What you need to know:
The beatings Mutyaba received—along with his brief incarceration—was something that's beneath his dignity. A former Cranes player should never be treated in such a manner. A much more accommodating approach should suffice.
This column has scarcely been at ease with player power, or at the very least the human impulses that allow a strain of tenderness to co-reside with blatant acts of belligerence such as belittling coaches.
Yet if undermining coaches is a role to which players are entirely ill-suited, their counterbalancing influences are immediately recognisable as a utility.
Kylian Mbappé recently quietly reminded us that footballers are hardly passive recipients of a monolithic trade. The France and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) FC attacker used his voice to call Noël Le Graët—the president of the French Football Federation—to order. Le Graët had spoken about Zinedine Zidane in a tone that was as patronising as it was disparaging.
Mbappé used his socials to remind Le Graët that this was one of France's favourite sons he was treating dismissively. Zizou—as Zidane is affectionately known—was a World Cup winner in 1998 and finalist eight years later. Someone of such legendary standing cannot be mocked publicly, Mbappé proffered.
Rather than strike back as best he could, Le Graët would later concede that the comments he made were “clumsy.” He has since stood aside as president of France's FA, with responsible authorities set to sift through the baggage that a recent audit illuminated.
Mbappé's break with passivity and conformism must have come as a surprise to Cranes players whom enforcers at Mengo widely expect to command blind obedience. It's abundantly clear that Moses Magogo—the president of Uganda's FA since 2013–has done his best to enforce top-down rule.
Magogo has in fact bent every effort to install sycophants and engender sycophancy in Ugandan football ranks. Anyone—either in his coterie of friends and advisers or even outside it—that makes the mistake of trying to call him to order quickly becomes persona non grata at Mengo.
For players, touching an open wound—as Mbappé did with Le Graët—can have a career-ending impact. Brian Majwega learnt this the hard way. In fact, such is the larger-than-life stature of the Fufa president that only Denis Onyango burst with indignation when Magogo branded the Cranes a cesspool of “shitty football” following a poor display at Chan 2020 (belatedly staged in 2021).
Magogo has also previously addressed Cranes legends like George Ssimwogerere with expressionless eyes whilst dismissing them much like Le Graët did Zidane. While Ssimwogerere together with the likes of Polly Ouma, Philip Obwin and Mathias Kawesa—to mention but four—were simply deemed to be in over their heads in 2016, vicious dogs were freed from a leash when Mike Sulaiman Mutyaba staged a similar protest at Fufa House in 2021.
The beatings Mutyaba received—along with his brief incarceration—was something that's beneath his dignity. A former Cranes player should never be treated in such a manner. A much more accommodating approach should suffice. Yet, much like Mutyaba's countenance was on that dark day, the face of many ex-internationals to this day remains defeated and ravaged.
The dark acts that Magogo and his acolytes have put to use with devastating effect look primed to put a sock in the collective mouth of an important constituency—the players. Shorn of the bold voice of the likes of Onyango and Hassan Wasswa, the modern-day Ugandan footballer is increasingly becoming meek and timid.
This silence will thread through the Ugandan footballing landscape with unintended sinister repercussions.
Ugandan football needs its players to find their voice sooner rather than later. As Mbappé proved, dissenting views powerfully articulated act as checks and balances to presidential overreach—which is not in scant supply in Uganda. It's about time the muted hostility towards presidential overreach ripens into a kind of disdain. Will the real players please stand up?