Just a couple of months after signing for Sudan giants El Merriekh, former Express FC and KCC FC goalie Jamal Salim already feels at home in Khartoum.
He caught up with Kawowo Sports’ Ismael Kiyonga at Kigali View Hotel where his side El Merriekh are residents in the ongoing CECAFA Kagame Cup.
In a detailed interview, Jamal reveals how he doesn’t regret opting for a career in soccer ahead of academics, his short stint in Khartoum, his inspiration plus worst and best moments in his short career so far. He also gives an insight on how organized football in Sudan as compared to back home.
“My dream was to play football right from childhood and I don’t regret that,” Jamal smiles as he speaks to Kawowo Sports. “Football has pushed me to greater heights and helped me achieve a lot in life. If there is one thing I don’t regret in life, its opting for a career in football ahead of academics,” he asserts.
When asked who inspired him to take up the game seriously, the youthful goalie doesn’t hesitate to name his uncle Ahmed Salim Magoola — ex-Express FC custodian.
“He inspired me a lot during his days at Express FC. I always looked up to him and always seek advice from him till present.”
Jamal had stints at Express FC and KCC FC before joining the Sudan giants. In his three year career in Uganda’s topflight football, he won three league titles consecutively; one with The Red Eagles (2011/12) and two (2012/13 and 2013/14).
Besides, he played in the CAF champions league with KCC FC early this year and his heroics which included saving two penalties out of three in four games earned him a move to El Merriekh where he has so far spent two months.
On the move, the soft spoken goalie says it’s all down to Allah, hard work and dedication but mentions a few individual he owes his career to.
“I thank Allah in the first place because without his will, nothing can happen. Besides, hard work and dedication have always brought me success and no doubt they played a part.”
“And of course some individuals have also played a pivotal role in guiding and teaching me. Mahmoud Kateregga who spotted me and introduced me to Express FC, coaches Sam Ssimbwa and Wasswa Bbosa plus Ahmed Salim,” he stressed.
On how he is acclimatizing in Sudan a couple of months after his move to the former Sudan champions, Jamal said it hasn’t been difficult him settling though there are hiccups.
“Everybody at the club made me feel at home and I must confess, I have found no difficulties settling in. Of course there are challenges like the weather which is so hot but am getting used to it.”
On comparison between the game back in Uganda and in Sudan, Jamal cites a huge difference in terms of finance, organization, passion and attendance.
“Yes, we may be slightly or largely above them talent wise but they are far ahead in how they handle their things. Be it organization, financing or even passion. In Sudan, we play to full to capacity stadiums even against upcountry teams unlike back home,” he laments.
“Here, players are paid handsomely and football attracts a lot of sponsorship. We surely need that in Uganda if we are to have a competitive league. The competition here is tight especially between us and Hilal but not limited to that.”
It’s always norm that foreign players get better treatment from all club angles at most African clubs and it’s no different at El Merriekh as Jamal explains.
“We are treasured and given all things necessary as foreign players but that increases pressure on us at times,” he explains before adding that when they lose a game, their own fans stone them since they expect them to lift the team.
Jamal signed a four year deal at the club but his focus remains on getting to even a better competitive league though he admits that at his age, he is still learning a lot of things.
“Learning in football doesn’t end and am happy to be at a club that offers that. My mission is to move to a better league preferably in North Africa and Europe but that will only happen with consistent improved performances,” he added.
In 2011, Jamal was outstanding for the U-20 national team Hippos in the Africa Youth Championship qualifiers and many pundits touted him to take the Cranes’ slot in a few years something he is yet to achieve though he has belief that will come.
“I am still young and need experience so my chances of playing for The Cranes are still intact. You see, we’re blessed with many good goalkeepers from Onyango to Odongkara and then Ochan and others who are arguably above me in the pecking order but my time will come though only with gallant performances and experience.”
Jamal has played with so many talented players but as a goalkeeper, he says there are centre backs that have played in front of him and felt much secure.
“Ronnie Kisekka at KCC FC and the pair of Bob Kasozi and Henry Katongole while still at Express FC are without doubt the best I have played with. With any of the trio in front of me, I feel so much confidence,” he pointed out.
On the toughest opponent, Jamal says URA FC striker Robert Ssentongo is one hell of a striker he fears to face.
“Ssentongo always scores against me whenever we meet. He is a clever centre forward with much power despite his diminutive stature. Maybe I accord him much respect but he is good at shooting on goal.”
Though he has had lots of good and bad moments in his career, the youthful goalie points out winning the 2011/12 Uganda Super League title as his best and the 1-2 loss to Nkana FC at Namboole as the worst.
“That league championship with Express FC will forever be my best. We were underdogs from the start but surprised many by winning the title. Besides, it’s the season that gave me the limelight,” he urges before revealing losing to Nkana as his worst.
“I moved on from that defeat but it still hurts me. It’s the worst scenario in my career so far.”
Jamal’s idol is Germany and Bayern Munich goalie Manuel Neuer.
“He is a great young goalkeeper and I don’t only admire but learn a lot from him. He has won everything at his age and that is testimony enough to how good he is.”