On Monday March 4, Juma Balinya was among 31 home-based players, that were summoned to The Cranes squad in preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2019 qualifier against Tanzania later this month.
This was a show of faith in the forward from Cranes coach Sebastien Desabre. Yet, as the French tactician continues to find the right balance for his team, and strengthen his attack for Afcon in June, he could not have picked a better number 10, let alone player from the Uganda Premier League.
But as many Ugandans will be looking forward to what Balinya, 25, can offer the team, his rebirth will be widely celebrated. Richard Wasswa, a coach at St Mary's SS Kitende, was key in enrolling him at the school back in 2010.
Wasswa said: "Balinya's call up to The Cranes is long over-due. From a young age, when he was at Friends of Football (FOF) and Old Kampala SS, not many players were as gifted as he was; a fine dribbler, shooter and creator, who ran so fast with the ball. He was an attacking midfielder that was a beauty to watch."
In fact, Cranes midfielder Moses Waiswa recently told The Observer that he idolised Balinya for his great technique while at Old Kampala. Actually, when Balinya was leaving for Kitende, he handed his shirt number six to a younger Waiswa, whom he chose as his heir-apparent. Because of his speed and two-footed nature, Balinya appeared like one who would equally succeed as an outside forward, although his favourite position was through the middle. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency affected Balinya as a first-team player in Vipers between 2012 and 2014.
The promise was not really materializing despite his fine attributes as a footballer. But also, he wanted money. Balinya chose to go to Djibouti, where he secured a more lucrative contract compared to the one at Vipers. Yet, by 2016, he was back in the country plying his trade at lowly Lweza FC.
KCCA FC manager Mike Mutebi wanted to sign him, but Police FC coach Abdallah Mubiru moved faster to snap up the youngster. No doubt both Mutebi and Mubiru saw gold in Balinya. Currently, the leading top scorer with 13 goals in the UPL, Balinya has taken the league by storm. And while many of his goals have been a beauty to watch, he is not resting on his laurels.
"I want to score at least 20 league goals. Probably that can give me a chance of being the best player in the UPL. But more importantly, I want to become a mainstay in The Cranes," Balinya said.