Why Put is striking right chords in Cranes rebuild

Mutyaba gave Uganda the lead. 

What you need to know:

Even as Belgian Paul Joseph Put was being ushered into the federation offices by a smiling chief executive officer Edgar Watson, few journalists had a hint it was the vastly travelled gaffer set to take over from axed Serbian Micho Sredojevic. 

On a sunny morning on November 2, 2023, Over 60 sports journalists anxiously crammed into the new Fufa Complex press-room for the unveiling of a new Uganda Cranes coach. 

Even as Belgian Paul Joseph Put was being ushered into the federation offices by a smiling chief executive officer Edgar Watson, few journalists had a hint it was the vastly travelled gaffer set to take over from axed Serbian Micho Sredojevic. 

Soon, whispers spread that it was Put and what followed as he was being unveiled on two-year contract were revelations about the 'football gambling' bans he had served in Guinea and Belgium. 

With a straight face, the 68-year-old coach maintained he was here purely for business and had done his homework about Ugandan football before accepting the offer. 

"I first want to thank Fufa for the trust and confidence in giving me this job. I believe my knowledge about African football will help to do a good job with the Uganda Cranes," Put emphasized. 

Indeed, the former Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Kenya and Congo coach who guided the Burkinabes to the 2013 Afcon final before losing to Nigeria, has shown that in his smooth preparations for Botswana and Algeria in the ongoing World Cup qualifiers. 

Before last night's contest with Algeria at Namboole, he had preached altering the approach to match the Desert Foxes' quality and was expected not to take the punishment lying down. 

Given authority

For the first time, Fufa president Moses Magogo revealed they had given Put, who reportedly beat 150 challengers to the Cranes job, full powers to assemble his technical team. 

After zeroing in on experienced Sam Ssimbwa has his deputy,Put unveiled the backroom staff of Sven De Wilde (performance manager), Mathieu Denis- (physical fitness coach), Gery Osste- (goalkeeping coach), Martin Michiel- (physiotherapist) and Jelle Sevenhant (video analyst). 

They hit the ground running after the first two qualifiers (Guinea 2-1 loss and Somalia 1-0 win) in November.

 In fact, before the Algeria date, Cranes had lost once (against Comoros 4-1) since the start of 2024 and often looked composed even when they faced giants like Ghana (in a friendly game) .

“I have been following the Uganda Cranes especially the recent Afcon qualifier match against Niger and the two friendly games against Mali and Zambia. 

"Give me time, give me confidence. You will see a different national team,” Put stressed at his unveiling. 

Put (L) at his unveiling. PHOTO/COURTESY OF FUFA MEDIA 

Enthusiastic Cranes fans remained calm even when two of 28 players Put summoned didn't turn up, more so after he had granted a call up to almost all the players that merited so. 

The Botswana win last Friday wasn't as eye-catching as many expected, but there were tangible signs that the Cranes are gradually going into the force they were once. 

Work in progress

"The players played very well.  The team fighting spirit is superb. We did not create enough chances and this is because lots of players arrived late in camp, ” Put revealed after the win that propelled the Cranes to third with six points in Group G.

He added; “I thank the entire team for this victory. There are several young players graduating from the U-23 side who performed well. Uganda has a bright future and I'm confident of this crop.” 

Few Ugandans can doubt that, and in fact many now strongly believe Cranes can push the qualification bid to the final match with positive vibes. 

Having worked on the continent with clubs and national teams for over 15 years, the wily gaffer seems to know the nutrients that can bring Cranes up to speed with the modern game. 

"After the Guinea and Somalia games (in November last year), Put was frank with me on the need to include 'players who can compete physically with the West African and Arab sides'.

"He said Ugandan players are physically inferior and we really suffered against Guinea in the first 15 minutes, we couldn't match them physically," Cranes manager and former player Paul Mukatabala revealed on his social media pages, in a slightly edited post. 

According to Mukatabala, that urge to match the best in Africa drove Put into a global search for 'any players with Ugandan connections who can help bridge that gap, both in terms of physique and game understanding'.

To Put's delight, it yielded Lecco defender Elio Capradossi, born to a Congolese mum and Italian dad at Nsambya Hospital, who impressed with composure and ball distribution in the Botswana victory. 

Capradossi' dad Corradi, is confident that a failed move to Manchester United at 17 and the loss of his mom in 2000, can partly be healed but the lad's continued success with the country of his birth. 

UPL trust

Put's Cranes rebuilding project has given priority to lads trading in the StarTimes Uganda Premier League much to the delight of stakeholders. 

Jonathan McKinstry before him had blatantly stated he always considered 'professionals' and deemed players in the domestic league 'not good enough'. 

That is not Put, who started Kenneth Ssemakula (just left SC Villa), Allan Okello (Vipers), Ronald Ssekiganda (SC Villa) and brought on Denis Omedi (Kitara), Muhammad Shaban (KCCA) and Joel Sserunjogi (KCCA) against Botswana. 

Suddenly every player believes that they can make it to the national team which has made Put' selection pool wider and lifted the league performance. Even defeat to Algeria will not erase the revamp. 

Paul Put 

Former teams

2008–2011: Gambia
2012–2015: Burkina Faso
2015–2016: Jordan
2016–2017: USM Alger
2017–2018: Kenya
2018: Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard
2018–2019: Guinea
2020–2021: Saif SC
2021: Congo