11 July 2012

Uganda: Why Local Footballers Are Content With Second Best

Chelsea faithful are not the only ones who have acquainted themselves with Ligue 1 outfit, Lille, following the transfers of Eden Hazard and Salomon Kalou that saw the two renowned football clubs crisscross. Ugandan football fans too are sitting up and taking notice. What with the transfer of Viktor Klonaridis.

Viktor Klonaridis? What has he got to do with Ugandan football? Well, everything. Kind of. Klonaridis, as the name suggests, is of Greek descent. He was nevertheless part of that all-conquering Kampala Kids League (KKL) outfit whose indefatigableness landed it four Gothia, five Tivoli and three Norway cups among other laurels.

In 2010, Klonaridis, a winger whose versatility has at times seen him deployed as an attacking midfielder, joined the paid ranks, signing a contract with Greek topflight club, AEK Athens.

As well as winning the 2010/11 Greek Cup, Klonaridis cemented himself in the club's folklore with enterprising performances not least in the 2011/12 Europa League. As expected, Klonaridis's suitors came to AEK Athens en masse in the off season.

When the transfer window officially opened early this month, the enterprising youngster and his agent promptly consented to a deal with Lille that saw AEK Athens pouch 800,000 Euros.

Predictably, KKL, which was meticulously laced together by Trevor Dudley in the late 1990s, drew lots of satisfaction from Klonaridis's transfer not least because it will give the 19-year-old a crack at the Holy Grail that is Champion's League football.

KKL forthwith put out a statement that in part read: "We are sure [Klonaridis] will prove a resounding success as he makes the step up to Ligue 1, filling the boots of a departed star in Eden Hazard. KKL continues to thrive, and has plans to tour Europe once again next summer (2013) with a new generation of football stars based in Uganda".

While Klonaridis has evoked bouts of chest thumping from KKL top brass, the footnotes scripted by other indigenous Ugandans who played a pivotal part in KKL's success story at the turn of the second millennium have left their former mentors in something of a sombre mood.

Ibrahim 'Saddam' Juma, the lad who provided industry to the team, used to earn his bread by playing in a nondescript Vietnamese league. Daniel 'Mzee' Serunkuma, who was among the goals during those heady days, features next door in the hardly compelling Kenyan Premier League.

Benjamin Ochan, the netminder who also doubled as the team's skipper, has meantime grappled with a start-stop career in the Uganda Super League after he failed to cut the grade in the South African topflight league.

Clearly, the 'indigenous' Ugandan players that hoisted the national tri-colour flag at the turn of the 21st century haven't been paragons of success. This, as always, begs of a million dollar question.

This question has been on the lips of several Ugandan football aficionados. A friend actually asked me to decipher why Juma and Co. have failed to scale the heights just like Klonaridis.

My friend specifically wanted the variables that have halted the likes of Juma from making that giant stride into full-fledged professional football. Well, the answer is straightforward - mediocrity.

Mediocrity has pretty much become a way of life in Uganda. Lamentably, football - or sport, if you will - is a microcosm of this shambolic way of life. Footballers have been groomed to blissfully embrace second best.

Never at one point can they push the envelope in a bid to break their boundaries. If the sport puts food on their plates and drapes them in fancy clothes, then that's pretty much it.

No doubt, it would all be different if these athletes knew what their equities are and made it a point to vend them in the right marketplaces. Now, because of that morbid culture of mediocrity, compounded by an inferiority complex, Ugandan footballers are content playing in the lower reaches.

An age-old dictum counsels us to aim for the moon such that we can get the stars if we fail with the maiden endeavour. Conversely, Ugandan athletes aim for the stars in the knowledge that they will kiss the dust if they pull up short.

Mediocrity has put a hand-to-mouth idiosyncrasy that has in turn put paid to any hopes of Ugandan footballers replicating the move Klonaridis recently mustered.

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