17 February 2013

Uganda: Will Okwi Cut the Grade in Tunisia?

Following his recent $300,000 transfer from from Tanzania's Simba FC to Etoile Du Sahel of Tunisia, Emma Okwi's chances of succeeding at one of African football's giant clubs could be low, analyses John Vianney Nsimbe.

When describing Emmanuel Okwi, it would be a major oversight if one didn't trace him back to his development path which started way back at Jogoo Young, SC Villa's youth development project. The Cranes forward showed promise from back then although he was that kind of player with mood swings; and didn't take too well to rigorous training, according to his coaches.

He recently transferred from Tanzania's Simba FC to Tunisia's Etoile Du Sahel for a fee of $300,000. But how his career pans out there will be the talking point for now. Having been at Simba since the 2009/2010 season, some football analysts feel he should have been in a better league much earlier. His ability as a footballer; two good feet, speed, craft and efficiency in front of goal isn't in doubt.

That is why he was a house-hold name down in Dar es Salaam. Even Simba's cross city rivals, Yanga FC admired Okwi. Apparently the son of Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete, a Yanga fan, had befriended Okwi so much. It was a friendship many thought was intended to coerce Okwi to join Yanga. Of course Simba fans couldn't take any of that.

That said, doubts linger on whether Okwi is focused enough to succeed at the top. In July last year, Okwi went for trials to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. It is said that his failure to succeed there was that he was whining about how he felt homesick. For a similar reason, he didn't do trials at Parma and Chievo in Italy that had been lined up for him through links created by former Villa coach, Micho.

There was even another opportunity for him to play in Israel, which he showed no commitment towards, something that discouraged agents. In July 2011, he stood up a chance to do a second round of trials at Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa. Individuals involved in trying to help him broker those moves told The Observer on grounds that they remain anonymous that Okwi was never forthright.

He played a lot of hide-and-seek; and whenever they agreed to meet him, he would either not show up, come up with endless excuses or have his phone off. Unless that attitude has changed, it will be hard for Okwi to succeed in Tunisia. And Jackson Mayanja, Cranes assistant coach who played for Etoile's rivals Esperance in the late 1990s knows as much. Mayanja says, "He mustn't be delusional.

This is real professional football like is the case in Europe. He has to be fit and score the goals because that is the reason he has been bought."

Mayanja warns that if Okwi thinks he is going to be glorified like has been the case in Tanzania, he is mistaken. Tunisia has a tough and demanding league, and once they see you letting up, they sign another player. 'This would be bad for Cranes cause considering Okwi's promise, which has seen him score 13 goals in 25 games.

But that aside, Mayanja feels Okwi has entered the corridor to get him a bigger move to one of the leading leagues in the World like France considering the ties between Tunisia and France. Hopefully that too will be the case for his Cranes teammates, Mike Mutyaba and Godfrey Walusimbi now in DR Congo at TP Mazembe and CD Don Bosco FC respectively.

Judah Mugalu had an unsuccessful stint at Motema Pembe between 2011 and 2012 and Patrick Ochan has remained a rather insignificant figure at Mazembe. Matia Lule, a local coach who was recently in Europe on a football development programme told The Observer that his experience has shown him that "we prepare players so poorly that they struggle in top professional leagues."

"Our league is also weak and unless these players step up, we won't see them succeed there," said Lule.

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