Vipers celebrate their Super 8 triumph at the start of the 2019/2020 season Credit: Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE

It had to be elected champions Vipers or KCCA, the two teams that have monopolised Uganda’s football in the previous eight years. Vipers were last week declared champions of the Uganda Premier League for the third time since 2015. Although critics claim the decision to call off the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic was rushed, the Venoms are deserving champions of the fourth title since their promotion in 2006. We take a look at the factors that made the Kitende club better than the rest.

Mean defence

Fabien Mutomobora saves Ronald Otti’s penalty Credit: Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE

KCCA had the most prolific attack, scoring four more goals than Vipers but the Venoms won it from the back. Their mean defence ensured that they conceded only 15 times. The ever-present Fabien Mutombora let in 13 goals in 23 games. His deputy Derrick Ochan first got involved during match day 13 during a 1-0 win over URA. The second game was during a 4-2 win over relegated Proline at Lugogo.

The Venoms consistently fielded right back Paul Willa, who was acquired from Police at the start of the season playing in all but two games. He was a constant factor in defence alongside Bashir Asiku and Halid Lwaliwa shielded by Siraje Sentamu. Geoffrey Wasswa’s return to fitness boosted them with options as Lwaliwa was put on standby. St Mary’s SS Kitende graduate Jacob Okao was also thrown in to strengthen an already solid backline.

Luck

Football is prone to strange happenings. Fans were denied an interesting title run-in by the invisible force of chance. Vipers’ former trainer Edward Ssali contends that the element of luck was modest. “Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. Luck is when Vipers are awarded the trophy. But they have worked hard for this luck,” Ssali said.

Vipers were declared champions of the 2019-20 Uganda Premier League in in the truncated season with five league games remaining. The venoms led the standings with 54 points from 25 matches, four points ahead of second-placed KCCA. With the remaining games against Police, Express, Bright Stars, Tooro and Busoga, maybe a change of the table could have happened. But KCCA were also yet to play Bul, Onduparaka, Wakiso Giants, Busoga United and a stubborn Villa. But Vipers had earned two points earlier in the season from Maroons, who were found guilty of fielding goalkeeper Hannington Sebwalunnyo before serving his accumulated cards suspension. The Prisons side had held Vipers to a 1-1 draw.

Fahad Bayo comes of age

Fahad Bayo has been a key player for Vipers SC, scoring 12 league goals.

This season finally saw Fahad Aziz Bayo get the credit he claimed when he scored 16 goals with Proline to earn promotion in 2016. Having successfully proved himself worthy of a starring role in the team despite the presence of so many top strikers, Bayo became integral in the Kitende side. Understandably, he netted six times on his debut in the top flight and by the time Zambia’s Buildcon took him in the January transfer window of 2018, he had scored six times in 14 first round games. He supplemented this score with nine goals in Zambia. Yet when he returned to Uganda, it was an opportunity to prove his doubters. With 12 goals (excluding the one against Maroons) his scoring form in 2019-2020 was only bettered by Steven Mukwala. Tito Okello and Dan Muzeyi Sserunkuma were the next best Vipers scorers, each with three goals.

Marvelous Bobosi

Youngster Bobos Byaruhanga in action against URA. Credit: Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE

The 19-year-old Bobosi Byaruhanga who is playing his first season at Vipers gave Edward Golola and later Fred Kajoba the flexibility any coach would crave for. Byaruhanga became a mainstay in the team after winning the Copa Coca-Cola title last year in Jinja, his first since he spent the early years of his secondary education at Standard High Zzana.

An attacking midfielder by trade, Edward Ssali, who scouted him from Zzana deployed him in defence before concentrating in the defensive midfield role. Byaruhanga’s physicality, game appreciation, work rate and intelligence ensured Vipers looked more solid yet even better still, he contributed seven assists to Bayo. An intelligent player, Uganda should brace for a midfield genius.

Never mind the gap

Beaten three times in the league (by URA, Villa and KCCA), Vipers were so much better than the chasing pack. Villa played superbly to win 1-0 in January at Kitende for the second consecutive season but that was a rare example of a StarTimes Uganda Premier League outfit being able to match Vipers firepower.

The stingy defence kept 15 clean sheets. A stable defence definitely helped. Confidence in youngsters like Karim Watambala, Byaruhanga, Farouk Musisi and Jacob Okao, ensured that the seniors did not wear out. It remains to be seen whether this form can be transferred to the continent where they are still figuring out the best formula of success.

George Katongole

George Katongole is a leading Ugandan sports journalist.

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