After setting his stall out, how will Put deal with pressure to perform?


What you need to know:

The mouth should, by all means, water at the prospect of the Cranes playing on the front foot. It will, however, be a tragic miscalculation to be full of catastrophic confidence.

Before The Cranes commenced their 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign, Ugandans required industrial quantities of radical optimism to raise the possibility, even if only slightly, that a ticket to the big time could be punched. It is easy to see why.

There was a new backroom staff headlined by Paul Put, a divisive character by all measures.

The prospect of home matches being only nominal loomed large, with the Mandela National Stadium (alias Namboole) still red-flagged by Caf. The error count of a relatively young Cranes squad was also disturbingly high.

So what has changed? To be brutally frank, not much. Put is still directing traffic from the dugout, for one.

On Thursday, the Belgian tactician named the squad from which he will choose the team to face Botswana (June 7) and Algeria (June 10) in home qualifiers. Elio Capradossi, a 28-year-old centre back, plying his trade in the lower reaches (third tier) of Italian league football, headlines the few surprises that Put managed to spring.

Joel Sserunjogi, who had a breakthrough season with KCCA FC, can also be viewed through the lens of a wildcard pick.

As do the vast bulk of the 10 other Uganda Premier League players whose every ounce of talent and ineffable charm captured the imagination of Put.

It is also refreshing to see Ibrahim Kasule, finally, get a chance to enjoy a moment in the sun following his exploits with New York Red Bulls' feeder team.

Uganda Cranes gather after a training session. PHOTO/COURTESY OF FUFA MEDIA 

Yet, make no mistake, the core of the squad selected took part in the 2021 and 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifying campaigns when the form under, first, Johnathan McKinstry, and, later,  Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević declined precipitously.

It will be fascinating to see what Put's pep talks will tease out. Unlike his predecessors, the Belgian will not have the absence of the proverbial 12th man on home soil—thanks to either pandemic curbs or a decaying facility in Namboole—to worry about.

Namboole's power has in its cataclysmic breadth carried the Cranes over the line in previous campaigns. But it is also important to note that a semblance of preparedness has met previous beneficiaries of the vociferous home support.

The challenge, therefore, will squarely fall on Put's shoulders to ensure that the team that comes up against Botswana and Algeria in the June doubleheader at Namboole demonstrates a keen eye for success.

The Cranes, much like Botswana, Guinea, and Mozambique, trail early pace setters Algeria by three points in their 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifying group.

If Put's charges combine toughness with a methodical approach that will guarantee wins in both home matches, it is conceivable that they will head into the next set of matches in 2025 placing in the coveted top two slots.

To get there, though, as you would imagine, a lot of work will have to be done. Keenly aware of the sport’s rigorous demands at the elite level, Put will have to weigh the risks of prioritising artistry over athleticism.

The selection of pint-sized expressive players like Travis Mutyaba, Patrick Kakande, Allan Okello, Sserunjogi, and Kasule is a dead giveaway as to how Put intends to set his stall out.

The mouth should, by all means, water at the prospect of the Cranes playing on the front foot. It will, however, be a tragic miscalculation to be full of catastrophic confidence.

Especially against the tactically astute and ‘big’ Algerians. Put will have to earn his bread by finding a balance between control and chaos. This, as your columnist reckons the well-travelled Belgian coach knows, is easier said than done.  

It will be hugely consequential for Put to be meticulous in reviewing even the smallest details.

How, for instance, does he plan to deal with set plays in both boxes?

Those whose memory is prodigious will know that Uganda has traditionally been both reliant on and vulnerable to set plays.

A curious statistic by any measure. Selecting an entirely ‘small’ side as some high priests of the game appear to be pining for, may therefore, not be unwise.

It may delight in its 'beautiful game' sobriquet, but size in football is always crucial, even defining.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, no-one expects Put to install Uganda as a hot favourite for a ticket to the 2026 Fifa World Cup finals.

The pressure, however, to defend Uganda's proud record at Namboole cannot be wished away. It will be fascinating to see how he deals with it.