What you need to know:
Micho is often accused, with some justice, of gravitating toward functional football. He has given his critics a lot of fodder by using Travis Mutyaba sparingly at Chan 2022.
José Mourinho, the Portuguese football tactician whose performance in front of the camera has a box office appeal, doesn’t shy away from making a case for functional football. He once confronted the spectre of a result-oriented brand of football with a deliriously colourful sound bite.
“Finals are not for playing, they are for winning,” he droned after Chelsea had absorbed the blows before countering to beat Tottenham to a League Cup title.
If Wednesday's 2022 African Nations Championship or Chan Group B fixture against Senegal took on the dimension of a cup final for Uganda, then it sure was one to be won; not enjoyed. And win the exhaustingly tight contest Uganda did by the slimmest of margins.
The 1-0 win owed less to chance than determination. Senegal smelt blood on countless occasions (four of its 18 shots were on target, including a penalty kick!), but was not well positioned to strike. Uganda, on its part, achieved a victory few thought possible by scoring with its only shot on target—a scuffed shot by Milton Karisa shortly after the half hour mark.
The Cranes now find themselves on the threshold of reaching the knockout stage of the continental event. Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojević will be keen to dial back the team's uncritical satisfaction, mindful—without doubt—of how an eerily identical points tally was bungled on his watch at Chan 2014 in South Africa.
Now isn’t the time to take a victory lap, he will be telling his charges. Which is just as well. What’s there to toast to? Part of what has made Uganda's Chan 2022 campaign fascinating and depressing in equal measure is the quality of football. While Cranes fans were not quite expecting a Micho-drilled outfit to display an undiminished zest or an imaginative force for that matter, they didn’t also expect to be met with the sight of paint drying.
Putting together more than five passes was a Herculean task even when Senegal's Lions of Teranga were reduced to ten men on Wednesday. This left a nauseating taste in the mouths of many Cranes fans. So incensed were the fans that your columnist was watching the match that they opted to put their finger on the pulse of the English Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
And what's with the boots that Cranes players have sported whilst playing under the lights in Algeria. No-one can stay on their twos when involved in a foot race. Melded with the functional football, it makes for really painful viewing. Little wonder, many fans were reaching for their TV remotes.
In the main, a telling contrast shouldn’t be lost on us. Ugandan football fans have an embarrassment of riches; Fufa has the riches of embarrassment. While the Cranes were serving up a fretful nail-biter in the Algerian seaport city of Annaba, the local football body was toasting to a lucrative deal with MTN Uganda. The vast bulk of this money should be used to imprint an identity on Ugandan football that cannot be reduced to being an eyesore.
If the football on display in Uganda dwindles from a glittering product to a terrible bleak emptiness that stumbles into the odd win, fans will explore other options. It therefore goes without saying that a ruthlessly unsentimental look at the process that guides the way we play the beautiful game is of the essence. It has to be precisely that, a beautiful game.
With the current inflationary pressures forcing many Ugandans to scrape by, football shouldn’t be something that adds to their worries. It should be something that builds thrillingly.
Micho is often accused, with some justice, of gravitating toward functional football. He has given his critics a lot of fodder by using Travis Mutyaba sparingly at Chan 2022. Having previously done the same with Allan Okello during Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches, it is evident that this unbearable weight will continue to bear down on the Serbian tactician.
Unfortunately for Micho, unlike Mourinho, chances of the Serb going the whole nine yards and ending up on the winner’s podium in Algeria are noticeably low. This column wishes him and his charges every good fortune regardless.