The impact of football on society and on the country at large has been quoted in different dimensions. First, it has been said that “the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven people with a name, with every individual including the fan in the stadium, becoming a symbol of his nation”. In another perspective, the term “imaginary community” has been put forward to support the idea that people living in the same country are connected to each other, even without ever meeting each other, this notion is supported by the kind of nostalgia created around the national football team when it enters the stadium.

Football in Uganda attracts immense support from its population. Football is almost played in every remote village of this country, It is, therefore, no surprise that at times, despite the faults in social cohesion due to various political, and social-economic factors, football seems to have the healing power of this nation. Every time the national football team “The Cranes” gets on to the pitch either in Mandela National Stadium or elsewhere, it automatically triggers the spirit of unity among all Ugandans regardless of class or background. This trend is now progressively being reflected by the increased following of domestic football action, the domestic league is rewinding back the clock to its heydays when it used to record crowds during the league matches, this is the same for other football competitions like the Masaza Cup, Bika bya Buganda, FUFA Drum that equally also attract large numbers of passionate fans. 

On a global scene, in June 1988, about nine million Dutch people, who at the time represented 60% of the Dutch population took to the streets to celebrate their national team “De Orange”  victory over the German national football team in the semfinals of the UEFA Euros 1988. The magnitude of the celebration was so much that it is reputed as one of the biggest celebrations to be staged in Europe in the aftermath of the liberation of Germany in 1945 at the end of the second world war.

In order to put context that is attached to the national aspiration to achieve football success on the international stage, one has to consider the recent events that happened in the aftermath of just concluded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021 when in Ghana, the Ministry of Sports and culture decided to disband the entire National men’s football technical committee after the country’s dismal performance at the tournament where they had been surprisingly eliminated by Comoros. 

Football’s global appeal has made it undoubtedly the world’s biggest sport, it has clearly marked out its territory as the ultimate “Game of Thrones” of nations in the world of sports. Every time, players put on their national team colours to represent their countries, they carry the hope and optimism of their entire nation onto their shoulders, football players have to play and defend the prestige of their national colours. This has created an environment that calls for top-level football competition at the various international football tournaments, to put this into perspective, countries invest huge resources and endure long years of development in order to prepare for this kind of competition on the international stage. 

Achieving success at the FIFA World Cup is the epitome of global football glory however other continental tournaments like the UEFA Euros in Europe, AFCON in Africa, and the Asian Cup in Asia to mention but a few, bring a lot of national pride. It thus justifies the huge amount of resources invested into football development by the different countries in order to achieve such success. However one has to understand the permutations of the modern game and figure out that there must be a right balance between financial and technical investment in order to deliver football success and it has been proven that having the “huge resources” may not automatically guarantee you football success. The key to football success both at national and club level is a recurrent process that involves a rigorous technical effort to understand the game and therefore finding the right technical approaches on how to play it according to the club or national team squad strength.

In football circles, this debate calls for the topic of how should football be played or football philosophy, at the international level a number of countries became formidable football giants because of their unique style of play or football philosophies: Brazil became renowned for its freestyle  Samba style, which made it a force to reckon with, in the process winning five World Cups, Spain and its tiki-taka football rose to world fame with its free-flowing passing football, winning a total of three championships in the period of four years (between 2008 and 2012) including the World Cup in 2010, Italy has historically been famed for its Cantenaicco style which made it a world football powerhouse with four World Cups under its belt. These differing philosophies have also been copied and applied by other countries to achieve similar success.

On the football pitch these unique styles of playing football guide these countries to triumph, however, it takes years of investment in different development strategies in order to develop these football philosophies so as to deliver the football success both at club and national level. The federations of these different countries as the custodians of football at the national level are mandated to draw up plans to guide football development in their respective countries, however unlike in Europe, the Americas, and Asia where most of the football federations in those continents have undertaken deliberate steps to develop football philosophies for their countries. Africa still lags far behind in this regard. 

That may explain why the continent has still failed to break its jinx of having a country make it to or beyond the semifinals of the World cup. To emphasize the primacy of football philology in football strategic development one has to consider the words of Joachim Low when he said in the aftermath of Germany’s performance at the 2006 World Cup that “we decided to concentrate more on ball possession and initiating play. We decided to change our football culture and move away from reactive play”. It was no surprise that he, later on, led the German National team to triumph in the 2014 World Cup.

In contrast, Africa still lags behind in developing the technical aspects of the game, with a few exceptions of certain countries like Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Ghana, Cameroun, and Algeria to mention but a few that have undertaken deliberate efforts to develop the game wholesomely with all its technical aspects. A comparison in terms of infrastructure between Africa and the rest of the world might be a mismatch given strategic bottlenecks that affect the continent which include inadequate facilities, finance, and inadequate technical competence.

Uganda must invest its resources into different approaches that seek to bridge these gaps.  For instance, Uganda must seek to invest resources in developing and revamping its football infrastructure and training more technical personnel. The football federation must not be stagnant but be proactive in trying to solve its challenges.

Although there have been deliberate efforts to close these gaps by other stakeholders, both at the international and continental level through grants provided mainly by FIFA. For instance, FIFA continues to invest massively in terms of technical support and infrastructural development through the “GOAL PROJECT” with the aim of closing these bottlenecks, however, there is still need for more national effort to supplement these foreign interventions. 

Although Uganda has been a beneficiary of these FIFA initiated projects with the Kadiba Project being one of the current major fast track infrastructural projects to add to the Njeru technical center, there are still a lot of gaps in technical development, for instance, the country still relies on hiring foreign technical expertise especially when it comes to coaching the national football side “The Cranes”. Although the national side has recently achieved noticeable success by qualifying for two of the last three AFCON tournaments, one can hardly say that the national side is on course to attain sustainable football success so as to fairly compete with other established football nations in Africa.

As a matter of concern on the progress of the beautiful game in the country, one asks whether Uganda has an existing football technical plan to guide football development in the country. According to the Federation of Football Associations of Uganda (FUFA) technical strategic plan that was tabled at its recent annual general Meeting in 2020, the Federation made proposals that included education of more coaches, this also includes fast-tracking a group of local coaches onto an international coach training exchange programme, the strategic plan also seeks to maintain support to the under-17 football league. Although the technical strategic plan exemplifies the good work that has already been done FUFA, it still falls short on the key details, it doesn’t offer a clear breakdown of how football should be played in Uganda, this utter ignorance of the finer details of football technical development in the country continue to impede the attainment of sustainable football success in the country both at club and national level. 

A keen follower of the local league the Uganda Premier League (UPL) will struggle to tell you whether there is actually any visible difference in the style of play among the different football clubs in the league, it is hard to establish whether actually there is any real tactical contest in the local league. The football contests on the pitch are usually determined by individual brilliance and other off-pitch factors like player morale. This current state of affairs doesn’t correlate with the country’s quest of becoming Africa’s top footballing nation on and off the pitch, at least according to the current FUFA’s mission.

 A quick inquiry into local football circles, will leave one dazzled at how issues to do with football philosophy don’t strike utmost debate to many football administrators in the country, the few football coaches who are disciples of it, are usually easily sacrificed when the team performances tend to fluctuate, one stand out example is Coach Mike Mutebi who during his tenure at Kampala City Council Authority Football Club (KCCA FC) received a lot of praise for the eye-catching free-flowing football that his side always played, this was quickly rewarded with the domination of the domestic league for three seasons between  2014 and 2018.  This later on culminated in progress to the CAF Champions League group stages in 2018,  a fit that had not been attained in Ugandan football for decades. 

On the flip side, this did not save Mike Mutebi from being sacked as KCCA FC head coach after a few mixed results in the 2020/21 season at the time when his squad was undergoing a transition. The same can be said about the instability at SC Vipers which has also seen a lot of changes in the technical department yet the club has the benefit of an enviable grassroots structure in the country which enables it to assemble some of the top talents in the country right from a young age.  

At the national level, qualification to the first-ever AFCON in 2015 in 38 years brought a lot of excitement in the country however this excitement did not last when the team played at the final tournament in Gabon, this was so because the team exited the tournament at the group stage, managing to score only once and for the neutrals, the performances weren’t fully convincing even when the team was handled by a foreign coach. The team was known more for its spirited defensive team effort rather than a combined tactical effort. However, the situation improved when the team returned to its second consecutive edition in Egypt when it managed to pull off a few good results which saw it go past the group stages and onto the second round where it was eliminated by a formidable Senegalese side, again from a neutrals point of view strong praise must be given to the technical and tactical impetus of the coach Sebastian Desabre and his team that managed to organize a team which played with more purpose and direction utilizing the full attributes of the players in the squad. The stand-out moment was the first goal scored against DR Congo by Patrick Henry Kaddu a header off a cross by Abdu Lumala after some speed work from the wing.  

There is no doubt that the modern game has become more technical and tactical at the top level, with countries and clubs equally investing expensively in order to attain football success. This has led to a rise in global initiatives towards football technical development with the goal of maximizing the full attributes of the players both at the club and country level. The current world of football is clout for a number of different football philosophies but none beats the force of impact created by the gegenpressing philosophy which has been mastered and popularized by Jurgen Klopp from his time at Borrosuia Dortmund FC to Liverpool FC achieving with it relative success.

Uganda is a football-mad country just like the rest of the world. The battleground may not be leveled for all but it’s clear that success at the top level comes with very fine margins and at a price that must be also guided by a clearly thought out plan to maximize that which is inherent and natural among the various football talents that this country has. The country must come up with a clear technical plan on how it wants to play football, which will then become a valid template for achieving sustainable football success at both club and country level. FUFA with its stakeholders should come up with a national football curriculum with the purpose of developing the “Ugandan playing style” which shall inform the coaching philosophy based on analysis of global technical football trends and scientific research, taking the specific circumstances and characteristics of Ugandan Footballers into consideration. The aim should be creating a clear technical strategic plan on how football is coached straight from grassroots to youth level this will help produce a generation of players and teams that will enable Uganda cut out its place in world football, especially at the Continental level.

The introduction of the Under-17 League must be complemented with other technical programs like fast-tracking of local coaches to international technical coaching training programs to acquaint themselves with the modern technical aspects of the game. FUFA should also seek to recruit fully competent staff under its technical docket to fast-track these different programs. Additionally, there should be continuous investment in all physical related football infrastructures like academies, stadiums, and other supportive facilities like gyms, sports-centered medical facilities, and other modern supporting technologies like video technical assistant to support the technical assessment of the players.

All the above interventions must be properly articulated into the national football curriculum or plan showing all the key ingredients of the direction with which Uganda intends to develop its football in the next 10 years. This shall clear out all doubts of all pessimists who continue to question the direction of football in this country.

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1 Comment

  1. Uganda’s sports success begins and ends with organization.
    This is especially true in team sports.

    So all this depends on the Ministry of Sports and FUFA.

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