. When he joined Nakivubo Primary School, his dream of playing football just became closer as he could easily escape to go Nakivubo as well as Lugogo and watch the legends of that time. These legends of KCCA included Philip Omondi, John Latigo, Issa Ssekatawa were his inspiration when he started playing football.

At times he would call himself the names of those players and could imitate whatever they did. He would wake up in the morning and decide to play like Ssekatawa and on such a day he becomes a striker or a defender if he decides to imitate John Latigo.

The drainage pipes around the Nakivubo Stadium became Lutalo’s pathways that he used to enter. By then, Lutalo was a Primary Three pupil but never got a chance to play football while at school, thus escaping was the only way he could use.

He would then practice the skills he had adopted from Nakivubo and Lugogo once he got back to Masajja at a community ‘Kataka’ ground. While life has gone full circle, Lutalo still lives close to that ground.

Skipping class

In a normal setting and during his time, classes were meant to end either at 1pm or 4pm but Lutalo’s classes used to end at 10am and could spend the rest of the time while in Nakivubo or Lugogo. His love for the game made him escape from school on a daily basis.

To him, studies were of less importance compared to football to the extent that his one 32-paged book always acted as a goal with a dirty stone placed above it. At times, the ball would hit it and the pages were torn. By the time matches ended, the book had 10 pages. The cover was obviously gone.

His actions earned him several punishments but he was yet to stop because he was always prepared and used to the punishments. It was not until his Primary Four, a class he repeated twice, that he decided to give his studies extra attention.

Breakthrough and leadership

After the successful completion of the primary level, Lutalo went to St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Kyankwazi (one that belonged to the late Cardinal Emmanuel Kiwanuka Nsubuga) before he joined Nsambya. The game of football was still flowing in his blood and in no time he was given the arm band for the school’s football team.

It was from this place that former Fufa president, John Baptist Ssemanobe, spotted him in a friendly match with Kyankwazi Leadership Institute staff and took him to Nsambya. To Lutalo, this was a big breakthrough as he came close to Uganda’s topflight, the then Super League and he was also named the captain. Before long, the late Denis Obua, a Uganda Cranes great, coach and later Fufa president, identified his talent and recruited him for Police as Nsambya suffered relegation to the regional league. It was from Police that Lutalo started playing competitive football.

Even as a youngster, Lutalo always exhibited leadership skills on and off the pitch and on all the teams he played for, he was always the captain. Obua named him life captain while at Police.

Juggling football and handball

By the time he joined the Police team, Lutalo was still a student at St. Balikuddembe pursuing a certificate in carpentry. Lutalo played football and handball at St. Balikuddembe. This continued until he retired from football in 2004. Balancing the two is something that never gave him a headache at all. In handball, he used to fly in the air, a skill that he used while defending at Police despite his height. Small as it is, Lutalo could run as many times as he could while on the handball pitch. Such exercises contributed to his fitness whenever he could step on a football pitch. Police also gave him a license to play for their handball team but he turned it down due to the many responsibilities he had as a captain of the club.

 Retirement and coaching career

Lutalo’s playing career was short lived and the then Police coach, Paul Hasule named him on his technical team, something that he never welcomed initially.

In 2004, Lutalo called time on his playing career to become a trainer at Police under Hasule,  a decision he says it was very difficult to take. It was Hasule who told the management that Lutalo should stop playing football and join his technical team on grounds that he was ageing. He became the assistant coach despite the displeasure.

Crested Cranes Coach George Lutalo gives instructions to player Nabirye. Photo | John Batanudde

Lutalo’s journey with Hasule was short-lived as the latter died a year after Lutalo took on the assistant coaching role. Today, the only regret that is still deeply etched in Lutalo’s mind is the fact that his Godfather in coaching, Hasule, can’t witness his success. In that short period together, he learnt a lot of things that still form the basis of his coaching career.

Super League title

After the death of Hasule, Lutalo worked with Asuman Lubowa and in 2005, they guided the club to its only league title before he left the club to join Bunnamwaya, the current Vipers SC. By the time he and Charles Ayeko joined the club, it was fighting relegation after displaying a poor performance in the first round of the season. They went on to help the club avoid relegation.

Changing clubs

After his departure from Bunnamwaya, Lutalo never settled at one club changing clubs almost every year. In 2007 he joined Edgars Soccer Academy and worked there for seven years as the head coach till 2014. Lira’s Boroboro Tigers, then playing inn5hr top tier, came calling at the same time. As he coaching nomad, he also coached Masaka LC, Sadolin, St. Juliana High School and Water.

Some notable players that he has tutored include the current URA captain Shafiq Kagimu and Patrick Mbowa. They have risen from the regional league to the national team.

In 2016, Lutalo was named the head coach for Gomba ahead of the Masaza tournament. By the time of his arrival, the Masaza record champions had gone nearly four years without reaching the finals. He guided them to the finals and finished runners-up, losing to Buddu in penalties.

Soana, now Tooro United, came calling too as did  Nakaseke international School. He guided the school to post primaries qualification for the first time as well as taking them to the East Africa Secondary School games.

The lows

Lutalo, like many coaches, believes in patience and trust in order to build a formidable team that can compete over the years. However, he identified lack of trust and patience among club administrators as the biggest challenge in his coaching career going back to 2004. Many administrators demanded results from him but never wanted to involve themselves in the rebuilding phase which saw him move from club to club over the time.

Lutalo always felt that his efforts were not properly evaluated, something that has cost him good players. While he scouted them, players never stayed with him long enough to develop.

Bouncing to the top

After touring almost every competition, Lutalo bounced back to the Startimes Uganda Premier League as the assistant coach to Sam Simbwa until 2021 when he received a call from fufa to take up the head coach role of Crested Cranes to replace Faridah Bulega.

Lutalo saw adjusting to women’s football as a biggest challenge but was optimistic of handling the girls. Understanding, trust, hard work and giving attention to every girl’s problems is one of the key things that have so far helped him get the good results out of them.

A new face in women football, Lutalo’s first task was the Cosafa Championship in South Africa.

Even though he didn’t make it out of the group stages, the Championship gave him a clear picture of where he could start from.

Within just a year as head coach, Lutalo has managed to secure the Women’s Africa cup of Nations slot for the team in which they last featured in 2000, 22 years ago ago in South Africa.

At the final whistle in Njeru he said in his mind, “incredible”. Ever since he embarked on the coaching career, Lutalo said that the Cecafa Senior Women’s Championship title is the biggest success.

Uganda enjoyed an impressive campaign scoring a total of 15 goals, conceding just once. Lutalo says that Cecafa has prepared him well now as he knows where his strengths and weaknesses lie. To many the Cecafa teams would be deemed as small but to him, it was a big challenge that has prepared him ahead of the upcoming Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.

With the Cecafa task done, the next target now is to put up another incredible performance in Morocco as he eyes finishing among the top four teams to secure the World cup slot. However, with hard work and togetherness in his camp, he believes it’s something they can as well achieve.

Despite all that achievement, Lutalo believes that it’s still a long way to go for Crested cranes to have a team that can compete for some good time. To him, patience, trust and hard work is the only way the Crested Cranes can fly high in the coming years.

At a glance

Name: George William Lutalo

Born:  January 01, 1976

Parents:  Margret Namukasa & late Amos Musisi Sserunkuuma.

Place of Birth:   Bulemeezi

Profession:  Coach

Occupation:  Crested cranes coach

Residence: Masajja

Schools attended: Nakivubo primary school, St. Balikuddembe Mitala Maria, St. Joseph’s kyankwazi

Achievements: Uganda Super League title in 2005 with Police fc, Cecafa title with crested cranes in 2022. Helped Crested cranes bounce back to Awcon

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