Eighty two days since the curtains came down on a season full of surprises and magic moments, the Uganda Premier League is back.
There are new faces in the dugout and on the pitch, three new teams; two of them from upcountry, foreign touch on the pitch and so many others.
KCCA and Vipers got us underway on Sunday in the FUFA Super Cup but it’s now time for real action.
In this piece, our own Ismael Kiyonga opens your soul and eyes ahead of the big Friday kick-off and by the time you are done with this article, you will be more than ready for the new season.
New faces on the technical bench
At the start of the previous season, there were seven new boys on the touchline as many they are now.
Abdallah Mubiru has taken over at Vipers and signed Ibrahim Kayiwa and Fans’ Player of the Year Award winner, Musa Esenu as well as midfielder Brian ‘Kaka’ Kakaire from Swedish side Vaxjo among others.
[Abdallah Mubiru will be in charge of Vipers after leaving KCCA after the 2014/15 season]
Mujib Kasule also returns to the dugout with Proline thanks to Baker Mbowa’s lack of required qualification while veterans Leo Adraa (Onduparaka) and Paddy Kintu (Lweza) will also be in the mix.
Former SC Villa and SCOUL striker Alex Isabirye will take charge of newly promoted side Kirinya Jinja SS while Frank ‘Video’ Anyau takes over from Isabirye at Bul.
[Alex Isabirye is Coach at Kirinya Jinja SS after leaving Bul]
There is a little bit of change at KCCA with former SC Victoria University and Simba tactician Morley Byekwaso joining Mike Mutebi as assistant.
[Morley Byekwaso (middle) was unveiled as assistant at KCCA]
URA goes foreign
In the 90s and early 2000s, the Ugandan league attracted foreigners. James Kayimba (Sierra Leone), Bana Zidane, Ederi Muvambane, Tote Songe, Said Abedi, Asani Bajope etc. (DR Congo, Bernard Mwalala, Oscar Kadenge, Maurice Sunguti (Kenya) and Shaban Kisiga (Tanzania) among others graced the league.
[Ex-Rwandan international Bokota Labama Kamana will play URA]
URA seems to re-ignite the good old days by signing two Nigerians Emmanuel Ibe Obina and Harry Gentle Frank from Kenyan sides Mathare United and Sofapaka respectively.
The other foreigner is Congolese born ex-Rwandan international Bokota Labama Kamana who marked his debut with a goal against Azam in a pre-season friendly in Dar es Salaam.
The Three Promoted sides
Last season, two of the promoted sides in JMC Hippos and The Saints stayed up with Maroons, who earned promotion as champions relegated.
Surprisingly, it’s the upcountry teams that survived and similarly, two upcountry sides have been promoted while one is from Kampala.
Onduparaka and Kirinya Jinja SS have a large fan base thus will be hard to beat at the home in case they make crowds count.
[Gaddafi Wahab of Onduparaka will be vital if his side is to stay up]
Coincidently, the trio will have new managers in the dugout instead of those that steered them to promotion.
Rarely have all promoted teams stayed up and so the trio must fight hard to survive.
The Jinja Quadruple
From Bul in 2011 to Sadolin Paints in 2013, JMC Hippos in 2014 and now Kirinya Jinja SS in 2016.
That’s the trend that has seen Eastern sides, particularly from Jinja gain promotion to the top tier and the region now boosts of four sides.
The biggest question remains, can all the top stay up? Time will tell.
New and Old faces on the Pitch
Vincent Kayizzi, Brian Majwega and Geoffrey Sserunkuma are back at KCCA while veteran Bokota Labama Kamana has signed at URA.
[Old Wine in New Bottle as Vincent Kayizzi is back at KCCA for a third stint]
Vipers have forked millions to sign youngster Musa Esenu from Soana in addition to Ibrahim Kayiwa and Brian ‘Kaka’ Kakaire from Sweden’s Vaxjo.
There has also been business at Express with Allan Kyambadde, Mike Mutyaba and John Semazzi rejoining from Vipers.
Bokota, Ibe and Gentle have also joined URA from foreign leagues and other clubs have also been involved in the market.
Last year, KCCA and SC Villa entered a partnership with Pay TV Company StarTimes in a three year deal.
The two most decorated clubs in Ugandan football seem to have opened the door for other clubs.
Just this week, newly promoted side Onduparaka signed a shirt sponsorship deal with one of the biggest Betting Firms in the world while Bright Stars have also gotten a deal with Lato Milk.
[Bright Stars unveiled Lato Milk and Fero Mobile as their sponsors ahead of season]
Besides, reports are ripe that Uganda Cup winners Vipers are soon unveiling Him Cement as one of their sponsors.
Who will be Champions?
There has never been a straight championship but last season, KCCA were overwhelming favourites to win title and they did.
But how will they go on this season?
They have maintained their key players and added experience in Vincent Kayizzi, Brian Majwega and Geoffrey Sserunkuma but the Kasasiro have a Champions League campaign to look forward to next year.
[The KCCA team that started the FA Super Cup against Vipers on Sunday. They are bookies’ favourites to retain crown]
Still this year, they are bookies’ favourites to retain the crown given their quality in squad, depth, organisation and budget but what about the rest?
Abdallah Mubiru’s Vipers side also looks better in terms of organisation and quality but have CAF Confederations Cup to contend while URA, Express and SC Villa – not in Africa this season – could have an advantage.
If KCCA retain their title it would be the seventeenth time the feat has been achieved in the history of Ugandan league football.
Who will go down?
Rarely have all three promoted sides stayed up and I wait to see the feat change.
The trio (Onduparaka, Kirinya Jinja SS and Proline) have all beefed up and besides, gotten coaches that have the experience in the division.
Lweza and Bright Stars look vulnerable but have the experience of topflight football while two of the Jinja sides may go down.