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Balinya returns, can he produce another conquering season?

By Shafic Kiyaga
Juma Balinya | Courtesy photo

KCCA FC can take an impute perspective on the transfer window. They are not missing out on anything good, and the current addition of Juma Balinya is a good enough reminder of the club’s ambition.

Every week brings new realisation of how KCCA mean business especially in a situation where many are perhaps scuffling for the easier and cheaper options – an impact mainly down to the pandemic.

The club promised to initiate a new project, re-aligning the squad’s foundation after losing their title last season, and what has followed is a full-blown, blockbuster spree of additions, not overly misguided, but properly calculated.

Among the statement arrivals include ex-SC Villa man Denis Iguma, Bright Anukani – albeit on loan, Brian Aheebwa, a bag of the unknown in Italian Stefano Mazengo Loro; Balinya’s addition ushers the club’s business into a realm react native.

Balinya returns to familiar territory in the Uganda Premier League joining the club on a free-transfer from Kenyan giants Gor Mahia, agreeing to a two-year contract with an option for a third year.

Following his troubles on his one-year travels that took him first to Tanzania and later Kenya, the forward will hope to use his time with the Kasasiro boys as a springboard for another conquering campaign.

The beauty is, he is aware of the task that lies ahead of him, and he is at a stage in his career where he should have enough know-how to navigate the challenges and set himself as the leader in the dressing room and on the pitch.

“I feel good, and as a player, I always look forward to playing well, so I am working hard to see that I become the player that won the golden boot and I know I can achieve it here at KCCA,” Balinya told KCCA TV.

“KCCA is the most professional club in Uganda, and I still want to play at the top so its that professionalism at the club that enticed me to come here.”

“I am always ready for competition; I know the squad has good players but I welcome the competition and to become the best you have to work hard.”

“Individually, my first goal is to become the top scorer and then helping the club win trophies,” he said.

How a bad move shaped his career

Balinya’s signing for KCCA is a major statement from the club, a player of definite quality, a leader on the pitch and top attitude. He has had to grow and attain certain attributes for the past five years that have shaped him into the player he is now.

The biggest lesson he has taken from wherever his journey has led him to is derived from his move to Djibouti’s AS Port. While it brought a degree of financial gains, it did not help in career progression, and Balinya admits it was a mistake.

“I made a mistake, moving to Djibouti was a career mistake,” Balinya said of his move to Djibouti.

At the time of his move, he was a player tipped for the big time and had just played a key role in helping Vipers win their first Uganda Premier League title in 2010.

From his time at Kampala Kids League, Old Kampala SS, through to St. Mary’s Kitende, Balinya’s potential has been plain to see. A huge football brain, winner’s mentality, to go with his immense talent.

The challenges potentially could have damaged his career, but Balinya has persevered over the last decade and resurrected his career, taking lessons that should come in handy at KCCA.

He has developed a greater understanding of his game and, with mental and character maturity, more awareness of his positional responsibilities to the team as a whole.

Twelve months of agony

Twelve months ago, Balinya had a turn around in his career after topping the scoring charts with Police FC in the Uganda Premier League with 19 goals during the 2018/19 season.

Balinya’s success story from scoring just two goals in the season prior to becoming a hitman of sorts was one of a player who had maybe finally found his calling. He garnered interest from as far as South Africa, while KCCA also half-heartedly wanted him, but Yanga swayed him there way.

Talk that he had joined the Tanzanian giants gripped the country, with people identifying ‘Yanga’s new hitman’ from the airport, and he was welcomed by over 3,000 fans at the club’s base before an official communication came through.

But Balinya never really arrived in Tanzania and was out of the club by December over breach of contract terms by the club, his winning goal against Botswana’s Township Rollers in the CAF Champions League first-round qualifier the only shimmer of his time Dar-es-Salaam.

His next move saw him join Gor Mahia in January 2020. The K’Ogalo had just lost Gislain Gnamien Yikpe and he was tipped to fill the void left by the Nigerian striker. But still, he was largely underwhelming after scoring a brace on his debut against Nzoia Sugar.

You can rightly argue that the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March this year ruffled his season as the league was cancelled two months after he had joined Gor Mahia, but he leaves a champion regardless.

The KCCA chapter, what he brings and where does he fit in?

“He (Balinya) has unfinished business of the generation that promised so much. They were not being guided. But here he will be directed,”

The public knows so much about these players. But they have not produced, however, he still has five good years of playing football,” KCCA head coach Mike Mutebi said during Balinya’s unveiling.

Balinya’s talent has been evident for years. That was why Vipers pulled all stops to sign him from Old Kampala in 2009, after a brilliant show in the Copa Coca-Cola championship.

He is the same pliable athlete today, but somewhat more gangly. What he has done, is apply himself and work at his game.

In his spell at Police, he was coached through specific situations to improve his game management, and Abdallah Mubiru crucially gave him specific instructions about the game, and that experience should come in handy.

Football beyond the borders may have been a mocking experience for him, but one that may have helped his education.

Balinya is not quite the finished article and the promise first identified at Vipers years ago is showing positive signs of being fulfilled, especially under a coach who has a track record of improving players who carry the ‘wasted tag’.

It is alluring to say that if a club signs a player of Balinya’s calibre, the system ought to fit around him, but with Mutebi, it is not quite straight forward though and he will have to flourish within the system.

Saliently, he knows where he will be utilised; “He will play in midfield, that’s where we shall use him,” Mutebi said of his role at KCCA.

Quite a relief because he flourished as an attacking midfielder as he won the top scorer’s award in 2017 and did not quite relish the role as a number nine at both Yanga and Gor Mahia, even when he tried, he was not up to the task.

Balinya is a rarity given the number of roles he can ably fill on the team. He can play as a false nine, on either flank, as a second striker or behind the striker, and as the more advanced eight in a three-man midfield.

He is quick, has stamina, agility, tenacity, a great dribbler, a prolific scorer; his average of 0.76 goals per game in his last season in the UPL suggests he is an attacking threat.

The challenge though is he still has a tendency to float in and out of matches – he was not a consistent performer in his first seasons at Police and wilted easily in some games.

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