From playing well between the lines to reading between the lines in Cranes’ radical transformation

Author: Robert Madoi is a sports journalist and analyst. PHOTO/FILE/NMG.

What you need to know:

  • Micho must get the Cranes playing on the front foot. It’s as simple as that, really.

Cranes head coach Micho Sredojevic has over the years acquitted himself thanks to the encyclopaedic knowledge of his preferred subjects. The Serb’s reading of situations – prolific, if, after a time, repetitive – established itself as a conduit for good tidings during coaching spells with SC Villa (2001 to 2004) and the Cranes (2013 to 2017).

The manner in which he read his opponents – much like a book – before fleshing out ambitions was always noteworthy. He would exhaustively detail the method to what passed for touchline ‘madness’ to great acclaim post match. 

It did not matter that his teams showed an inclination for playing off the back foot. There was something avant-garde about his modus operandi.

It is still early in his second spell as Cranes coach to tell whether the studied charm has worn thin. The touchline ‘madness’ – accompanied with screams of “Bobosi” – have for the most part progressed with interruptions. The qualification process for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) will, perhaps, provide a more realistic picture as to whether Micho’s master plan has begun unravelling.

There is also every chance that those qualifiers might not quite capture Ugandan football’s plunge into the abyss, which some fear is happening at such an alarming speed. With the Afcon finals expanded to 24 teams, qualifying campaigns are less likely to bring with them a ghoul of Uganda’s past. 

So it is instructive to look elsewhere to size up the quantum of apathy or ineptitude that might send Ugandan football into terminal decline.

One of the broad strokes that Fufa have used – extravagantly, it must be added – during Micho’s second spell as Cranes gaffer is the term ‘transition.’ Indeed, the top brass at Mengo has been quick to furnish its narrative about the Cranes with queasy touches about a supposed radical transformation. Woe betide anyone who challenges the official narrative! 

Transition is a word we often hear, but what is perhaps not stressed enough is the fact that this is essentially a reinvention of the proverbial wheel.

If a lethal ending eventually creeps up behind us like a thief, the outcome should not be greeted with surprise. The vast bulk of players that Micho is using to ostensibly tee off a revolution are anything but newbies. To put it bluntly, they have been here, done that. Quite frankly, to talk about a radical transformation is to play a bit loose with the facts.

Little wonder, the Cranes played their final two qualifiers in an underwhelming 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign as they have always done – with a frisson of fear. Because we were – for all intents and purposes – talking about old wine in new wineskins, the ambitions of the team were mostly modest. It played hoping for glaring mistakes from the opposition and did eventually get one against Kenya.

To his credit, after the stalemate with Kenya, Micho sounded authentically concerned about failure to play well between the lines. He pulled all the stops to make sure that the Cranes were more assertive against Mali by starting with schemers like Allan Okello and Ibrahim Orit. The two players passed and arrived relatively well between the lines, causing the well-drilled Malian rearguard a few problems.

The thing with schemers, though, is that they tend to exasperate as much as they entertain. Will Micho willingly put his arm around the shoulders of these volatile beings? His sensational fallout with Kizito Luwagga suggests otherwise.

It should not. If the Cranes are to proffer a bonafide transition, it has to be exactly that – a change from one state to another. A radical transformation as it were! If they are breaking ranks with a reactive approach, then they ought to do this with a set of players that is the antithesis of what the past offered. 

Micho, whose attention to detail cannot be questioned, has to find a way to get the Cranes playing on the front foot. It’s as simple as that, really.

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Twitter: @robertmadoi