opinionBy Hassan Badru Zziwa
Fufa's new strategy to rest senior players for the upcoming Cecafa Cup is a step in the right direction after years of woes over lack of talent coming through.
Winning the tournament has become synonymous with The Cranes, who have claimed the trophy a record twelve times. The fact that Uganda has won three of the past four tournaments indicates two parallel things; The Cranes are coming of age or the tournament is diluted.
Either way, when you consider the reality that Uganda has failed to transform their Cecafa form to the continent, Fufa's decision to give younger players chance this time round could be a stitch in time. We badly needed a change of strategy. Not that the old guard should be discarded; Simeon Masaba is by far the best right back in the country, so is Geoffrey Massa in attack. But, that's partly because younger players have got little chance at the big time to show their mettle.
Until recently, Musa Mudde was an assured starter before injury paved way for little-known 23-year-old Geoffrey 'Baba' Kizito. Now that Kizito is widely seen as the future of Cranes midfield, what are the chances that a new player emerges from the Cecafa Cup to fill skipper Andy Mwesigwa's void? Many will point out that the team Bobby Williamson summoned is too inexperienced to trouble regular campaigners like Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. But Cecafa should no longer be about winning; instead, the tournament should be about experimenting while grooming future stars.
Back in 2003, Uganda sent arguably the 'weakest' Cranes team ever to the Cecafa Cup held in Sudan. The bulk of that team were Under-23 players and was handled by unheralded coaches Charles 'Kalayilayi' Namakola and Jackson Mayanja. It seemed a recipe for disaster but the likes of Hannington Kalyesubula, Ausi Kaaya, Sam Mubiru, Asan Bajope, Zakariah Lubega, Noah Kasule "Babadi" Henry Kabeta among others shocked the region when they won the title.
However, due to a poor monitoring system, many of those players' careers went haywire but it's not surprising that products from that team like Andy Mwesigwa, Tony Mawejje and David Obua went on to become established regulars. Back in 1973 when Uganda played host to the maiden Cecafa Cup, Cranes coach David Otti mixed up the squad with young prospects like Phillip Omondi, Timothy Ayiekoh, Stanley 'Tanker' Mubiru, Ashe Mukasa, Wilson Nsobya, Gerald Kabaireho, Abbey Nasur, Godfrey Kisitu, Eddie Semwanga, Ahmed Doka among others emerged.
Not only did they win the title, the country discovered replacements for ageing stars like Swalleh Waswa, Parry Oketch, John Dibya, Joseph Onziga, David Otti, Ibrahim Dafala and Joseph Masajjage. The 1982 Cecafa Cup held in Kampala also unveiled the likes of Sam Mugambe, Obadiah Semakula and John Tebusweke. Yes, Uganda didn't win the title but emerging stars like John Latigo, Paul Hasule, Fred Mukasa, Isa Sekatawa and Charles Katumba cemented their respective positions.
In 1992, the absence of SC Villa players in the Tanzania-organised Cecafa Cup handed chance to peripheral players like Fred Tamale, Rajab Sekalye, Richard Kirumira, Enock Kyembe, Fred Kajoba, Mohammad Kateregga, Charles Temaligwe, George Ssimwogerere. Those players went on to lift the title.
How to monitor prospects:
In the 2000 tournament held in Kampala, Uganda fielded two sides; The Cranes and the junior side 'Lions.' Lions had youthful players like; Godfrey Kateregga, George Otika, Vicky Okello, Jimmy Kidega, Ahmed Kizza, Abedi Bironse and Moses Bantu among others. However, all the above players never realized their potential for the simple reason that the federation had no deliberate programme to track their progress.
What Fufa should do is to create an arrangement that will enable the 'best players' from this upcoming Cecafa train together at least once every fortnight. The federation should also at least arrange some local and international build-up games for the team regardless of the opposition.
Another crucial area is coaching. The federation should make Williamson accountable for this team.
In the last five years of Nations Cup qualification heartbreak, the single biggest undoing for Uganda has been a lack of midfield creativity. Several players have been tried but the problem is yet to be addressed. From Johnson Bagoole to Patrick Ochan to Tony Mawejje to Musa Mudde to Mike Serumaga to Steven Bengo and Owen Kasule among others, lack of creativity persists.
So, this Cecafa should offer Bobby an opportunity to work on this area.
Naming Godfrey Walusimbi skipper of this team is another step in the right direction. He is not the most imposing physically but in the two years he's been with the senior team, 'Jajja Walu,' as he is commonly known, has been the team's most consistent player.
The best move forward is to build the next Cranes generation around him, Kizito, Moses Oloya and Emma Okwi. If The Cranes muster a telepathic understanding from defence through midfield to attack with these young lads, I have no doubt the Nations Cup qualification curse would be exorcised sooner than later.
Experimenting with the youngsters and fringe players might not yield quick results but this is what our rivals Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda did before clearing the continental hurdle.
Therefore, Fufa must come up with a calendar which can help this wonderful strategy positively. I believe the young and upcoming players like Yasin Mugabi, Ali Kimera, Ivan Bukenya, Denis Guma, Nicholas Wadada, Joseph Ochaya, Chrizestom Ntambi, Martin Mutumba, Sadam Juma, Brian Majwega and Dan Sserunkuuma have what it takes to leave a lasting impression on the tournament.
Meanwhile, the newly-formed Uganda Cranes Initiative (UCI) is a welcome boost to the team - particularly the players - many of whom need morale boosting and proper career guidance. However, all efforts might backfire if the federation repeats the previous mistakes of getting embroiled in petty things.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.