Uganda: Big Debate to Decide Uganda's Best Left-Backs

But that is not to forget others like Joseph Onziga, Sam Musenze, Charles Katumba, Geoffrey Higenyi, Charles Masiko and Richard Mugalu to mention but a few.

Some Ugandan football observers have argued that to determine the best, it requires one to dig deep and consider the generation during which they featured and the kind of players they played with. Our Sunday Feature zeroes in on three; Geoffrey 'Pererepe' Higenyi, Ashe 'Lord' Mukasa and Charles 'Bizzo' Masiko that, according to many soccer pundits, were cut from a different cloth.

GEOFFREY 'PEREREPE' HIGENYI

A former Cranes international describes him as the hardest tackler of the modern style who preferred the ball farthest away from the goal he defended.

Higenyi was so fast and always chased opponents at full blast only to tap the ball out of play in what became his specialised tackling slide. Higenyi never took things for granted when in defence and when it came to throw-ins, he was an expert of longs ones that more or less appeared like corner kicks.

He was one of the most committed players in Uganda between 1983 and 1991. Higenyi did everything to project SC Villa as there was not a single trophy the Jogoos won without a drop of his sweat.

With SC Villa, Higenyi won seven league titles in 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992. He also picked up four Uganda Cups; 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989 without forgetting the 1987 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup honours.

In 1991, Higenyi played in every international match SC Villa featured in culminating into the club's climb to the finals of African Club Championship. Higenyi's was first discovered when he attended Rock Hill High School in Tororo. Later he was taken on by Abdul Magid, who formerly coached Gangama United and Rivatex of Kenya. Higenyi's early ambition was to play like Polly Ouma, his childhood hero.

He had a stint with Mbale Heroes but it was Nytil FC of Jinja that harnessed and introduced him to real football.

His first chance to participate in big time soccer came in 1981 when Nytil played host to the visiting national team of Burundi 'Intamba' at Bugembe Stadium with the home team winning 1-0 courtesy of an Issa Ssekatawa goal.

During those day, it was common, especially for Jinja-based players, to play for some Kenyan clubs while also competing in the Ugandan league, but under false names across the common border.

At one time Higenyi played for Busia United which he helped reach the semifinals of the Kenyan Knock-out Championship narrowly losing to eventual winners Gor Mahia. Higenyi made a major impact in Kenya with the country's football federation at one time considering selecting him for their national side - Harambee Stars. But the idea was dropped when it was found out that he was a mere Ugandan 'mercenary'.

In 1983, SC Villa poached Higenyi from Nytil and he fitted well in the Jogoos side where he played alongside his elder brother Paul Hasule. Around the same time, he was summoned to the Cranes team and began on a high note in the team that thrashed the mighty Algeria 4-1 in an Olympic qualifier at Nakivubo Stadium.

But trust the North Africans and their Arab referees. During the return leg in Algiers, Higenyi and another dangerous Cranes player Godfrey Kateregga were given marching orders to ensure the home team triumphed 3-0 to sail through on the away goals rule. But Higenyi missed the 1983 African Club Championship quarter final match between SC Villa and Zambia's Nkana Red Devils of in Ndola after breaking his left arm in a car accident on the eve of travelling.

Because of this, he was also not available to offer his services to Cranes for the 1983 Senior Challenge Cup in Nairobi. His notable weaknesses included the 1984 blunders in Ndola when he gifted Zambia their second goal in the 3-0 win over the Cranes in a Fifa World Cup qualifier. Many still talk about the way Higenyi cried like a baby after scoring an own goal in a highly-publicised Uganda Cup semifinal against KCC FC played at Bugembe Stadium in Jinja.

HIGENYI FACTFILE (ACHIEVEMENTS)

He played for Mbale Heroes, Busia United of Kenya (as a mercenary) and SC Villa.

He won seven league titles with SC Villa in 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992.

He won four Uganda Cups with SC Villa in 1983, 1986, 1988 and 1989.

His first outing with SC Villa came during the Cecafa Clubs meet in Zanzibar where the club reached the semifinals.

He was part of the SC Villa team that in 1991 reached the finals of the African Club Championship.

In 1981, as a 'mercenary', he helped Busia United of Kenya reach the semifinals of the Kenya Knock-out Championship. But they narrowly lost 2-1 to Gor Mahia.

CHARLES 'BIZZO' MASIKO

Well remembered for the king-making overlaps and many raids upfront into the opponents' territory that resulted into goals. Although Masiko played football in a gentlemanly fashion, he was not the sort of player nor the man with whom to take liberties.

Born on July 7, 1962 in Kawempe Division to the late John Masiko and Salingi Namutebi, Masiko attended only schools belonging to Brothers of Christian Instruction where sports and notably football was taken seriously.

He studied at Mugwanya Preparatory School Kabojja, Savio Junior School, Uganda Martyrs Lubaga and Caltec Academy.

One person that helped to discover his immense football talent was none other than the games master at Savio, Charles Kabenge (later a Fifa grade referee), who did a lot to polish and guide him.

When Masiko moved to Lubaga, which was headed by Bro. Bernard Kamulaki, a man that used to pour a lot of money in football.

It's said that his school team dressed far better than some teams playing in the Ugandan national league.

It was here that Masiko was made into a football phenomenon, with others like Frank Kyazze, Rogers Nsubuga and Chris Mubiru. Masiko admired Kirunda during his childhood, probably one reason he chose to join a club closer to his idol. While in secondary, Masiko joined KCC FC nursery club - The City Cubs which was then the most successful nursery club in Uganda.

The Cubs coach then, George Mukasa laid out the red carpet for Masiko having seen a lot of promise in the youngster.

At first Masiko used to play on the left wing and he emerged into a free-kick specialist who made very few mistakes in front of goal.

In 1981, he forced his way into KCC FC's senior squad and forthwith scooped the club captain's armband in 1984. In KCCA, Masiko continued to play as a left winger but at times switched to No.4 during some matches.

Masiko was summoned to the Cranes team that played in the 1983 Senior Challenge Cup in Nairobi. His debut match for the Cranes was the third playoff against Malawi which Uganda won 2-1.

In 1991, Masiko made headlines by captaining two different teams to football honours. First he led KCC FC to winning the league and then Ngeye clan which he spurred to clinching the Bika By'Abaganda Soccer tournament.

He won the league with KCC FC in 1983, 1985 and 1991 in addition to four Uganda Cups in 1984, 1987, 1990 and 1993. He retired in 1995 after failing to recuperate fully from a nagging injury.

Though in Tom Masiko, the former KCC FC skipper, has had a son following in his footsteps.

But he believes that his first son Eddie Masiko would have performed better had his early football career not been ruined by a troublesome knee injury. He was nicknamed Bizzo after a Congolese musician.

MASIKO FACTFILE (ACHIEVEMENTS)

Was school team captain both at Mugwanya Preparatory School Kabojja and Savio Junior School, Kisubi.

First played for KCC FC nursery club, City Cubs before forcing his way into the senior side in 1981.

In 1984, he made history by becoming the third KCC FC captain in 21 years. He replaced the late Sam Musenze and went on to enjoy good times at the helm from 1984-95 hence earning the moniker life captain.

He was summoned to the Cranes team in 1983 with his debut match being the third match playoff against Malawi.

Won the league with KCC in 1983, 1985 and 1991.

Won Uganda Cups with KCC FC in 1984, 1987, 1990 and 1993.

In 1991, he captained Ngeye clan to Bika Soccer Tourney victory.

ASHE 'LORD' MUKASA

He was nicknamed 'Lord' because of the way he carried himself around and dressed - high class swag and smartness. If he played today, he would probably be referred to as the 'Lord Mayor' of Ugandan football. Some regard Mukasa as the best left-back Uganda has ever produced. At his peak in 1976, Mukasa was the only Cranes player named in the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Team of the Tournament held in Ethiopia.

Born in the Lungujja - a suburb of Kampala, Mukasa began his playing career at local side Natete Young Stars before moving to Express FC's nursery side - Nakivubo Boys. Later while schooling at Old Kampala Senior Secondary School, Mukasa's football improved tremendously and forthwith attracted the attention of a top league side, Coffee FC which signed him at the age of 17.

But he only spent one season there. Coffee FC then had a galaxy of star players and there was no way an upcoming youngster like him could get any chance of being fielded. So in order to get an opportunity of playing, the young Mukasa relocated to NIC FC, in the lower division, which also had young brilliant players like Stanley Mubiru, Mike Kiganda and Timothy Ayiekoh.

It was here that Mukasa played captivating football, little wonder that he soon got selected to captain the national youth team that went on to win a regional championship in Kenya. After this it became obvious that Mukasa was too big a star to remain playing for a dwarf side like NIC.

During the same year, 1972, Mukasa made a U-turn and joined Express FC - a side he consistently featured for the next five years. Mukasa was a pillar in the Red Eagles side that dominated Ugandan football between 1974 and 1977 before the club was banned by the self-styled Fufa disciplinary chief and governor of Central Province Major Abdallar Nasur. Mukasa was part of the gallant Express side that won the 1974 and 1975 league titles.

With Cranes, Mukasa was summoned by German-born coach Burkhard Pape with his first match being an Afcon qualifier against Somalia where he scored a brace in the team's 5-0 win. As if to prove that the match against Somalia was not a fluke, Mukasa hogged the headlines in 1973 when Algeria came to Nakivubo for the first leg of the 1974 Afcon qualifiers. He was on the score sheet alongside Denis Obua as Uganda triumphed 2-1 before holding the visitors to a 1-1 draw away to go through.

The best year for 'Lord' career wise came in 1976. He was the star-attraction for Express FC, who narrowly failed to win the league for the third consecutive season, surrendering it to arch-rivals KCC FC by just a point. The same year Mukasa was in the Cranes team that went to the 1976 Afcon in Ethiopia where he played superlative football to emerge as the only Ugandan player named in the Team of the Tournament.

As if that was not enough, later in the year 'Lord' went to play a key role in enabling Cranes capture the 1976 Cecafa title in Zanzibar and also retaining it in Mogadishu, Somalia the following year. For the 1978 Afcon in Ghana, it must be emphasised that Mukasa was too senior to Sam Musenze at the left-back position until something happened one day. In Kumasi, where Uganda played their group matches, the Cranes players watched the opening tough match between Tunisia and Morocco. A member of that Cranes team revealed to this writer in 2005 that the high class football exhibited by the two giants of African football made most Cranes players panic, not knowing what would befall them when they met either of the two sides.

Mukasa, who was seated not far away from the no-nonsense Cranes coach Peter Okee was heard saying something like; "With this type of soccer, it appears we Ugandans came here to just waste time." Okee heard him and saw it wise to drop and replace him with Musenze. But alas, Cranes won that match and progressed without Mukasa's input.

MUKASA FACTFILE(ACHIEVEMENTS)

Played for Natete YS, Nakivubo Boys, NIC, Express and KCC FC

At the age of 17 in 1969, he joined Coffee FC while at Old Kampala SS.

In 1972, he captained the youth team to a regional title in Kenya.

Won the 1973, 1976 and 1977 Cecafa honours with Cranes.

Won the league with Express FC in 1974 and 1975 & second in 1976.

He won the 1978 Cecafa Clubs Championship title with KCC FC, a team he joined after Express was banned in 1977.

He was part of the Cranes side that played in Afcon from 1974 to 1978.

He was assistant team manager to Jimmy Kirunda when the Cranes won the Cecafa titles in 1989, 1990 and 1992.

What others say;

Abdallah Mubiru (Police FC and Cranes assistant coach)

Both Masiko and Higenyi used to be very confident in defence. Higenyi was so hardworking and good with long diagonal passes which were in most cases perfect while Masiko would at times beautifully drive the ball upfront. Overlapping was his trade mark.

Abbey Nasur (Former Uganda Cranes and Prisons FC star)

I played with Ashe 'Lord' Mukasa in the youth team and later in Cranes. He was a very steady and wise defender who could also play in midfield. Actually it's him and Joseph Onziga of Simba that are the best full backs that standout for me in Ugandan football.

Omulangira Ndawula Frank Paul (Played for defunct City Cubs FC)

Being taller, Charles 'Bizzo' Masiko was better at clearing aerial balls and could also push forward to assist in goal-searching. Geoffrey 'Pererepe' Higenyi was a real hard tackler, someone difficult to beat but also hot tempered. Such was his character.

James Asiimwe (football fan of Seeta)

Charles 'Bizzo' Masiko had a better technical knowledge of game and play management while Geoffrey Higenyi was so physical and so tough at the back. He was the sort of defender teams would depend on to close out opponents and keep narrow leads and eventually win difficult matches.

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