Another Ikpeazu ‘snub’ and why age grade football needs a rethink


What you need to know:

Much like Uchechukwu Mubiru Ikpeazu slipping into a Cranes kit, it was never a realisable aim. So, what is it all about?

I should have written this column earlier. Much earlier. But then the column that deconstructed managing expectations and its sequel happened.

Immediately after, Paul Put named his squad for this month's 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifying home doubleheader against Botswana and Algeria.

Much like Uchechukwu Mubiru Ikpeazu slipping into a Cranes kit, it was never a realisable aim. So, what is it all about?

Well, it is a deep reading of one the defining images of last month’s National Secondary Schools Boys Football Championship. Want to guess which exact image particularly stood out?

No, it was not the St Julian High School team hoisting the trophy after beating Amus College School 3-0 behind a James Ssekate first half brace.

Not even close. Want to hazard another guess? Let me put you out of your misery, dear reader. It was something completely horrifying, with a visceral expression that can hardly be seen in isolation.

A fatalistic mood has taken hold of many St Mary’s Kitende players after coming second best in a penalty shootout against Amus at the semifinal stage.

Serving up a more shattering display of more visceral fear than frustrated rage was the player who fluffed his kick during the shootout’s sudden death period.

While the miss proved to be existential during the relentlessly fought semi-final duel, it sparked curiosity in a moment.

At least the shot of the inconsolable player who buried his head in his jersey did.

Success in events such as last month’s championship that was staged in Masaka is by no means assured.

As such, the brutal truth that danger is never far away notwithstanding, it makes no sense to put a great burden on the shoulders of impressionable players.

The environment cultivated should be one where wide-eyed youngsters are allowed to learn from their mistakes.

Play with reckless abandon, even. Yet here was the Kitende player looking like he had a terrible bad end of term report card to take home.

This column has maintained its scorn for maleficent forces that introduce footballers to result-driven football at an early age.

The net result is that the aforesaid forces, perhaps unintentionally but not unsuccessfully, contribute rather heavily to players falling out of love with the beautiful game when their playing career is in its embryonic stage.

The beautiful properties of the game are immediately lost when a burning desire to win grabs by the root.

Should we then be surprised that we have been condemned to episodes akin to a fishing expedition in a bid—unsuccessful, it must be added—to turn the heads of players like Ikpeazu!

The 29-year-old UK-based striker has made a habit out of turning down calls to join the Cranes. He did just that this week, putting his absence down to “health challenges.” Surprise, surprise.

All of this, of course, would never have been the case had we done everything within our powers to ensure that Ugandan age grade football does not have such a high attrition rate.

The serious procedural lapses at the National Secondary Schools Boys Football Championship that birth petitions in bucketloads as well as sacrificing everything at the altar of success scars players more than we care to admit.

This status quo is reshaping the country’s age grade football in disturbing ways.

Even more disturbing is the fact that responsible authorities have failed, or rather refused, to articulate the manner in which to make things right.

Because of this, young players continue to be expected to retain nearly supernatural ability to coax hard-won gains. Your columnist will not tire of asking that this state of affairs changes. Markedly and as soon as possible.

Short of that, we will continue knocking on the door of the likes of Ikpeazu. For once, let us challenge ourselves to do the right thing. It is never too late to put the F (i.e. fun) back into age grade football.