Unsung heroines in Kawempe’s title triumph

Kawempe Muslim defender Ritah Mushimire. PHOTOS/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

The faith coach Ayub Khalifah has in some of his players and coaching staff knows no bounds and it has rewarded him handsomely with a fifth league title in nine complete topflight seasons.

Kawempe Muslim’s success story in the Fufa Women Super League (FWSL) is hugely defined by trust.

Everyone can easily tell the impact of Juliet Adeke’s 11 clean sheets or Agnes Nabukenya’s 10 goals or the already clear reputations of Yudaya Nakayenze, captain Phionah Nabulime, Hadijah Nandago, Samalie Nakacwa, Jolly Kobusinge and Shakirah Nankangwa but Kawempe was more than that.

The faith coach Ayub Khalifah has in some of his players and coaching staff knows no bounds and it has rewarded him handsomely with a fifth league title in nine complete topflight seasons.

Ritah Mushimire

The biggest blow ahead of the 2023/24 season was the transfer of captain Aisha Nantongo to Danish side Aalborg. Many thought Khalifah would go to the market to find a more imposing partner for Shakirah Nankwanga, whose stock has risen so much over the years.

Instead Khalifah promoted 19 year old Mushimire from a player on the fringes of the squad. Such has been her immediate impact that Kawempe’s struggles in the season started when she was dropped in a 1-1 draw with Makerere University and a 3-2 loss to Lady Doves.

Krusum Namutebi

Interestingly, Khalifah had his doubts about Krusum Namutebi. But when tasked, with limited time, to coach the U-18 national team at their age group’s Cecafa tournament last June, Khalifah’s attention turned to his rough jewel.

She blew him away in Tanzania and he went ahead to give her a chance with the U-20 national team in their World Cup Qualifiers against Mozambique and that rubber-stamped her position in the team.

Her physical presence and ability to play quick short passes allows Nabulime, Nandago and Nabukenya to express themselves. Sometimes, Nakacwa and Kobusinge venture forward with the mindset that Namutebi will cover them.

Mary Kabaculezi

What Kawempe has lacked for past seasons is pace upfront. Allen Nassazo tried to offer that but inconsistently while Shakirah Nyinagahirwa had to remould herself from the best midfield prodigy of her generation to a direct winger in the 2022/23 season.

Kawempe Muslim midfIelder Krusum Namutebi. 

She managed and was awarded most valuable player and top scorer that season but she eventually suffered a knee injury that has kept her out this season.

To stretch teams, Kawempe turned to Mary Kabaculezi – who they signed at the start of the season from Tooro Queens with the initial thought that she would add to Nyinagahirwa’s impact on the right. Instead, she has had to do it on her own.

Rhodah Nanziri, Nassazi

Rhodah Nanziri and Nassazi are not necessarily new names. In fact the two used to start but their roles have reduced over the last two seasons.

However, this season Nassazi reinvented herself from a frustrated player to an impactful replacement that came off the bench to score vital goals and also ran defences rugged for her more expressive teammates to fire away.

Nanziri’s long passing range set the tone for Nyinagahirwa’s march to the MVP gong last year but this year, she has been used to cover for tired legs and also started in central defence when Nankwanga was suspended for the away derby against Asubo in the first round.

Kawempe celebrate after winning the league. 

The coaches; Moses Nkata, Sam Kakumba

Goalkeeping coach Sam Kakumba’s biggest contribution was to redeem Adeke. The goalkeeper, who won Kawempe the title in 2017/18 with just three goals conceded had struggled until the second round of the 2022/23 season when she rediscovered her love for the game.

On the other hand, Nkata is Khalifa’s most trusted general and also does the team’s media duties. The two are accountable to each other for every decision made and it is believed that in the absence of one, the other messes up – especially during school tournaments when Khalifah has to stay with the girls and Nkata travels with the boys. Maybe that is also why Kawempe lost to Lady Doves when Nkata had gone to Turkey with the U-16 national team.

Whenever Khalifah has travelled for national team engagements, or like last week with the U-15 girls’ school team for the African Championships in Zanzibar, he has always done so with the faith that he has left Nkata, a man that can read his mind, in charge.

Ones to watch: Sharifah Nakimera, Hadijah Babirye

This season, Khalifah has also shown us glimpses of the future. Sharifah Nakimera covered brilliantly at right back before Nakacwa’s six months loan at Kampala Queens ended in January.

Hadijah Babirye’s versatility has been vital when the team has a missing striker, winger or needs cover in midfield.

There is also Esther Nangendo but she cannot always be available as she is a student at King’s College Budo while Shadia Nabirye, who has been key for the U-16 and U-17 national teams and the U-15 school team could be unleashed next season.