Making sense of the choice to snub Manzoki and Kasongo’s disappearing act 19 years ago

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

What you need to know:

  • Vipers Congolese-born Cesar Manzoki is said to have been overlooked for the Cranes.

In the pitch-back of a June night, Ekutchu Kasongo carried his lanky frame into the Cranes team bus at Namboole. It was the first Saturday of the sixth month in 2003 and Uganda had just suffered a fiendishly freak loss at the hands of Rwanda. 
The Cranes fans that looked at Kasongo blankly as he clambered into the team bus were a sullen and brooding presence. They didn’t know what to take from the experience or indeed what happened earlier.

There had been little tolerance for error after the Cranes drew a blank in Kigali during the reverse fixture. After leaving Kigali with a point, Fufa officials moved to naturalise Kasongo to address a palpable bluntness in front of goal. The DR Congo-born forward had lit Uganda’s topflight through a display of sheer strength, aerial prowess and predatory instincts. Having dispensed with the backing of Paul Hasule as Cranes coach, Denis Obua’s Fufa executive made it distressingly clear that it wanted to keep its significance tied to naturalised players. Along with Kasongo, players of Congolese descent like Assani Bajope, Tote Songe and Bana Zidane got Ugandan passports.
In cleaning up the ‘mess’ and smoothing over cracks, Obua cleared an Argentine coach to take over the Cranes coaching reins. Word on the grapevine suggested that Pasculli shared a locker room with Diego Maradona at the 1986 Fifa World Cup sent tongues at Mengo wagging.

Speaking through a translator, Pasculli’s speech – as per journalists that sat through his training sessions – was accelerated. As afternoon turned to evening on June 7, 2003, the Argentine increasingly looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. 
Tactless and unsympathetic, Pasculli left as soon as he came. In his wake, an administrative mess. But he wasn’t the only one that vanished in the proverbial thin air. Kasongo also soon sought asylum in France. That he did not add to his single Cranes cap made his sacrifice synonymous with self-preservation. 

In fact, Kasongo, Zidane, and Songe – who during their time as players in the Ugandan topflight all tried to embody temperance and humility – used the Ugandan passport as a means to pursue their self-interests, variously defined. That is the latent danger when you turn to a hired gun. Above all, it shows you are unwilling to submit to products unearthed by the structure in place.
Fine, Bajope – his serious face with high cheekbones notwithstanding – did hang around long enough to tuck 20 Cranes caps and three goals under his belt. He, however, is an anomaly. Maybe César Manzoki would well have turned out like him. The media has been awash with stories of how the Vipers forward was amenable to playing for Uganda long before the Central African Republic came calling. But then what would that say of a system that churned the top scorer at the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations and a steady stream of other talents? 

Back to THAT Rwanda win at Namboole in 2003; Edgar Watson – the Cranes captain at the time – told your columnist a few years later that he was left numb with grief by one particular incident. Several hours after fans had left the stadium, Watson made out the frame of someone in the dim back room of one of the stands. 
The fan had been talking to himself, using pejoratives to describe Fufa officials and Cranes players. When a bare hanging bulb cast the place where Watson was in jaundiced light, the fan noticed that the erstwhile Cranes skipper was within eyeshot. It was the cue for more insults and tears. Watson said that episode scarred him.
We don’t know the fine print around what informed the decision not to naturalise Manzoki. Are the fat cats at Mengo working feverishly to execute a blueprint? If this is the case (and for what it’s worth, your columnist doubts), Fufa doesn’t need love or approbation because it has purpose. But does it? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Twitter: @robertmadoi