For a long time, Ugandan footballers have reaped dividends from playing outside the country with many signing deals that have transformed their lives. However, when compared with Kenya [the likes of McDonald Mariga, Victor Wanyama] and Tanzania [Mbwana Samatta], countable Ugandans have managed to kick into the next gear with moves to top leagues in the world. A good number have failed to complete and/or extend their contracts — ending right back where they started.
From Emmanuel Okwi at Etoile Du Sahel, Muhammad Shaban at Raja Casablanca, Edirisa Lubega in Austria, Derrick Nsibambi in Egypt (before his return), Milton Karisa Morocco to Murushid Jjuuko at Wydad Casablanca, the list is endless.
Kawowo Sports’ Ismael Kiyonga, David Isabirye and Joel Muyita spoke to multiple current and former players, coaches and administrators in a detailed probe to the key underlying factors why Ugandans have struggled to find a footing and fail to last the test of time.
Mujib Kasule, a former footballer, coach, CAF instructor and director at Proline FC believes most Ugandan players lack the modern football education and that most players don’t go through the right development process which makes it hard for them to thrive in professional environments.
“The way we have been educating our football players is old fashioned,” said Kasule. “Since the early 90s, coaches have been putting a lot of emphasis on physical fitness and how to survive the 90 minutes neglecting the technical, tactical and mental aspects of the game,” he adds.
“These are the most important aspects that breed football intelligence and without them, one will automatically struggle in environments where they are emphasized.
“Both clubs and players are prioritising playing at a higher level but without allowing themselves to go through the right development process to get there simply because they are rushing to make money rather than building a strong foundation that would last them many years at the top of their game.”
Kasule also believes the players must change perception on what playing ‘professional’ football is, advising that the fruits of the game are enjoyed after retirement – opposite of what he claims Ugandan footballers do.
“Ugandan players have a perception that playing professional football as we call it, is the beginning of a good life forgetting that playing at a higher level demands a lot of sacrifices including working three times harder, staying many months away from your country and loved ones and striving to perform consistently among other things.
They start living lavishly including drinking and womanizing many times running away from their clubs to come back home to party yet great footballers enjoy their money after retirement as there’s little time and room to do so during their active days.Mujib Kasule
Jacskson Mayanja, former Uganda Cranes midfielder who plied his trade for Al Masry (Egypt) and Esperance (Tunisia) echoed Kasule’s remarks about low focus on technical aspects. “The element of talent has also been not the best. People interpret the game differently. Football players today are more physical and missing more on the talent. There is need for players to undertake academy lessons when still young. Also, the players are never prepared. Take an example of Onyango Dennis. He played a lot of games and was prepared naturally. For Miya [Farouk], he has matured of age. He has mastered how to use the ball well in minimal spaces and it is the reason he has lasted in the professional leagues in Europe. For the current cluster, Allan Okello still has time by his side. By the time he left the country, It was time for him. Being in Morocco, Okello will develop into a more finished product”.
David Lumansi, a former footballer currently working as a sports journalist with CBS FM and NTV cites lack of organisation, players being target workers and lack of good coaches to prepare the players for professional stints as a major reason for Ugandan players not meeting expectations.
“We are trying to migrate from the original phenomenon where talent used to constitute 80% of a player, now its organisation taking that percentage,” says Lumansi.
“Unfortunately we are not yet exhaustive, right from inadequate elements in CAF A coaching licensing which players’ handlers get. Uganda just like the other nations in the CECAFA region still do it the natural way — reason why we see Mbwana Samatta progressing unlike the Majid Musisis, Ibra Sekajjas, Jackson Mayanjas way back (And by then KCC had only Tom Lwanga as coach, and Villa had Timothy Ayiekho). Currently KCCA has up to 10 coaches, but they don’t hugely succeed,” he adds.
“Players, just like people in third world countries, tend to become target income earners where they live in poverty for the biggest part of life and set targets like building a house, setting up rentals, buying a car and once they get deals abroad, get money, fulfil their targets – they literally retire pre-maturely and end up being fished out.”
Denis Onyango, one of the most successful Ugandan footballers in the history of Ugandan football and currently plying his trade with Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa says what most players lack is hard work, perseverance, having a vision and patience.
“I think players today have no patience, perseverance and vision simply because they are comfortable with what they have maybe back home and they miss their friends, family and probably the cars they left behind,” started Onyango. “But when you join professional football you have to leave half of your life behind and start a new life because it’s a new chapter and the boys still want things to be the same way they were in Uganda,” he adds.
The former SC Villa goalkeeper also believes lack of intelligent people managing the players also has an adverse effect of their stints away from home revealing that playing away from home is a sacrifice and one must work harder than the locals.
Most players don’t have mature people around them or proper Agents or managers to guide them, it’s not easy playing professional football if you are not mentally strong and willing to dig deep and go an extra mile, when you are a professional player in a foreign country you have to be better than the local players and not only football wise but also physically and mentally.Denis Onyango
“I will give an example of IBRAHIM SEKAJJA who moved from one team to another in South America to Oceania then to Europe not because he wanted to move around but inside him, the mentality was that I come from a poor back ground and am not going back to poverty so he forced himself to stay away, leaving his normal life behind for a new life but through hard work and perseverance, he made it.
“But the boys these days are happy to drive around Kampala with their friends rather than working away from home. I will give you an example, when I come to the National team (Uganda Cranes), I always want to stay 2 or 3 more days in Kampala because I miss my friends and family members but u know what my friends (Simeon Masaba and Mugalu) say to me; boss don’t change your ticket, you have to go back and work and those are the friends most of the players don’t have around them.”
Onyango differs with the notion that local coaches have to tell players what is right insisting it’s the players’ responsibility to know the struggle and work hard.
“I don’t believe that coaches at the clubs back home or management don’t teach them these things, it’s a player’s responsibility to know the struggle and work hard. Some players just play football for fun and that’s not the purpose of football these days because a team that works hard has more chances of winning against a team which is talented but doesn’t work.”
The ex-African Player of the Year – based on Africa also believes the warm welcome players get back in the country after failing abroad must stop.
“Every player is talented but not every player works hard, that’s when hard work beats talent so our boys must learn these things and stop being spoon-fed because they know if they fail wherever they are, they come back home and get contracts because they left when the media was praising them so they are back home where they are comfortable and life goes on.”
The Cranes captain advises the young players to think out of the box citing an example of international stars – Messi and Ronaldo.
“My advice to the young players out there who want to make it in professional football or anything else to think outside the box and move away from comfort zones and also read inspirational books.
“I will give u an example of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi because those are the players the current generation looks at as the best players – when you read about them, life wasn’t easy during childhood but they fought to become the best in the world.
“The challenge is that our players don’t want to read books about these players or any book that can inspire them and learn life skills.
Of recent, footballers and musicians have become inseparable but Onyango advises the players to desist from copying their way of life since musicians earn from it and players don’t.
“They have friends who are musicians and want to behave like musicians forgetting that these people make money at night and footballers make money during the day but still they want to hang out with the musicians at night so it all goes back to perseverance and hard work.
Eugene Ssepuya, a former Uganda Cranes player who played in virtually all the six continents of the world cites unprofessionalism.
“There have been atoms of unprofessionalism expressed by many Ugandan footballers who venture in the diaspora leagues. Elements as poor time management, worrying ethics in discipline, training, diet and the general etiquette have always affected many Ugandan players.”
Several Ugandan players who preferred anonymity told Kawowo Sports some of the major reasons included lack of character, lack of exposure and language barrier.
“A fraction of players from Uganda miss out on character aspect. Football world over is played by the right attitude and character. Frustrations that come with harsh weather conditions, strict managers, demanding competition during the games has always let down the ill-prepared Ugandan footballers and have to return home.”
“Many players who venture the professional waters for the very first time face intimidation of foreign confines.”
“Many players who leave Uganda to ply their trade in the professional leagues outside the boundaries of Uganda have confessed having problems with language.The language element is key to building self-confidence and free freedom of expression.”
Ill preparations of players: Many Ugandan footballers live for professional ranks when they are less prepared to battle the waves that come with serious professional football.Adjustment to the demands during the training regime, body mass, work ethic on and off the field of play as well as feeding habits always leave a lot to desired.
There endless tales how Uganda footballers have failed to pass the bare minimum mark right from trial stints to the real spell of their duration during the times at the diaspora clubs.
This has therefore in a way failed many Ugandans who are then home sick and ranking aloft their wish-list is to return home.
Segregation and racism: This is a common problem for many people who leave their motherland country to live or work elsewhere.
Footballers, too, like the rest of the crop face segregation of all sorts. This could take the form of race, skin colour and ethnicity.
Support Kawowo Sports
With the COVID-19 pandemic it has become more difficult and expensive for us to serve you. Please consider contributing to help us continue publishing great content.
Paul Mutakabala, a former player and current Uganda Cranes National teams’ officer revealed to Kawowo Sports that he thought it was down to several aspects covering failure to understand contractual obligations and lack of patience on the part of Ugandan footballers.
Understanding Contractual Obligations
We have seen quite a number of our players transfer to clubs abroad and after a few months, they are back here. One of the reasons they present is clubs failing to fulfil their contract obligations. This has happened to quite a number of them. The question here is whether before the contracts are signed, all the three parties (player, agent and club) are in sync as to what their obligations are. The usual end-result is accusations from the players and counter-accusations from the clubs. Should we perhaps continue to educate our players more on matters regarding football contracts? The fault is not always with players, but even here in our own Uganda Premier League, players are sometimes in breach of club contracts, without realising it.
Professional football is not for the feint-hearted
We must also understand that professional football is not just the game on the pitch but it entails so much off the pitch as well. So how a player integrates into a professional set up is key to success or failure. Sometimes that’s a struggle for some of our players. This therefore calls for the need to educate our players, right from a young age in the academies or clubs, to be suited for professional football. Otherwise many will continue to struggle.
Personally, I believe if our players are not groomed early enough to act and behave professionally, they will continue to struggle in things like integrating into a foreign culture, dietary restrictions as to what to or not to consume as footballer, time keeping, fitting in with professional training schedules, when to sleep etc. This in turn affects performances and creates doubts at those foreign clubs.
There is a tendency for players from Uganda not to be patient and stand the heat of professional football. The slightest hint of things not going their way often results into them ‘abandoning ship’ and returning back here. There are reports of our players opting to terminate their contracts at foreign clubs on reasons not convincing enough. But to succeed in the professional ranks especially if you are from the ‘Black Africa’ requires a lot of patience. Our players as a must have to realise this. They will face many obstacles including outright disrespect from their employers. However, one must buckle down, work hard and block out all the negativity. The best example to give here is former Uganda Cranes captain, Ibrahim Ssekagya. When he left Uganda for Argentina, he got there, accepted and was willing to take time to be educated on what a professional player should be, how to conduct yourself, integration into a foreign culture, the kind of food a professional footballer should consume, how to train, when to sleep and generally how to conduct around as a professional footballer. By the time Ssekagya got to Europe he was ready. He was patient and in the end had a successful journey at Red Bull Salzburg.
Taddeo Lwanga [Uganda Cranes player currently plying his trade with Tanta FC in Egypt]
“Personally, I have not yet so many challenges since arriving here. Theenvironment is great though the atmosphere not so good in terms of interaction. The language is a big problem. Not so many people speak English and yet myself I don’t understand Arabic thus communication becomes a big challenge. But generally, I have a good time here.
About Ugandan players failing to make it in the professional ranks, I believe it a result of a number of challenges from what I have seen here and what I have shared with my fellow players.
First, I think the competition is very stiff. Therefore, as a player, you must be ready to work hard and make yourself count. Playing in a good league requires a tough character because all your mind must be focused on doing one thing and that is playing football. In Uganda, our league is still in a poor state and thus we don’t realise that players must focus on one thing and that is playing football. Therefore, you must be willing to sacrifice a lot of things if you want to play well in a professional team or league
The biggest problem however, is many clubs default players which makes it difficult to compete. Remember you are abroad and you are not getting what you are working for. The standards of living are high yet this is the time we must invest from the little we earn. So you can’t give full commitment in such environment, your performance will definitely be affected and in the end you will be deemed surplus to requirement or seek for a move elsewhere.
James Odoch, former Uganda Cranes winger and current assistant coach at Express FC who played in the Maldives cites the element of agents (intermediaries) who seek quick cash, players who play out of position and the impatient crop of footballers.
“Most players have been hurried up agents (intermediaries) who over hype them. Many negotiate with the prospective clubs and never subject these players to any sort of trials. The clubs later realise that the players they acquired are not up to standard, only to be released them moments after. Also, a large number of players are played out of position once in their new clubs. Most players too have openly shown impatience. Football is one sport that takes time to gel with management, fellow players, fans and the media. Such relationships are built over time.”