When Johnny McKinstry was being orientated as Uganda head coach after signing on at the last count of September last year, he was briefed on the perceived nature of Cranes players by some quarters.
They will give everything for you, said the briefers. They will put their bodies on the line for you and their national team careers, but you will be very lucky to get genuine feedback from them.
This revelation puzzled the 35-year-old Norther Irishman, who wanted all boxes and areas addressed if he was going to get the best from his group.
“I asked, why?” said McKinstry, whose side top Group B of the 2021 Afcon qualifiers, the finals now postponed to 2022 due to Covid-19.
“Is it that they don’t want to talk or they are not able to?”
Bonding and classroom
McKinstry was responding to a question why he took the team to Dubai for bonding and not a friendly match ahead of next month’s back-to-back qualifying clash against South Sudan.
He was speaking on KFM Sports, our sister station’s weekly flagship show on Saturday.
“That is why I decided to use two approaches: more training and the classroom,” he said.
“In the first qualifiers I didn’t have much time with the players, so the Dubai training provided that environment to spend more time on the training ground together and in the classroom.
“We agreed with Fufa that we shall have two friendly matches this year but now, also because of the pandemic, more bonding and the classroom helps improve communication with the players.
“So we train, and, thereafter, do the classroom. We never let a session go without players asking a question.
“I normally call on a player, play a video and ask them to explain what we’ve just been on. That way, you improve their confidence and communication, and feedback.”
The former Sierra Leone and Rwanda coach added: “If a player is still asking questions on the day of the match, then that is a problem for all of us.
In defence of pros
“Players must be empowered to speak and speak out, to act. That translates to the pitch during the match.”
McKinstry was also asked to elaborate on why none of his initial 20-man squad to prepare for South Sudan has no players from the local league.
It should be noted, however, that five local-based players will be added to make a 25-man squad, and they will start drills as we approach the international break of November 9-17.
McKinstry explained that while foreign-based players summoned all have their leagues in session and are playing for their clubs, UPL players last had competitive action over eight months ago.
“And to be honest,” he said, “The more Ugandan football grows, the less and less local players will play for the national team.
“When I was coaching Sierra Leone, all our players played in Europe, but I’d be forced to call up someone playing at AC Milan rather than one in the lower division because of the level at AC Milan.
“When you do well in the UPL, you definitely move to a better club, that should encourage local based players.
“We just can’t call them up for the sake of it. So, if Allan Okello plays well in the UPL and moves to a bigger and better club out of Uganda, do I drop him because we need to play a local player?
“But local-based players will still get the chance and what I can tell them is look, if you get a chance to step onto that pitch, leave your heart out there.”
Uganda will qualify for their third successive Afcon finals if the Cranes beat South Sudan at home and away, and results between Burkina Faso and Mali align with theirs.
Foreign-based squad of 20 Cranes players
Denis Onyango (Sundowns - S. Africa)
Salim Jamal Magoola (Al Hilal, Sudan)
Joseph Ochaya (TP Mazembe, DRC)
Alex Kakuba (Desportivo, Portugal), Elvis Bwomono (Southend Utd, England)
Nicholas Wadada (Azam, Tanzania)
Timothy Awany (Ashdod, Israel)
Ronald Mukiibi (Ostersunds, Sweden)
Farouk Miya (Konyaspor, Turkey)
Allan Kyambadde (El Gouna, Egypt)
Khalid Aucho (El Makasa, Egypt)
Kizito Luwagga (Hapoel Kfar Saba, Israel)
Mike Azira (Chicago Fire, Canada - USA)
Allan Okello (Paradou, Algeria)
Derrick Nsibambi (Smouha, Egypt)
Alexis Bbakka (Umea, Sweden)
Edrisa Lubega (Paide Linnameeskond, Estonia)
Emmanuel Okwi (Ittihad, Egypt)
Uche Mubiru Ikpeazu (Wycombe Wanderers, England)
Fahad Bayo (Ashdod, Israel)