The Observer (Kampala)

21 March 2013

Uganda: Are the Cranes Worth Banking On?

As I sat just below the scoreboard, one of the stadium's highest points, I soon realised I was at a vantage point. It's good enough to see all around. I reminisced as I listened to Black's all-time classic called Wonderful Life and found myself reflecting on the life and influence of Musawo - the late Dr Sarah Namulondo.

It's actually during that moment that I remembered this weekend marks one year of my first Observer column. Considering that over 60% of new business investments in Uganda don't live to mark their first anniversary, I've trudged on regardless of your feelings - positive or to Musawo's input. She spent a great deal of time tutoring yours truly to improve as a writer.

Her carrot and stick approach had both an encouraging and hair-drier treatment: "Nsimbe, what is this junk that you wrote today?...Now, you are learning" were all part of the routine but for a good cause.

One can only hope that our football administrators can borrow a leaf from that situation. For good measure, seeing midfielder Joseph Mpande, do the famous Johann Cruyff in Cranes training typifies a player who has climbed the ladder despite a lot of adversity.

This previously underrated former Jogoo Young player has now matured and is challenging more established players in the same role like Hassan Wasswa. But this hasn't clouded the fact that Cranes' preparations for the Liberia 2014 World Cup qualifier this weekend have been haphazard.

In fact, I'm transfixed on whether to put my money on them taking all the three points away from Liberia or not. Yet, that is what we need to get our qualification hopes back on track. I'm not one of those that think The Cranes can't qualify for the World Cup because they have failed to make it to the Africa Cup of Nations.

On many occasions, football has defied logic. But the fact that Cranes only entered camp on Wednesday is a cause for worry because by the time they face Liberia, they will have had less time for bonding and focusing as a unit. Coach Bobby Williamson doesn't see that as a problem because the players are professional enough while Fufa says they have had financial difficulties, hence that disorder.

But, what doesn't add up is how that could happen yet this World Cup fixture was known a year ago. Well, that's not the only mindboggling thing: compared to previous fixtures, Fufa hasn't given this game enough prominence, something that normally motivates the players.

That said, some foreign-based players like Mike Mutyaba and Emma Okwi - even for all their technical attributes - looked a pace off and lacked in forward sharpness. For Hassan Wasswa, he is catching up on fitness. Clearly the lack of playing time for these players at their respective clubs is taking its toll because their movement looked encumbered.

Yet in an away game, it's important that the team is super fit because there is a lot of running about looking for the ball. I wonder how much consideration Williamson gave to that fact. On a positive note, Vietnam-based midfielder Geoffrey Kizito looks as fit as a horse.

Fufa should, therefore, feel compelled to rethink its strategy for The Cranes. Why not push for the local-based players to be in the best of shape just in case the foreign legion comes in looking leggy?

However, this begs the question: How much does Williamson monitor his players? He insists he does but it took midfielder Tonny Mawejje, who has been here since late last year, to tell one scribe that he was not going to honour The Cranes invite because he felt unfit.

That said, let's all hope The Cranes can surprise us with a credible result. And now to Musawo; you are in a vantage point in heaven to see whether the values that you often preached are indeed maintained. I will miss you, Doc!

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